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My sweat bleeds through the ridiculous hotdog apron Management makes us wear. The mustard stains are soaked a stale yellow and the smell is a mixture of rotting condiment and armpit—a foul combination. Who made baseball season last the whole summer? I walk back up aisle 125 and see two belligerent fans clank together their plastic cups brimming in foam. “To baseball,” one says, as beer overflows the cup. “To America’s pastime,” the other chimes. Yellow juices spill down the corners of their mouths as they chug, their cups failing to meet their lips. The first, an insanely obese man, raises four sausage-like fingers in the air, signaling me and my dogs to their row. “Four hotdogs,” the first says, “Chicago-style. Everything on them. And extra ketchup.” Everything on them. Extra ketchup. Didn’t see that coming. I sweat even more as I dig into the heated metal container to pull out the four beefy dogs and extra ketchup. As I do so, I use the back of my left hand to wipe the perspiration from my forehead. Four weiners and extra ketchup, all topped with Comiskey’s finest sweat. Mmm. I pass the hotdogs down the row and wait for the ten dollar bills to make their way to my hands. When it does, I thank the fat man, steady my hot dog container, and continue up the stairs. “HOTDOGS! GET YER HOTDOGS HERE! HOTDOGS!” I am screaming over thirty-five thousand people. It’s a horrible job. Thank God it’s just for the summer. In a sea of black and white with the occasional odd ball wearing red or blue, I am
amongst the freaks in yellow. I mean seriously, yellow??? Strutting around in bright yellow shirts with matching visors, we are quite a flaming group of angry union wannabe workers. “HOTDOGS! WARM WEINERS! GET YER WEINERS HERE! HOTDOGS!” What’s the score? Usually, I can get a sense of who’s winning by the crowd, but the exploding cheer has hushed the last few batters. Momentarily forgetting it’s against corporate rules to watch the game, I see pitcher Jack McDowell strike out Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield. Bottom of the eighth inning, one out. I turn around to walk up the steep slope of stairs to the main concourse. Just as I round the corner to begin walking down aisle 124, I see Hippie Steve, my boss. We all call him Hippie Steve because he looks like he lingered in the ‘60s a little too long. He’s this tall, gangly man, with long chestnut hair falling past his shoulders and a beard gracing his chest with thin braids randomly decorating his knotted hair. He talks slower than anyone I know and I swear he thinks my name is actually Dude. He’s been on my back about showing up late and taking too many breaks so I’ve been doing my best to avoid him. Been doing a flawless job actually for the past three and a half weeks, but my golden streak had to come to an end sometime. I lower my neon visor and stare at the cement ahead of me. “Duude,” Hippie Steve calls ahead. Apparently I’m not invisible. Damn this sunkissed uniform. “Dude. You were late today. What’s that about?” “Train derailed.” Fabulous lie. “Dude what?” “A train derailed this morning. You know, swerved off the tracks. The schedule was all messed up. You didn’t hear?” Holy shit. I don’t know what I’m saying. These
words are just spilling outta my mouth. My lips are moving on their own accord. I cannot be held responsible for what I’m about to say. “Whoa man. You serious? I didn’t hear nothing bout this. You alright Dude? Geez, that must’a been scary for you.” Hippie Steve bought it. Haha what a fucker. “Yea Steve, I’m alright, thanks for your concern. I think the CTA wants to keep it under wraps cuz it’s not good publicity for them, ya know? Anyway, I didn’t want to miss work today of course. Sox-Yanks game, last of the tied series.” Keeping a straight face was harder than I thought. I can’t believe he’s buying it. A train derailed?? What the fuck. I let out a huge breath as I welcome aisle 123. I avoided yet another fateful confrontation that would undoubtedly end in my termination. I need this job. The rest of the game moves along fairly quickly. Not much more excitement. A rousing defensive play by our centerfielder warms the crowd but the homerun by the Yankees then quiets them. The top of the ninth is three up three down; the players’ relief after the final catch is echoed by the fans. An hour later, Sox fans are gone. With the seats vacated and drunken cheers still ringing in my ears, I join the army of yellow clad vendors behind home plate where the brooms are distributed and stadium divided into roughly 150 sections. As the youngest weiner distributor, I am always stuck with the upper deck corner far down the left field line, some 330 feet away from home. Being the rookie sucks at times like these. While I escape more responsibility the older guys shoulder, I am shafted to the shitty parts of the stadium. I walk up the hundreds of stairs to my corner and begin sweeping. Glancing around, I see clusters of yellow vendors working together to get the sweeping done sooner. It’s already been two hours since the
