SABR 41 was a string of epiphanies for me, not the least being it was time to put the Jackalopes to rest. Long time readers of the Other Blogs will remember the Jackalopes; we were the savage gang that fought vicious turf wars on the mean streets of Scottsdale during Spring Training from about 2002-2006. Armed with frozen daiquiris in one hand, shots of tequila in the other, and a bucket of iced beer at between their feet, they took on all comers in the time before Spring Training went corporate. Many a challenger was eviscerated by the Jackalopes’ sharp wit and keen baseball acumen, left to wither in the baking Arizona sun. Plus, we had very cool nicknames like the Yard Gnome, Sir Jolters, the Beloved Nephew, Bad Scooter, the Ruggedly Handsome Snowplow Driver, Mr. Bamboozled, Black47, and the Scarecrow (a 280 pound chap not named for his frame, but the fact he kept the black birds away). We even had our own T-shirts and theme music because cool is cool.
Alas, the Jackalopes are no more, felled by distance, poor health, and family responsibilities. They haven’t ridden in over three years, and the last ride was pitiful. However, for a time, we were kings, I feel a strong obligation to preserve our story with this eulogy. So put the kids to bed, pour a stiff drink, and listen to the story of a determined bunch of friends charged with the responsibility of upholding the integrity of baseball’s oral tradition.
To understand the Jackalopes, one must be cognizant of the Cactus League at the time. Major League Baseball was peaking in popularity thanks to many new parks and sluggers knocking the ball out of the park. However, the Cactus League was still rather still untouched by the corporate pillaging occurring at the Big Leagues. Beers at a game were two bucks, players were very accessible even during the games (and in the bars at night), tickets were under $5.00, and games were rarely sold out. However, while the games were rather idyllic, the scene in the stands was often savage. Baseball pilgrims trekked from all over the land to beat their breasts and resurrect their ancient ghosts while consuming vast quantities of alcohol. Battle lines had been drawn over whose ghosts were more omnipotent, and each year, those skirmished were re-fought. This began to change at the time Sir Barry Lamar Bonds began his march on the baseball record books. Suddenly, the Unwashed began arriving to the Cactus League en masse, treating Spring Training as some sort of adult Spring Break, soiling the religious lands with their ignorance and inability to hold their liquor. In this setting, the Jackalopes were born.
The Jackalopes’ first ride was March 9th, 2002, when the Yard Gnome made the scene. Sir Jolters, The Beloved Nephew, and I had been attending games together since 1998, but the Jackalopes weren’t truly formed until Sir Jolters brought that demented fuck, who I liked immediately, to an Angels/Padres game in Tempe. We arrived in the game a little late because the Angels still hadn’t learned to handle a large crowd at Spring Training, and it took us over an hour to park and get in the gates (somewhere an old usher is rotting in baseball hell for that delay). We had just been served our beer when Aaron Sele sparked a bench clearing brawl by plunking Ryan Klesko. The Yard Gnome had paid for the beer with a $100 bill, but left his change on the counter to crawl over people to see the fight (the Yard Gnome received his name from me because of his small stature — sometime later, I would offer him fifty bucks to black paint his face and stand in my lawn with a lantern whenever I had parties). I knew then I had found a partner for the road.
By time the second brawl broke out in the game (Klesko came out in street clothes to try to get some licks in), we had started pleading for my wife, seven months pregnant with our second child, to drive us to Tucson for a night game. Being the road warrior she is, she obliged, and after stopping to get two eighteen packs after the Tempe game, we were on the road to Tucson Electric Park. That game was forgettable, probably because of the copious amount of beer consumed, but the Yard Gnome had blown off his girlfriend to go, and she dumped him on the phone while we were at the park. On the outside, the Tard Gnome kept his composure, but as a kindred soul now for six hours, I knew he was hurting, so we started doing tequila shots to ease the pain. On the way home, we became mired in a huge traffic jam, making the ninety minute drive a three hour affair, which gave us the time kill those eighteen parks while engaging in a heated Mike Schmidt versus George Brett debate.
The next morning, the door bell rang at 8:30. There was the Yard Gnome with a pitcher of bloody marys, ready to start preparation for that afternoon’s game. Ride we did.
Next: Rain Delays in the Cactus League; the Jackalopes versus the Scouts at the Arizona Fall League.