Last year I went to a Bisons game right at the end of the season. It was a beautiful sunny day, I had some good conversation with the people around me, and I basked in the sounds and sights of baseball, my first favorite sport and the sport of my childhood. I decided that day that I would attend more games this year. When the new Bisons season opened I anxiously pored over the schedule and list of promotions and knew immediately that I would have to go to Daryl Strawberry Bobble Head Day. My little brother Lee, usually known around these parts as Lee Andrew, is a huge fan of both the Mets and Darryl Strawberry AND he has a ton of McFarlanes and bobble heads. I had a feeling a Darryl Strawberry bobble head would make for a great birthday present for him. Oh, there was also that email he sent me that said, "Buffalo's having a Darryl Strawberry Day! Please get me a bobble head!" The signs were subtle but after years of being Lee's sister, I can pick up on those things pretty well.
So I wrote DARRYL STRAWBERRY in large blue letters on my calendar for May 23rd, circled it, read all the information on the Bisons website about how the promotion was going down and did what what any Bisons fan should do when they want even MORE information: I harassed TBN's Mike Harrington. My primary question was, "What time should I get there?" In all my years as a sports fan I've never really gone to a game specifically for a promotion so I'm not versed in these things. I also remembered reading about really long lines at the stadium replica giveaway last season. Mike suggested that I be at the Swan Street gate by 10:30, 11 at the latest. That is awfully early on a Saturday morning for me - yes, I absolutely am pathetic - but I'm pretty fond of my little brother so for him, I was willing to sacrifice a couple hours of sleep.
I admit, despite his years of experience, I kind of thought Mike was crazy. I've been to a few games this year. I think the largest crowd has been 43. I've had entire sections to myself. When I first arrived at Coca-Cola Field, I was pretty sure I was right. I was, I don't know, maybe 30th or so in line.
Turns out Mike did know what he was talking about though because by 11, the line did indeed wrap around the corner enough that I could no longer see the end. I really wanted to walk to the corner and take a picture of the rest of the line but I was by myself so I didn't want to risk leaving the line and having the people around me getting pissy about me coming back. They probably wouldn't have cared but hey, you never know. (Mark didn't want to come with me since I was going to be standing around for so long. He evidently doesn't love Lee as much as I do.)
I heard later that the line wrapped all the way around the entire stadium and down past the parking deck behind the stadium. So yeah, I guess people do like their bobble heads.
Since the gates didn't open until 12, I had an hour and a half to kill so I pulled out the book I was reading at the time (The Iowa Baseball Confederacy) and passed a lot of time that way. I also had a nice little conversation with a couple of Pirates fans behind me in line. Yes, Pirates fans! More than one! That makes at least FIVE Pirates fans I know in the Buffalo area! We chatted about some of the young talent and like all Pirates fans, hoped better days were around the corner.
Around this time, activity started behind the gate.
Buster took his post and everyone in line started putting away books, iPods and chairs and assumed the ready position. Security came around and looked at everyone's bags before letting us in which I thought was a really smart move. It definitely kept the line moving once we started.
Finally the moment arrived! I tried to take a picture of the hand-off but the Bisons were moving people through the line pretty quickly and I didn't really have a chance. I got my bobble head from Buster which I think probably makes it even more valuable than just a plain ol' bobble head.
As soon as I entered the stadium I saw the autograph line. I knew Darryl was going to be signing but I hadn't really decided if I was going to go for an autograph or not. Lee didn't mention it - I wasn't sure if he even knew Darryl was actually going to be in the building - and I wasn't sure how much time I wanted to commit to the whole thing. If I jumped in the line right then, I'd be pretty close to the front - probably 20th or less - but I didn't know when exactly the session started. If Strawberry wasn't going to be signing until say the 5th inning there was no way I was going to do that. It appears there are limits to my love. Fortunately, as I was debating, I overheard a Bisons employee tell someone else that Strawberry would be signing by 1:15, immediately after the first pitch. So I thought what the heck? That's only another hour in line and I did buy a baseball just for the occasion. Timing was once again working in my favor because within what seemed like seconds the line was all the way around the concourse.
Darryl Strawberry was never on my list of favorite players but he is definitely one of the more prominent baseball players of my prime childhood years. I can close my eyes and clearly see that high elbow, the bent knee, the big step, and the swing so graceful and loping that I was never quite sure how he managed to catch up with anything. A lot of Darryl Strawberry's story is pretty sad but I'm glad to see that he seems to have come out the other side. Anyone looking for a good read about him and where he came from should check out Michael Sokolove's The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw.
Oh, Darryl Strawberry also makes me think of this.
While in line I realized that I'd actually forgotten the ball I'd purchased. The bobble head itself, while very nice, didn't really have a good spot to autograph. I was pretty bummed but ended up just having Strawberry sign the box. Better than nothing, I guess.
I'd give my 30 second interaction with Strawberry two thumbs up. He was very pleasant, looked up and smiled, asked how I was doing and responded to my thank you with, "You're welcome, sweetie." (I know some people hate "sweetie" but I don't mind it. I kind of love it. I grew up in the south. Everyone's sweetie. This was definitely not a condescending sweetie.) He was also extra attentive to the little kids who handed him something to sign which always wins an athlete extra points in my book.
Now that I had a bobble head and an autograph, I made a quick run to the bathroom and the concession stand - I'd been standing in a line for a little more than two and a half hours at that point - and watched some baseball. A quick complaint: The sinks in the bathrooms at Coca Cola Field are stupid. They have real faucets instead of those faucets that run for three seconds and then shut off which I appreciate. But the faucets baaaaarely hang over the back of the sink. How, pray tell, am I supposed to wash my hands if I can't fit my hands under the water?
The Bisons, sadly, are really, really bad this season. I've gone to four or five games at this point and most of them have been pretty messy. Despite their struggles, however, there are definitely worse ways to pass a sunny spring afternoon than soaking up rays at a beautiful ballpark. All in all, it was a very pleasant Saturday in Buffalo. The Bisons even got into the spirit of the day and pulled out a ninth inning victory.
I'm pretty sure this now makes me the World's Great Big Sister. At the very least, I'm the best big sister Lee's ever had.