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Meeting Old Gator

Mar 8, 2010, 2:20 PM EDT

Gator Car.JPGAnyone who spends any time in the comments around here knows Old Gator.  He of the “Feesh,” “Macondo,” and the “horse meat and Velveeta sandwiches.”  I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as commenters go I love him. He’s smart. He stirs up trouble. He throws bombs once in a while.  All kinds of great fun.  He also lives in Miami, so we arranged to meet up when I landed on Saturday.

Gator suggested a Cuban place near Little Havana. Good suggestion!  I had the ropa vieja and picked from a bunch of appetizers he ordered in Spanish.  I sometimes like to think that I can roughly follow people speaking Spanish, but I really can’t. At least when Cuban accents are involved and the Spanish speakers in question aren’t slowing it down for the dumb people from Ohio who aren’t exposed to it every day.  First thing Gator said to me when I sat down? “How’s it feel being in a foreign land?”  My answer: I like it, actually. At the risk of sounding all free-to-be-you-and-me about it, anyplace that doesn’t have some freakin’ diversity to it gets pretty boring pretty fast.  I don’t think I’d live in Little Havana if I moved to Miami some day, but I like that it’s there and lament just how homogeneous the Midwest can be.

After a couple hours of coffee, baseball talk, and Gator telling me three truly, truly awesome jokes that would get me fired in five seconds if I shared them here, I followed him a couple of miles east into the heart of Little Havana, where he wanted to show me something (the above pic is what it looks like to follow Old Gator through traffic).  The site where Jeffrey Loria’s monument to himself — the new Marlins’ ballpark — is being built.

Marlins ballpark construction.jpgThe overwhelming impression I got from it?  If anyone actually shows up to that ballpark, the traffic is going to be a nightmare.  It’s really right in the middle of — or at least on the edge of — a neighborhood consisting of small blocks, side streets, houses and two-story apartment buildings. Unlike other neighborhood ballparks like Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, there is no mass transit to speak of.  There’s a freeway that runs nearby, but it’s an elevated affair, with little, curvy offramps that are not at all prepared to deal with heavy traffic flow.  Yes, they used to play football games there — it’s on the site of the old Orange Bowl — but there’s a big difference between throwing tens of thousands of cars into the area eight or ten times a year on the weekend and doing so 81 times a year any day of the week.  If they have a plan to deal with all that traffic, god love ‘em, but it’s really hard to picture it from the way things look right now.

After scoping the construction site Gator and I sat in his car for a while and shot the breeze about baseball.  While a Feesh fan now, he was a Mets guy going back to the 60s, and had season tickets in Shea Stadium for years. He saw Willie Mays there in 1973. He watched Tom Seaver pitch and watched him get shipped out of town. He watched the ball go through Bill Buckner’s legs from a couple dozen yards away.  For all of Gator’s tangents and diversions in the comments section, the man is a baseball fan through and through, and a passionate and knowledgeable one at that.

After a bit we went our separate ways, as I had to get on the freeway up to Port St. Lucie. But before I left, he gave me two cds — the Cowboy Junkies’ “Pale Sun and Crescent Moon,” and an album called “Discount Fireworks” by a group called Over the Rhine, which, while they’re from Ohio too, I’ve never heard of (Gator was going to see them live that night).  He also gave me two books: a collection of criticism he edited about both the novel and the movie “No Country for Old Men” — Gator is more or less our nation’s foremost Cormac McCarthy expert — and a book called “Liberty Street: Encounters at Ground Zero” by Peter Josyph, who happens to be a friend of Gator’s.  I look forward to reading them both.

Two lessons here. First, it’s really awesome meeting readers, so maybe we’ll have to do some HBT meet-ups at some point. Second, while the awesomeness of meeting readers doesn’t depend on them giving me gifts, I ain’t gonna sneeze at ‘em either.

With that my spring training dispatches are done for the day. Aaron and the guys will be checking in with other baseball news as usual, of course, but I have to get on the road to Fort Meyers, where I’ll be catching the Twins on Tuesday and the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Later Gators. 