last out and the stadium still isn’t spotless. I hear hearty laughter echoing from right field and see Hippie Steve joking with the guys over there. I finish earlier than usual, but have to wait for the boss to make his way over here and inspect my corner. It’ll take a while. This is the worst part of the job. Reminding myself how badly I need the money, I slide into my favorite seat in the park. Seat 24 row T section 558. Looking down on the field, it’s an extreme bird’s eye view. The cracks in the wall on my left make the highway far below visible. It’s an ocean of blue up here. The low back and absence of cushions amongst the seats means they really shouldn’t be comfortable. I throw my legs onto the top of the seat in front of me and pretend I’m kicking back with an ice cold beer. The intense heat of the afternoon sun is long gone, replaced by the warmth and growing darkness of the June night. The glittering scoreboard is shut off illuminating the sparkling city lights beyond. The specks of yellow grow scarce as I relish in the increasing silence that fills good ol’ Comiskey. I see Hippie Steve making his rounds, nearing my section, but still a ways away. Peering around the foul pole, I see the old man. He’s the oldest groundskeeper in all of baseball. Been here forever or at least for sure since years before I was born, yet no one’s heard him speak. Keeps to himself mostly I think. Ah, here’s Hippie Steve.
The All-Star break did not bode well for this team. Losing their grip on the tight hold they had on the first place Twins, they are now at risk for falling into third place in the division. Unlike manager Torborg, my return next season is not contingent on the
Sox’s record. That bastard’s contract is up. With just a few more creative stories to cover up the truth about my laziness, I’m guaranteed to come back next year. I enter Comiskey and can’t help but wonder what next season will be like with the new stadium. This stadium has memories, hosted several World Series, holds pennant wins, has a unique history. Whatever. Chicago will be stripped of it all in just over two months when this stadium will be reduced to rubble. These thoughts take me all the way to the second level concourse where I enter the secret offices fans don’t know about. I sign in, swipe my id card that’s the epitome of ugly, and pick up the only container with a skull and crossbones sticker on the back. The boss doesn’t know about that yet. I place the thick black strap around my shoulders and adjust the padding. Wincing at the pain from last week’s games, I take a moment to prepare myself for the heat and insanity of drunken Southsiders. It’s just before game time so the place is swarming with pinstriped, baseball lovin’, hungry fanatics. I dodge the fat ones knowing they will hound me first as I make my familiar trek down the ramps to the sections along the first base line. The game passes quickly. Probably ‘cause I spent the exciting middle innings disguised as an aged Detroit fan sitting on the bleachers in center field. I just couldn’t miss back to back fourth inning White Sox home runs followed by a grand slam in the fifth by Robin Ventura, my all time favorite. As I’m walking back to the concealed vendor office, I count the cash. Realizing I made under $20 in tips, I scream with frustration letting profanity get the better of me. Just as I’m turning the door handle to the office, I hear footsteps rapidly approaching from behind and the fake cough of my boss.
