Saturday, November 15, 2003

2003 All Star Game...Behind the Music by Jake Austen

Chicago is synonymous with “machine politics” (we used to be synonymous with the broader concepts of political corruption and election fraud...thanks Florida for letting us off the hook!) and the way the machine works is an elaborate system of favors and “hook-ups.” With that in mind I was absolutely shocked when I found myself with 2003 All Star Game tickets in hand acquired through completely legit means. Though I was prepared to work whatever meager connections and "people" I have to get in, somehow the postcard I sent in to the tickets sweepstakes yielded me four seats in the far corner of the towering upper deck. Though they cost in excess of $200 each for the worst seats I've ever had in the excess of 300 Comiskey Park I & II games I've attended, I was thrilled. In the end not having to rely on hook-ups served me well, as I likely would have broke my bank more severely to attend an exhibition game (for example, I ended up sitting next to the Smashing Pumpkins’ audio tech because my buddy who was going to sit with us got a “hook-up” that rewarded him with a lodge seat next to Billy Corgan that cost him half a grand and was within a high school quarterback's throw of our seat).

But that aside, my point in describing the remoteness of my seat is to make it clear that if you watched the game on TV you know what happened better than I. However, I'd love to tell you of some stuff you likely missed on TV...the 2003 All Star Game...Behind the Music!

There were a number of magical musical moments during the All Star Weekend, but the first was definitely the most amazing and I believe the highlight of the entire dozen hours spent at the stadium that weekend. The first night of activities was All Star Sunday, where two exhibition games were scheduled, one between USA born minor leaguers and non-US pre-rookies (“The Futures Game,” which replaced the more engaging and sentimental and superior Old-Timers Game) and one a softball game with celebrities and old-timers teaming up. Though it wasn't too exciting to watch a pitcher's duel between young players we never heard of, the late afternoon was far from unentertaining thanks to presence of nearly EVERY MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL MASCOT! That's right, a couple of dozen giant puppet-headed clowns were gleefully entertaining the fans to the fullest. Some of the puppets were a bit less talented and courser in their humor (the Rockies’ Dinger the Dinosaur and the Expos’ Youppi, for example) than some of the greats (the Pittsburgh Parrot and the classic Mr. Met). And some of the newer, hulking, generic “monster” characters seemed to have been built with pelvic thrusts as their main comedic activity (for example, Cleveland’s Slider, replacing the more offensive Chief Wahoo). But overall these were some entertaining dudes.

Between the baseball and softball games the mascots were introduced and danced on the dugouts while a couple of mini-trucks drove out, each pulling huge trailers with rows of giant amplifiers on them. Following was a large trailer with a rock band setup on it. After the mascots did their dances the band Live was introduced, and from behind the infield they played a couple of their ’90s hits on the rock float. I must say, the band seemed a bit out of place, with shaved heads and mohawks...only the burly, bearded regular-guy bass player looked like he belonged a the ballpark.

Not particularly interested in Alternative Rock as a concept, I spent the band's first song ignoring them and using my binoculars to get good ganders at my favorite mascots. I watched some general goofing, but then I was shocked to see my all time fave, the Padres’ Swingin’ Friar gathering in a couple of his fellow puppets (I believe Boston's Green Monster and Bernie Brewer) and putting their big heads together engaging in what seemed like a serious conversation. When I pointed this out to my wife she conjectured that these guys never see each other, it was like a convention, they were likely happy to see each other and discuss mascot issues. That seemed odd to me considering they were on the big stage, and luckily it turned out to be a bunk theory. For a ripple of a plan was now disseminating from mascot to mascot.

And when Live went into their second song the plan went into action.

Twenty-four giant puppet -headed mascots rushed the stage and formed a sprawling, chaotic, HILARIOUS mascot mosh pit! They were skanking, slamming, pogo-ing and shaking loosely hinged pelvises. Though there were no gorillas (only a lion, a cardinal, a bear and Billy the Marlin), they went APESHIT! It was one of the funniest gags I'd ever seen. They were going nuts, and when the Friar did the Curly/Angus Young lie-on-the-ground-run-in-a-circle move I was sold! This was the most hilarious ballpark rock & roll moment ever.

Notable is the fact that the band didn't seem to appreciate this spontaneous show of support. The lead singer completely ignored the moshers, pretending not to see them and the rockers didn't play to the pit at all. When their dreary song was over they left the stage without even a gesture towards the brilliant physical comics who made their brief set worthwhile. That is, all of them except Beardy, the best Live of them all, who jumped down and hugged the Pittsburgh Parrot.

If anyone doubts that the moshpit was spontaneous, note that when the pop punk band The Ataris played their cover of the hokey baseball hit “Boys of Summer” [Ed note: Penned by satan himself, Don Henley] before Mondays home run contest no such pit was enacted...those mascots had been taken to the woodshed.

There were several other good musical moments All Star Weekend. Brian McKnight matched Dave Winfield for longest softball dinger. Koko Taylor sang the tourist Blues chestnut “Sweet Home Chicago.” Sox legendary organist Nancy Faust rocked a few of her famous rock puns (“Proud Mary” for Scott Rolen...get it, "Rolen on the river...").

And Amy Grant bizarrely signaled for her band to pick up the tempo during “America the Beautiful”...and she was singing to a recording!

But all those paled compared to the punk puppet pandemonium. That marvelous moment proved that those mascots were truly All Stars!

Jake Austen edits Roctober Comics and Music magazine, the journal of popular music's dynamic obscurities, and (with his wife Jacqueline) produces the cable access children’s dance show Chic-A-Go-Go. His new book A Friendly Game of Poker is out from Chicago Review Press this Fall. His work has appeared in The Cartoon Music Book, Nickelodeon Magazine, Playboy, Spice Capades: The Spice Girls Comic Book and Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth. He has attended over 400 White Sox games, even when Gary Redus was the best player.

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