  1. TF in Tampa - Mar 8, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    Now I hope all this fame and fortune doesn’t go to your head there OG, but I’ll add to the hysteria in hopes that I’m not going to far and say here’s another fitting alias for you “Jesus Christ Superstar”! {do I detect a long haired hippie freak hiding under that baseball cap in the front seat of that Grand Marquis?} FYI: they’re auditioning for the next troupe de force of the Broadway musical ‘Hair’, {you get to be legally naked on stage as a benni}
    But seriously people, say what you will about ‘Old Gator’ {I know a little more about him than most of you and he’s not old… persey}, as Craig already mentioned, he is much more knowledgeable about so many topics including b-ball, that I enjoyably canvas HBT looking just for his thoughts and insights, and look forward to hearing back from him, whomever he is replying to.
    Many of you have positive comments about the man, and rightfully so. Give credit where credit is do!
    Thats ‘Talkin Bout My Generation’

  2. Old Gator - Mar 8, 2010 at 5:01 PM

    Also replying to comment from PaulK:
    One of my many problems is that I have too many crushes on beautiful and supremely talented women, Margo Timmins and Karin Bergquist being cases in point. When you pay close attention to them – their enunciation (and by that I don’t mean pronunciation, necessarily), their modulation, their uncanny knack for turning every song they sing into an act of storytelling, they’re both Billie Holiday class vocalists. I saw OTR in Staurt, Florida on Saturday night, unplugged. They were transcendent. Karin…(sigh), not much more you can say. No pyrotechnics, no light show bullshit, just sheer mastery. What a presence she is.
    .
    Yes, I agree that Over the Rhine is one of the criminally best kept secrets in American music and they have been for twenty years or so now. And with Craig himself as a great example – he’s still stuck at The Trinity Session (provenance 1986, I think) – Cowboy Junkies, by going their own determined musical way, have gravitated to the fringes of popular taste as well. But, as H. L. Mencken famously wrote, nobody ever lost a penny by underestimating the taste of the American public. Mike Timmins has evolved into one of the great songwriters alive. Here’s hoping Pale Sun, Crescent Moon blasts him off of square one.

  3. Luis - Mar 8, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    I have to admit, despite his penchant for circumlocutious nonsense and obvious love of the sound of his own voice, motherfucker can write when he actually has something to say.

  4. Joey B - Mar 8, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    “But if he can’t stick with it, this stadium will be every bit as empty as Joepropdolsharklife Stadium – if not more so.”
    Probably true. Way too many fans think a new stadium is Nirvana. Too many places are like BA, TO, and CL. Success for a while, but the day they stopped having a .500+ record, their diehard fans disappeared. OTOH, FL fans wouldn’t show up even after multiple World Series Championships. You guys don’t deserve a new stadium.
    “And…this is for all you righties who don’t think you should be paying income taxes…since I inherited it, it was free.”
    I recognize a lot of gray in inheritance tax, but if your mom gives you a car, part of the car doesn’t belong to the government. She had to work a year to earn $30k, because the government takes 1/3 of her earnings in tax, so she could have $20k to spend on the global warming tool. And I assume she had to pay sales tax, and maybe an annual property tax depending on where she lived. How often is the government allowed to cut the pot?

  5. Joe L - Mar 8, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    Thanks for your thoughts. Agree re: the Judge.
    I think, given the right studio’s support, Chan-wook Park might be able to handle Blood Meridian. Again, he would need a ton of support, but he’s got the eye for it.

  6. True Grich - Mar 8, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    If you’re ever in Anaheim, I’ll give you a rally monkey and you will like it!