“Duude, stop where you are and turn around.” It’s the middle of July and Hippie Steve still doesn’t know my name. I’m gonna be Dude for a while. “What’s up Boss?” I fain total innocence. “Was that you swearing and yelling?” Quick. Think of something witty. Glancing around, there’s only little kids. Crap. Kids too young to know what I just yelled means. He’s waiting. Okay, just stall ‘til my dimwitted mind comes up with something. “Me? No Steve, that was – “ “– Save it man. That behavior is unacceptable. You need to treat this job with the utmost respect. You’re a vital member of this ballgame. You’re part of the team that runs onto that field every game playing for pride and honor.” He points a lanky arm and bony fingers towards the field. “Dude, you’re part of that team and a crucial member of our team, the Pinstriped Yellows we call ourselves….” Hippie Steve rambles on, every so often beckoning to the Sox dugout and upper deck. His hoarse voice drones on but I block it out. I can’t hear this talk about the Pinstriped Yellows team again and their work ethic. The Pinstriped Yellows are a bunch of old men who weren’t good enough to play in the majors and opted out of higher education to pursue their failing baseball careers led by a pot-smoking man who’s been shunned from the corporate offices. Not quite a team to be proud of. Hippie Steve concludes this speech I’ve now heard numerous times and leads me into our office where I drop off my hotdog container in the back room. The rest of the Pinstriped Yellows are talking wildly about the events of tonight’s game until Hippie Steve announces it’s time for our meeting behind home plate where I will once again be carelessly placed in the left corner of the upper deck. Once up there, it’s not so bad. It’s
more the act of getting there that fucking sucks. When I finish sweeping the chewed up peanuts and send them to the level below me, I crash into my usual seat and look around. The stadium’s almost empty; a few yellow shirted vendors are still sweeping and the boss is making his inspection rounds. The scoreboard shuts off, city lights glimmer, and silence eats the air. I look down onto the field and see that old man again. He’s pacing near the warning track, prepping the field for tomorrow’s match up against the Royals. He’s walking barefoot on the field moving past the right field foul line, towards the warning track. I know he won’t dare put his feet on the dirt out there. He would never make a mark that singles him out and ruins the perfection of the field. No. I pause. He’s talking to himself again. Muttering things under his breath. I don’t think he even realizes he’s doing it. He’s crazy. That old man down there. Fucking crazy. He’s dressed in that same weathered jersey he always wears. It’s the Sox’s home jersey, but his doesn’t even match the team’s anymore. His jersey is stained with sweat and dirt. It’s no longer white, but instead a moldy brown color. Surprisingly, the ends aren’t frayed and the letters spelling what must be his last name remain intact. Number 90. Is that his age? I wouldn’t put it past him. Fucking old. That jersey’s got to date back to the 1940s. Still muttering to himself and oversized hands flailing in the air, he takes the black cap off to wipe the beads of sweat from his brow. He rounds the far left field corner and walks underneath my section. I lost him. Again. Damnit. But it’s time for my inspection. “I gotta give you credit Dude. You show up late, you’re lazy as hell, but you do good work here.” Hippie Steve catches me off-guard with unexpected praise.
“Steve I told you, I’ve never shown up late cuz I’m ‘lazy’,” I say as I hold up two fingers on each hand to mimic the Boss’ accusation, “something just always comes up. Something outta my control. I must have bad karma.” “Yea that shit does happens to people. Watch out for it Dude. But in the mean time, clean up your act and keep sweeping like this. Phenomenal work here man. Phenomenal.” Hippie Steve smiles showing one too many yellowed teeth and thrusts a dirty hand forward to pat me on the back before walking away. “See you tomorrow.” Looking forward to it. Noticing mine’s of course the last section to be inspected, I quickly walk down the flights of stairs and practically fly down the ramps connecting the concourses. Just as I reach the main level, I catch a glimpse of that crazy old man. He’s alone on the field. It’s a creepy scene actually; a lone dark silhouette hovering over home plate outlined by the bright white of the overhead lights. Sketchy. On a side note, the field looks absolutely magnificent tonight with the moon’s glow shining onto the infamous scoreboard, the bats lined evenly in the dugouts, and the dirt swept to perfection around the bases. Suddenly, curiosity overwhelms me causing me to forgo my grip on reality. Moving quietly but quickly down the interior ramps, I intricately make my way onto the field deciding to follow him. Standing on the spongy grass, I closely watch him, soon realizing he’s walking with a limp. He glances over his shoulder so I drop to the ground. He doesn’t see me. I don’t know how that’s possible. So now he’s old, crazy, and blind, and resembles a hunchback. Little scared, can’t lie bout that; I feel like I’m in a scary movie. Suck it up Dude.
