Tuesday provided us an almost perfect evening of Americana at the elegantly aging old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, just across the swelling Arkansas River from downtown Wichita.
The temperature was appropriately but not excessively high as the Sioux Falls Canaries took a worrisome lead at the top of the first, but as the Wichita Wingnuts kept within striking distance over the subsequent innings a picturesque prairie sunset descended upon the hallowed field and the clean Kansas air achieved an optimum warmth. We enjoyed hearing the familiar corny advertising promos that accompany almost every possible play of minor league baseball as we sat in the sun-blinding smoking section with a couple of stogie-loving pals, chatted amiably with a couple of late-arriving friends about some of the city’s more notorious crime stories of the past few decades in between our game commentary, and amused ourselves by annoying the more stridently liberal of the two with our speculation that a black baserunner on the opposing team was a threat to steal second. At the top of the eighth we overhead a young mother consoling her adorably chubby and mitt-wearing daughter that one doesn’t get to take home a foul ball every game, and in the bottom of the inning a sharply hit foul bonked off the head of our liberal friend’s sister and landed softly in the hands of that very girl. Better yet, the hometown team took its first lead, and the only one it needed, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
The combined talents of Norman Rockwell and George M. Cohan could not have concocted a more satisfyingly old-fashioned American night, and with the free admission coupon we obtained from a local convenience store chain it was a bargain despite the over-priced beer, but it was made infuriatingly imperfect from the moment we had to pass through a wand-weilding security guard to gain admittance. Security at the elegantly aging old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium isn’t so intrusive and insulting as what the jet set routinely endures, but it entails a pat on the pants pockets and is annoying enough to spoil the illusion that we’re still living in the old America of the brave and free.
There’s no telling why such measures are thought necessary by the ballpark’s otherwise astute management. Even the most unambitious jihadist is unlikely to bomb an elegantly aging old ballpark where an unaffiliated double-A team called the Wingnuts is battling a team called the Canaries, and even the most culturally savvy of them would be unlikely to realize what a pregnantly symbolic target it would be. If those heavily-armed and rather ferocious-looking guards are concerned that a unmedicated nutcase is going to start abusing his concealed-carry permit they should spend some time in the stands, where the folks are both reassuringly normal by modern standards and yet somehow still well-equipped to take care of things in any contingency even by old-fashioned standards. The Wichita Wingnuts draw their rather modest crowds mostly from the inelegantly aging white working class near-westside neighborhood that abuts the ballpark, an area that was once one of the Wild West’s wildest townships, and it’s an intriguing mix of family values and biker tattoos that we sit among with complete confidence that they won’t attempt mass murder nor put up with any such nonsense.
Perhaps the Wingnuts’ management is following the lead of the far more fabled and lucrative Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad, which subjects its more aged and well-heeled and less likely to defend themselves fans to the same inexplicable scrutiny, Anything governmental around here is even nosier, and more behavior-altering. Our country boy Pop once inculcated in us the habit of carrying a Swiss Army knife, but we long ago abandoned that useful trait because of the Osama Bin Laden-like treatment we got from those guards at the city and county halls and federal courtrooms we were required by our profession to cover. Sometimes we find ourselves in need of the scissors or corkscrews that those devices put at our disposal, and we long for a bygone era.
Wingnuts games always draw a lot of cute young all-American kids, usually accompanied by parents who look as if they would otherwise be in one of the nearby dives, and it does our heart good to see them playing catch in between innings by the beer stand as we head off to a post-game beer with our pal at a local dive. Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Arky Vaughn and the all-steroid outfield of Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Pete Incaviglia once played in that ballpark, and we like to think those urchins are feeling some connection to those happier days. We think it would be good if they could take their own kids to a ballgame some day, and to walk in unmolested by the irrational fears that pervaded their childhoods, sure in the good intentions of their fellow Americans.
– Bud Norman