  7. Old Gator - Mar 8, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    We’ve been around this block a few times but I’m still game. First of all, what other industry would have the gall to demand that its customers buy an inferior product before the manufacturer would deign make it worth buying in the first place? The underlying premise that the fans are responsible to the franchise first is ridiculous; it doesn’t work anywhere else in a free market system and it won’t work here.
    .
    But more on point: whether or not we deserve one, we didn’t even ask for a new stadium in the first place. MLB, Scrooge McLoria and the backroom politicians cobbled this one together using an obscure regulation that permitted them to appropriate tourist tax money for supposedly “tourist friendly” purposes. Polls in Macondo were pretty consistent all along in the population’s lopsidedly negative opinion of using public money of any kind to fund a stadium, so the bastards just went around us. Ergo, you can throw into the pot of reasons why fans don’t go to the games the collective resentment of a lot of people down here who watched our school system cut teachers, activities, lunch programs and athletics while expanding class sizes in already unmanageable situations while the skinflint who pockets his luxury tax windfall and starves his team (until the union starts shooting up the floorboards around his feet) builds himself a nice new playpen.
    .
    Next, let’s get the chronology and circumstances correct. Huizinga blew up the team not because fans didn’t show up once they had won a championship, but because not enough of them showed up the year before. There was another factor as well: Huizinga was trying to get zoning approval to clear a huge swatch of undeveloped land west of I-75 at the Dad-Broward border for an arts, sports and amusement center we referred to locally as “Wayne’s World.” Like John Henry after him, he got fed up with resistance to the rezoning plans, to the reluctance of municipalities populated mainly by folks – wealthy ones, too – who moved out there precisely to get beyond the urban congestion east of I-75 to being built over and overrun with traffic, and to the resistance by just about everyone to laying out public money for the project. In 1995 Viacom bought Blockbuster from Huizinga and he began divesting himself of his entertainment and sports interests – the Panthers of the NHL, the Feesh eventually, and gave up on the entire “Wayne’s World” project. Dumping the Feesh was just part of the process. We’ll never know what 1968 might have been like if he’d kept the ’97 championship team more or less together because it was already all but gone by April 98. So to chastise Feesh fans for not responding to a championship when they’d just been kicked in the cojones seems a little bit sententious. My guess is that if he’d held it together a few more years he would have been well on his way to building that solid fan base whose lack outsiders constantly bemoan as if they had a rat’s patoot of an idea of what actually went on here. Instead, the fans were treated to a fumbling bunch of rookies, castoffs and retreads who occupied the basement for yonks.
    .
    Next, John Henry breezed into town promising that he’d build a new stadium himself if he couldn’t get the public money for it. He didn’t get it. Two years later, trading the Feesh for the Red Sox, he was gone, leaving a truly shattered franchise – Dave Dombrowski, who had built the ’97 team and really built the core of the ’03 team so often credited entirely to Larry Beinfest, packed up for Detroit at the same time. Oh well. Time to treat the fans like shit again.
    .
    Fast forward to the wholly unexpected miracle of 2003. A bargain basement team still, but when they win, Loria promises “no dismantling.” A year later, giving up pretty quickly himself when the fans didn’t swamp the stadium, he pulls it apart again. Meanwhile, even during ’03, there were rumblings about Loria moving the team if he didn’t get a stadium handed to him. Folks really loved that. The fans down here are not stupid and they knew what to expect from watching the fate of the Expos. The following year, the team was on its way to either Las Vegas or San Antonio, depending on who you listened to. The Chihuahua was quoted widely and often extolling the virtues of other cities and the wonderful things they were offering the Feesh. Oh, that will do wonders for building a fan base.
    .
    We’re back to the same issue: you think we’re somehow obligated to buy an inferior product. We don’t.

  8. KnightofGod - Mar 8, 2010 at 6:33 PM

    I am petty new to this site, but this really pulled me in. I always wanted to write a book about the road I’ve traveled (from abused child, marrying young, divorcing young, an affair that led to a daughter who the lord took home at 4 months, one insane woman after another, drinking, soldier, and finally loving father and husband)but alas I have no writing skills. But what a life it has been!

  9. Joey B - Mar 8, 2010 at 7:38 PM

    “We’ve been around this block a few times but I’m still game. First of all, what other industry would have the gall to demand that its customers buy an inferior product before the manufacturer would deign make it worth buying in the first place? The underlying premise that the fans are responsible to the franchise first is ridiculous; it doesn’t work anywhere else in a free market system and it won’t work here.
    .
    But more on point: whether or not we deserve one, we didn’t even ask for a new stadium in the first place.”
    I’ll give you a 1-2.
    My belief is that the role of gov’t is to ease the way for business investment. Access road, mass transit, variances, maybe even the odd tax break. I’d go so far as to build a garage or two, as long as I’m keeping enough in tax to pay for the garage. But the actual factory is the responsibility of the business owner. The idea behind any business is that demand is equal to or greater than supply. Gov’t interference in that process skews the cost, making it impossible to determine whether or business truly makes sense.
    OTOH, your basis for attendance relies on a false assumption. You won’t pay for an inferior product. I wouldn’t either, but the fact is your product is not inferior. They finished 2nd in their division and 6th out of 16 in the NL. They’ve won 2 WSC in the past 13 years. They’ve been one of the more successful teams in BB. Certainly they rate above TO, BA, TB, CL, KC, TX, Oak, the Nats, Houston, PT, Cincy, SF, SD, CO and AZ, and likely a couple of others.
    You are either looking for a guarantee, or you’re cheap.