He presses on with me trailing right behind him. He passes the visitor’s dugout along the first base line, but hesitates near the foul pole down in right field. I hold my breath and prepare to dive into the grass once more. Never mind, Hunchback continues limping until he reaches the visitor’s bullpen where he awkwardly hops over the sandy warning track. Right hand outstretched, he pushes open the screen gate of the bullpen and steps inside. I let the gate close behind him before making my move. Darkness swallows Hunchback. Fearful that I lost him, I rush forward, open the gate, and let myself inside. I’m inside the bullpen for a mere thirty seconds before I see a hidden door ahead of me close. Goddamnit. Now I can’t see anything. The stadium lights turned off somewhere around first base and it’s pitch black outside. Light from inside Hunchback’s mystery door floods into the bullpen and before I can run away, I’m engulfed in it. A deep voice issues from behind the door. “I know you’ve been following me son.” The door creaks open and all I can see is the outline of the old man. Rapidly spinning around, I look for escape routes or weapons. Anything to get me outta this situation or protect myself. I’m gonna die. Oh crap. “Come inside.” I’m paralyzed by fear and suspended in disbelief. I feel my legs moving and feet reach hardwood floor, but I’m not moving them. The door slams shut behind me and I jump. In a scary movie, this is the part where the psychotic old man kills the young kid outta fear he’s stalking him. Not too far from the truth. Breath fails me so I distract myself from suffocating by looking around. I must be in some sort of office or is this is his home? There’s a makeshift bed in the center of the square room. It’s just one room, only twice the size of my tiny bedroom at home. The walls are a rich mahogany covered
with memorabilia. There’s an aluminum table to my right with dirty bowls and spoons scattered across it. Old game balls litter the ground and I swear I just saw I black cat run in front of me. I want to say something, but forget how to speak. I must look like a fucking idiot with my mouth hanging open, but lips moving to form words. He speaks. “Great game tonight huh. Did you get to watch any of it? I heard Steve’s a stickler. Back to back homers and Ventura’s grand slam. Unbeatable game.” His voice is deep, but kind. His physique is not at all what I expected; his face is lined with wrinkles and skin sagging a bit around his elbows and wrists, but his eyes dance with remnants of his youth. No one’s heard him speak here. Ever. Shock and surprise bring me back to my senses. Still standing there dumbfounded as Hunchback moves into the light, I force myself to make sounds. “Where are we?” I ask feeling rather stupid. “I live here.” Behind the bullpen?? This is too small to be an apartment, let alone an actual home. It’s more like an exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame. How did Cooperstown transport itself here to 35th Street? While the size of this ‘home’ is so goddamn small, it’s shaping up to be the most wonderful place on Earth. A few minutes pass before either one of us speaks again. I can feel him staring at me, trying to penetrate my thoughts, but he doesn’t have to. My eyes have got to speak for themselves ‘cause I can feel them sparkling with curiosity and tremendous intrigue. “Walk around, take your time. Look at everything,” Hunchback says, encouraging me to judge what’s obviously his most prized possessions. I do. Widening my eyes to take it all in, I walk towards the back wall. It’s decorated with hundreds of frames boxing in black and white photographs and pennants accounting
for every Sox division win in the past fifty years. Shelves line the wall holding tattered baseballs, golden trophies, and worn mitts. On the far left, there’s a glass case displaying almost twenty bats, all of which have been clearly used. Hunchback’s home is an antique store, a tribute to decades of White Sox baseball; it must be worth millions of dollars. I’m staring at the back wall calculating how much money this could all sell for when I see something that jerks me back to reality. “That’s not Carlton Fisk’s bat from the ’84 season is it? It can’t be the bat he used to hit a single, double, triple, and homerun in one game can it?” I ask in utter awe. “Pretty amazing ain’t it? May 15, 1984. Fisk became only the third Sox player to be a cycle hitter. That was the only game he used the bat. His regular one shattered during batting practice earlier that day. He used this reserve one only for that game. Didn’t want to jinx his good luck he always said. Hoping to make it to the Hall of Fame. Always wanted to be remembered for that game. And he sure was, wasn’t he?” “Yea he absolutely was. Oh man! And this?! How can you have Joe Cowley’s mitt from the ’86 season? Did he wear this when he pitched his no-hitter?” “Most definitely. Didn’t quite make it to a perfect game, but he had it goin’ for five full innings. September –” “–19th, yea I’ll never forget where I was that day. It was almost exactly four years ago. I had just lost my job on account of the Sox. My boss said he couldn’t give me any more warnings for being lazy. But I wasn’t being lazy. How it was my fault Cowley was pitching an amazing game I’ll never know. I stopped waiting on tables for just a little bit to watch the game. I mean it was history in the making! I told my boss that, but he’d never seen a baseball game. Anyway, I was fired right after Cowley blew the perfect
game. In between innings, I jumped in my car and raced home to finish watching the game on the big screen. I got in an accident that day. Not my fault people don’t know how to fucking drive. I’ve been working non-stop and switching jobs for the past four years trying to pay back the loan I took out to repair my car. It’s a piece of crap, but I gotta make ends meet, ya know?” I’m rambling. This guy sure as hell doesn’t care about my financial problems. Whatever. At the end of this season, I will have enough money to make the last installment on the loan. I’ll be free from the goddamn bankers who keep hustling me for the green. Sometimes I just don’t have it. It ain’t easy. “So that’s how you came to work here? As a vendor I take it?” I wonder what gave my position away. “Yea, hotdog vendor. Great life. And you? Groundskeeper right?” Like I needed to pretend I didn’t know his job. I just didn’t know anything about him. “Captain they call me. Been here fifty years and wouldn’t trade any moment of it for anything. Never missed a home game. Couldn’t do that to my boys.” Like the team actually cared. I stop walking around the room and just try to take it all in. There are pictures of my favorite all-stars, scorecards from games where records were shattered, and tokens from historical moments, all of which occurred here at Comiskey. The Captain keeps talking, interrupting my thoughts. “Every day I wake up and step onto that field. This stadium is my home, that field the portfolio of my work. The even lines of green in the outfield here and bright white of the painted foul lines are evidence that my life means something. But it will all be over in a matter of weeks. The Baseball Palace of the World will crumble to a pile of dust. The greatest game in the world will be played in what’s now the ballpark’s parking lot. Enjoy these last weeks here son.”
