It’s April! The pollen is in the air, the Cialis commercials are back in heavy rotation, and it’s time to play ball. Throughout my life, I’ve lived in three of the five NL East cities: Miami, Washington, and Philadelphia. While in these cities, I’ve been to a fair number of Marlins, Nationals and Phillies games. There are commonalities to the experiences at each of these locales: the mascot race, the $10 chicken tenders, and getting fused to your seat in the oppressive heat of day games.
In these baseball stadiums, some fans sitting near the field find it appropriate to pepper the players nearest them with insults and distractions. Having grown up at Marlins games, where my father and I were typically two of about a dozen people in attendance, I had a lot of opportunities to sit mere feet from opposing right fielders, and to be almost completely unmuffled by other sounds. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was creating a three-pronged approach to heckling.
Prong #1: We’ve Never Heard of You
Example: Ryan Langerhans – 2008 Nationals
This is the least interesting category. You show up to the ballpark, and the opposing team has decided to give you someone wholly uninteresting to heckle. Someone who has never made the news, isn’t all that good, and may even only be in the league for a cup of coffee, never to be seen again. One particular experience involved former Nationals outfielder Ryan Langerhans. Now, Langerhans actually played 11 seasons of big-league baseball, but he could have fooled me. Once we ran out of the compulsory “Triple-A” and “We don’t know how you are” heckles, we went another equally non-creative route: name puns. For Langerhans, this means he was treated to such gems as “how long are your FEET, then?” and “do you have a brother named Shorterhans?” This is the type of heckling you do just to mollify your own need to heckle, and is considered the lowest form of the art.
Prong #2: Good Player on a Bad Team
Example: Hunter Pence – 2011 Astros
Now, it starts to get a little more interesting. Sometimes, the heckling public is treated to an All-Star whose efforts are being wasted on a team that can’t have a mound conference without giving up an unearned run. Enter Hunter Pence, in the midst of hitting .308 on an Astros team that lost a nigh-unfathomable 106 games. Even the novice heckler can find a way to pick at the frustrations of a man who is frittering away one of his few peak years on a team that had a largely replacement-level starting rotation featuring a man named Wandy.
“Hunter, demand a trade! You deserve better!”
“Hunter, did you have to teach your teammates how to hold the bat?”
I’m not explicitly saying that my group’s incessant badgering is what did the trick, but just weeks after our interaction with him, Pence was dealt to Philadelphia. But not before hitting a home run into the section next to ours.
Prong #3: Player with Real Notoriety
Example: John Rocker – 2000 Braves
Typically, as I mentioned before, my dad would have right-field tickets. They afford you a good view of the action and also satisfy your heckling needs, all at a reasonable price. This logic flew out the window when arguably the most reviled player of the last quarter-century, John “I’m Absolutely Endorsing Donald Trump for President” Rocker, came to town, after making remarks in which he called a Hispanic teammate a “fat monkey,” and giving an amazingly off-the-cuff Sports Illustrated interview that called out immigrants, gays, women, and the entire city of New York.
This did not necessarily ingratiate Rocker to the largely Cuban crowd that suddenly materialized en masse when he came to town. That day, my dad bought tickets directly adjacent to the Braves bullpen, and I heard perhaps dozens of words for the first time, none of which I should probably share in this space.
One highlight: Rocker, not necessarily known for his mental prowess, came out in the media days prior to say that he would want to become a stockbroker once his playing days were over. Multiple people in my section had brought the finance section of that day’s Miami Herald and began to implore Rocker to give them stock tips the second that Bobby Cox called the bullpen to warm him up. I distinctly remember a “NASDAQ” chant, which was probably a relatively welcome sound to Rocker, who had been pelted with batteries and ice at most other ballparks he visited.
Although I was a child at the time, I have been chasing the dragon of this heckling experience since it happened, and nothing has really ever come close. I’m not saying I want someone as deplorable as John Rocker to surface in today’s MLB, but if one did, I’d be in the closest available seats.
Jaime Alayon is a writer who thinks you’re a total bum. You should follow him on Twitter.
If you want more heckling tips, check out our videos below: