Life As A Beetle
After my second year of college I was offered a job with the Alexandria Beetles. The job I thought I was accepting was a play-by-play gig, but it turned out to be much more than I bargained for.
I took the tour of the stadium, housing and offices during the winter of 2012. The house looked big, the office was clean and organized and the stadium looked charming, if old, at first glance.
When I arrived to move in on Memorial Day weekend the house didn't look nearly as big- I was the ninth person to move in to the two-bedroom house. Three of us slept on mattresses on the floor of the perpetually stuffy attic with no divider or other privacy implement. The two coaches were afforded their own bedroom on the main floor, which was never even remotely quiet. Four others were stuffed into a half-finished basement sleeping arrangement.
As could be expected with a house full of people in their early 20's, every night was a party. From the basement Xbox sessions, to the main floor beer pong blowouts, to the campfires that went until sunup in the backyard, there was always a party to be had whether you wanted it or not.
The office was located in an abandoned bank vault, last used to store fur coats for some business or another, and directly under a sandwich shop. It was very dark but also very cool even on the hottest July days. As the season got underway, organization understandably became a foreign concept with the floors littered with stuffed pigs, bats, hats, pennants and all other kinds of promotional items set to be given away throughout the year.
The stadium, opened in 1939, showed every bit of its old age when the doors were unlocked to set up for the season. The most notable feature as an aspiring broadcaster was the field-level press box, located directly behind home plate. It was reminiscent of Bob Casey's old perch behind home plate at the Metrodome, only with the sun blasting your eyes every game night.
On top of that there was nothing to stop the press box, with all of its electronics, from flooding each and every time it rained. This meant that not only was I in direct danger of being electrocuted (during one game against Rochester, the visiting broadcaster's equipment literally burst into flames after a wet outlet popped and sparked like a cartoon), but also it became Central Minnesota's premiere mosquito breeding ground.
The owner was a free spirit to be sure and did everything he could to treat us as family while we were in Alexandria. Before the season began he took us all to Fargo in his family's minivan for a RedHawks baseball game. He proudly held out a $20 bill for each of us to spend on "candy and beer" and visited with us to get to know us during the game.
He also brought us to a "local" (actually an hour away) wing place and picked up the tab for an obscene number of wings and beer. He allowed us to bond as a team and really get to know one another, as we would be in close quarters for almost three months.
As the season went on it was clear that of the 12 interns on the staff (three girls were also employed, but stayed in their own apartment across town), there were maybe four or five interested in actually doing work.
Some were there to meet baseball players. Some were there to 'interact' with the coaches. The girls seemed much more interested in going on the lake and tubing than they were contributing during the long, boring days in the office.
One of the guys was charged with organizing the concession stand food for each and every game. That meant ordering the proper amount of food from multiple vendors, picking up the food, preparing it and serving it all day, every day. It was the work of at least three people, but it was more or less he alone doing it each day.
I turned out to have a lot more on my plate than simply talking about baseball for three hours a night. By day I was writing and printing the daily game program, the "Beetles Buzz." I was also responsible for updating the website with promotions and game stories and trying to track down players and coaches for interviews to use in the pregame show.
During games I was also the official scorer, which meant that I was responsible for deciding hits/errors as well as tallying all the stats for a Northwoods League game while I was on the air describing the action.
One of the worst parts of that role was the aforementioned field-level press box. This gave players and coaches an opportunity to -ahem- discuss my rulings during the game, while I was on the air.
During one August game a pitcher had a no-hitter going for the Beetles. In the seventh inning a slow roller was hit to the first-base side of the second base bag. With the second baseman covering the base due to a steal attempt, the shortstop attempted to field the ball, stop his momentum, then turn and flip the ball with his glove to the second baseman for a force out.
The play wasn't close and I ruled it a hit as it would have taken a superhuman effort to get the runner at second base-or first base for that matter. Instantly, I was berated by the coaches on my own team, who cursed me up and down for "having no baseball instinct" and "not understanding the game."
After the game I went out to the field to talk to the pitcher, whose dad happened to be visiting from Kentucky. He said that he wasn't mad (he ended up giving up a few more hits in the game anyhow) and said it was no big deal.
I got nervous when his dad pulled me aside to "talk for a minute." He took me over by the now-vacant dugout and put his arm around my shoulder while producing a stern look on his face. He took a deep breath and I prepared myself for more abuse, but I was very pleasantly surprised when he looked me in the eye and said "I won't say this in front of my kid, but you made the right call. I would have done the same thing."
I was a sort of traveling secretary for the team as well, keeping track of itineraries, batting practice schedules, restaurant reservations, hotels and team activities such as workouts.
On the road I was tasked with ordering the food for the team at the restaurant specified by the host team and city. This was no easy task considering that there were nearly 40 people on the bus and most of them couldn't remember what they had ordered after hours on a bus.
I also had to enter the hotels before the team got off the bus and coordinate the roommate lists. This task led to many conflicts including coaches melting down when their room wasn't ready when we requested to check in 40 people two hours early, and players complaining about which teammate they had to share a room with.
On one memorable trip to Thunder Bay I was told the team would be taking an outing to a movie, with the owner picking up the tab. I told the team the plan and we chose to go see Captain America the next day. However, due to a miscommunication, the money was never given and the movie was cancelled. I took the fall for the falling-through of the plan, and had to listen to the groans and cusses when I made the announcement on the bus' PA system. I ended up paying for a few of the players to go to the movie out of pocket.
My roommate on the road? Whoever was driving the bus that day, usually a retired veteran or police officer who was more than happy to share with me details on their 'personal' lives or to tell me raunchy stories from their childhood.
There were many stories that happened over the summer that are certainly not appropriate to tell on this website, although I will probably find space for some of them in the future.
The Beetles no longer exist, sold by the previous owner and hilariously re-branded as the "Alexandria Blue Anchors."
However, whenever I am in town the previous owner offers to take me out to dinner and takes time to catch up with me and keep in touch. It was that family atmosphere that made the job so rewarding despite being so grueling.
In the end it turned out to be one of the best summers of my life. It was hard work that took a toll on me mentally and physically (how many hot dogs can one man eat in a two-month span?!), but I will never forget that hectic summer.