“Baseball Palace of the World?” I repeat, needing an explanation. “Charles Comiskey called it that in 1901 and it’s been its name ever since. This is how it will be remembered. Everything that happens here happens for a reason. The broken records, the errors, the excitement. We all come here for a taste of bliss, a chance to glimpse Heaven. There is no place closer to Heaven than this ballpark right here. Comiskey Park. The Baseball Palace of the World. The mix of green lines on the field are straight, connecting home plate to the sky. And you and I, son, are a part of it. We are members of this team.” I can’t believe how much information he is sharing with me. With me, the weiner vendor! I’ve been here only one season, but the old guys on the vendor squad have been here for years and never heard him speak. Don’t know anything bout him. The Captain’s been here fifty years and never been recognized for his work – for the perfection of Comiskey’s interior, the most respected and crucial part of the stadium. Suddenly, sadness fills the room. It’s pathetic really. Me and him. Him for being ignored and unnoticed for half a century and me for, well, for caring. He shows me some more relics as we toss around dates, stats, and stories. I will never admit this to anyone, but I am enjoying myself. No one will even believe this story so I guess I have nothing to worry about. It’s getting close to midnight when the stars have finally been extinguished leaving the sky a barren black. We both recognize it’s time for me to leave. I walk out the door and onto the grassy outfield. I’m almost at second base when the Captain shouts “HOTDOG!” and throws me a baseball. It bounces once in short center field then rolls slowly towards me. I pick it up, hold it close to my
face, and read the scribbled writing: Here’s to the good guys and more broken records. See you around the Palace son, the Captain.
September 30, 1990. The last game of the season. The last game in Comiskey Park. It all comes down to this. These players. This stadium. The field. The lights, the sounds, the intensity merge together pushing me to my limit. Bustling around in my required uniform, I am overwhelmed. Every seat is filled with emotional fans frantically calling out for hotdogs and beer. The announcer’s voice reverberates throughout the park commencing the start of this final Sunday afternoon game. I take a deep breath before heading out into the stands. It’s going to be a long day. I’m anxious about the surprise I planned for the Captain. Just a little something to give back to him after his years of hard work and love for the ball club. It’s the least I can do and needs to be done. But as a result, I need to forgo all laziness for the day. I postponed the final loan payment for yet another year. Promising to put forth a solid effort today because I need to come back next season, I answer to every fan’s beckoning call as I walk down the stairs of section 125. Fifteen hotdogs later, I’m climbing back up the stairs with ease. A hand juts out ahead of me on my left so I make my way over to row K. Suddenly another hand shoots towards the sky and another and another. What the hell am I supposed to do? I can’t possibly serve all these people at the same time! I’m scrambling inside my hotdog container collecting as many dogs as my sweaty hands can hold when I hear a roar of applause and cheering behind me. What’s going on? I resign my post momentarily to turn around and face the field. Standing in the middle of center field is the Captain
wearing his lucky jersey, the one he bought on his very first day of work fifty seasons ago and has worn to every game since, and the cap that leaves his head only to sleep at night. He’s smiling proudly and though I can’t see from way back here, I know tears are streaming down his wrinkled face. He removes his worn cap and salutes the fans. The players do the same, offering him a tribute to his enormous dedication to the game. I tear my eyes away from the Captain and look up at the scoreboard. There on the screen is the product of my hard work this summer. The message I paid Management to recognize him with. Thank you Captain for memorializing this stadium. Comiskey’s beauty will forever be in our hearts. Here’s to you and fifty years of loyalty.
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