Eric Mayer

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I'm going to bore you with a baseball story, even though I know not everyone is interested in sports. I love baseball. The last thing I do before retiring for the night is check the box scores. It used to be the first thing I did in the morning but now I'm always up until the games have ended.

Today, in his Sporting News column Detroit Tiger pitcher Todd Jones writes about hecklers.

If you think about it, baseball players get yelled at for a living. After all, we're in foreign territory half the time. Now, most people just go to the game to enjoy the game. They grab a hot dog, get a program and prop up their feet. But, let's face it, some fans come to heckle.

It reminded me of the day I attended a Rochester Red Wings game at old Silver Stadium, back when the team was the Orioles' Triple A affiliate. The first baseman that day was Chris Hoiles. I'm not sure if it was the first time he'd played the position, but pretty near. He was primarily a catcher. The idea was, he'd stick in the big leagues sooner if he could learn to play a little first as well as catch.

If my memory serves me, he made an error right off the bat, and then another, which tends to happen when you're learning. Most of us don't have to practice in front of a crowd, which always include a few critics.

I had a box seat, practically on top of first base, and one of those hecklers was sitting nearby, drinking. As soon as Hoiles booted the ball the heckler started bellowing at him. Cussing a blue streak as my grandmother used to say.

There's no way I could do justice to the torrent of insults and obscenities, this baseball guru spewed toward the diamond. He went on ceaselessly, inning after inning to the last out. Well, he paused for breath, and to get more beer down his throat, when the Red Wings were at bat and the object of his derision wasn't on the field.

In that small stadium we were so close to the first base bag that Hoiles must've been able to smell the Genny on the guy's breath. He had to hear every word. But he didn't give any evidence of it. He never even looked in his tormentor's direction.

It wasn't long before Chris Hoiles joined the Orioles. He had a fine career too. Once he hit two grandslams in the same game. Even when I moved from Rochester, every time I saw in the boxscore that he'd hit another homerun, I thought about the heckler. I wondered where he was and what he was doing, while Hoiles was playing in the big leagues?

My guess was that whatever the guy had been doing back then he was probably doing the same thing, and likely still went the ballpark and heckled some other kid on the way up. Which was a most appropriate punishment for the heckler. A kind of hell, to sit in the stands forever and berate young guys who were out on the field, and on their way to acheiving something in life.

Of course, the heckler probably didn't see himself as being consigned to hell. He was probably having about as much fun as he could have. It's easier to heckle than try to climb a mountain.

Those of us who try to write also leave ourselves open to heckling from those who don't have the ability, or grit, or guts, to attempt anything so difficult. Criticism and insults can hurt. But the hecklers will never hit a homerun or have a book published.

[An afterward: According to the records at the Baseball Cube Chris Hoiles only played 19 games at first base in his major league career, but he didn't make an error there.]

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