  10. Old Gator - Mar 8, 2010 at 11:15 PM

    No one’s looking for a guarantee and “cheap” was – well – a cheap shot so I’ll address it once here and I’ll ignore it henceforth. A brief local economics lesson: Macondo, despite its surface glitter, is one of the poorest urban regions per capita in the country and one of the lowest in terms of disposable income. Moreover, nearly a quarter of its population, and a large element of its economic engine, tourism, is seasonal in an inverse relation to the period of the baseball season. Beyond that, a sizable proportion of its resident population gets out of town during the summer too. I’m a rare one who actually loves tropical heat (this winter has been wretched from my point of view; death to El Nino!) but I’m in a minority. However, even we used to disappear for up to six weeks in midsummer every year for London, where my wife’s from. I think dogsitting must be the sole Macondo summer industry that thrives. Day games down here are broiling affairs from mid-April onwards, and night games are Russian Roulette episodes with rainy season thunderstorms. So a baseball game has two strikes against it before we even get into the fan loyalty issues. Against that, though, the Feesh still boast among the highest per capita television ratings in MLB. And cable, as we all know, ain’t “cheap.”
    You keep bringing up the two championships without coming to terms with what happened right after them, especially the first one. The two dismantlings alone (never mind the other issues) really badly impacted the longterm fan base situation here. Trying to make this point sink in with you is a bit like trying to get a creationist to discuss carbon-14 dating. These were not cutbacks; they were two calculated slaps in the fan’s faces, the wholesale destructions of the teams that had won those two championships and the banishment of the very players whose presence could have established a foundation for sustained enthusiasm. In both cases they were coercive gestures, meant to make it look like the team overhead was being reduced for quick sale. Fans were, as they say, collateral damage.
    So it’s not a “guarantee” we’re after, it’s an end to being played cheap, threatened and/or ignored and treated like fools by the team’s ownership. When the Chihuahua calls payroll dumping a “market adjustment,” who does he think he’s kidding, and who does he think is impressed by such fecalspeak? Competitive or not, baseball fandom is a matter of the heart at least as much or more than statistics, so whether it looks competitive or not in the standings, the fan in the mezzanine already knows that it isn’t really going anywhere. And again: the first dismantling occurred during the offseason following the championship, so there was never any opportunity to build any momentum. The second occurred a year after the victory, but the roughly two year period between the ’03 victory and sunset on the ’05 team was filled with threats and bluster by the team that they’d be leaving if they didn’t get a stadium. It was almost as if these nitwits were going out of their way to alienate fans. In the real world – and more than most other places in the volcanic emotional ethos of Latino temperament – insults aren’t taken lightly, and fans have lo-o-o-o-ng memories.
    .
    Look, Scrooge McLoria has now owned baseball teams in two very different markets, and whether he made as much money in Montreal as he’s made here, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s no secret that from the perspective of winning over the fans, he’s been a miserable failure in both markets while employing essentially the same strategy. Matter of fact he was brought into both markets to be Bud Selig’s budget hatchet man in his contests with the Union. We’re going back to marketing again. You may want to go on playing chicken-or-the-egg with this K-Mart team and its fans, but the ownership here is going to have to find a way to succeed in this market or not. So far, they don’t seem to have a clue, and though it would take us afield here, if they think this ill-conceived and mislocated stadium is going to make a difference long term in attendance, they’re in for another deflating disappointment. Unfortunately, so are the fans.

  11. Ryan Estridge II - Mar 9, 2010 at 12:40 AM

    What? You have no writing skills? Whatever happened to acquiring skills? Learn, dude.
    It sounds like you’ve got a real story vis a vis the self-aggrandizing bullshit going on here.
    I didn’t have any walking skills when I was six months old, so I just gave up and crawled around my whole life. Right.
    Wake up. Teach yourself. Write that goddam book.

  12. blackhiller from CM Forum - Mar 9, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    As Jonathan Quayle Higgins used to say on Magnum, PI: “Oh My God!” What would uncle Eli think, Old Gator?
    Y’all know you have a National Treasure, be it on baseball, Godzilla, the Junkies, Apolitical Incorrectness, food, football, McCarthy, reptiles and amphibians ad infinitum.
    Little Richard he aint.
    Longtime Reds fan, me, from 1967. Remember getting Seaver from the Metros the year he combined to win 21 between the two teams. Saw in person Rick Wise’s no-hitter in which he homered twice in 1971 at Riverfront. Rose’s Cobb record-breaking hit. Bench’s homer on Johnny Bench day. And turned down an invitation from my brother to attend the game that turned out to be Tom Browning’s perfecto: what was I not thinking.

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