Guerrilla Games

Hustling, jeering, cheering, and hand-to-hand combat at Pro Player

Baseball is the most superstitious sport. It's got something to do with the cosmic rotation of the ball, the 60 feet of deception from mound to home plate, and the damning difficulty of hitting that makes even the best batters miserable failures two-thirds of the time.

Or maybe it's because most of us are lucky to match the IQ of a Jeff Conine bobble-head doll. Whatever the reason, baseball is impossible to figure. Look at the Marlins, who were enough to make anyone a raving mystic. The team that didn't stand a chance further cursed Wrigley Field and had Yankees ghosts to contend with in the World Series. Being a fan not only of the Fish but also of paranormal events, I had to see this.

I had no tickets, just a loose plan. I wrote last week that you could almost surely get good series seats relatively cheaply from scalpers, so I decided to test my own words. It really started on a whim. Because my wife was working during Tuesday's home opener, leaving our two children in my care, I thought I'd have to wait until Wednesday's game. But at the last second, a fever hit me, so I hired a baby sitter and drove out to Pro Player.

It was the beginning of a baseball odyssey, a guerrilla fan experience that had the bad, the good, the ugly, and the beautiful, in that order. It was magical too -- I personally ended Derek Jeter's hot-hitting streak, and my son helped Alex Gonzalez hit his heroic home run. But in the end, it all descended darkly into crime and a bloody assault outside the stadium.

Or so it seemed. You can never be sure.

It was baseball.

Because I left so late, I didn't have a chance to go to the bank before the game. So I cashed a $100 check at Publix, giving me a total of $203. By the time I got to the park, there were only about 45 minutes before the first pitch, but the ticket market seemed fairly promising. Amid the throngs of fans and peddlers of water, T-shirts, and dubious shish kebab were scalpers and buyers. And it was a good market: Upper levels were going for face value or less. I worked a long sidewalk near gate F until I found my ticket: section 102, row 25, seat 4. Right next to the infield box.

The ticket had a $125 face value, but the guy, who had just one extra, claimed he'd paid $160 for it. He took $150.

The view of the game -- just down the third base line -- was great. Not far away from my seat was the Boynton Beach Little League World Series team, whose star player, 12-year-old Michael Broad, had thrown out the first pitch. Even though the little guys lost the title game to Japan, their presence seemed a positive omen.

It was a solid home crowd. There weren't half as many Yankees fans as there had been Cub die-hards during the previous series. The Cubs fans had managed to short the electricity of the Marlins' crowd, which helped them take two of three here. But the Yankees lovers were relatively quiet, perhaps overconfident.

Yet, even after the Fish took a 1-0 lead in the first, the signs started turning against the home team. To begin with, three joyous, half-drunk guys from New Jersey sat down behind me in the second inning. They were OK -- it was their story that didn't bode well. They said they were on vacation and had decided that morning in a bar to change their flight and make the game. But they couldn't find tickets outside Pro Player.

"We sat down for a break, totally depressed," said one of the guys, a crew-cut, tank-top-wearing 27-year-old restaurant manager named Tom Maher. "Then this Asian woman wearing black comes out of the darkness and pulls out an envelope and hands us these three tickets. Free!

"Dude, we started jumping and running around like animals."

Great story, but who was this apparition, this mysterious Asian woman in black? She'd let in a trio of die-hard Yankees fans -- clearly a bad sign.

Then a drizzle came and exposed thousands of Marlins fans as the sorry amateurs they were. When the first few drops started falling, throngs headed for the concourse -- which was not at all the way to impress the baseball gods.

An inning or two later, the rain really fell, and during a delay, I spoke with Boynton Beach star Broad at the concession area. For some reason, I asked him his favorite team.

"The Yankees," he said sheepishly before trying for a save: "But I'm rooting for the Marlins tonight."

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman