Heckling part of Wrigley's bleacher culture

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

CHICAGO -- They are pithy in the right-field bleachers at Wrigley Field, but the best line during the batting practice begfest last night came from an import.

"Yeah, we're Canadian, but at least we're tolerant," shouted Chris Williamson, a teacher at a Pickering school enjoying a kind of Ferris Bueller day off.

Someone else was teaching Williamson's phys ed class at Frenchman's Bay school. He was with his dad and brother, begging for baseballs, having left Oshawa at 4 a.m. for the ritual drive to Wrigley.

They could have sat anywhere, of course, but there is a special attraction to the $28 seat that gives you access to plenty of beer and the insulating comfort of a mob from which to shout.

"We wanted the bleachers. We wanted to be bleacher bums and have the whole experience," Williamson said.

One of the beauties of baseball is that athlete and customer can interact. The heckle predates the dead-ball era and sophisticated fans, there every night, make for a relationship between player and patron.

Once in Boston, a fan asked Dwight Evans to throw a ball into the stands. It was Evans' birthday. The fans along the first row of the bleachers signed the ball and lobbed it back.

The glass ruins the possibility of that kind of interaction in hockey. The field is too far in football and basketball can be a little too close and millionaires sitting courtside generally don't heckle. This is one of the ways baseball is special.

There have been bleachers at Wrigley Field since 1937 and all of them, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial have feigned deafness when heckled by the besotted residents beyond the outfield ivy.

Besides, while they comprise only 10% of the house, bleacherites get all the face time when a ball sails into their hands. Unlike most other major-league parks, the bleachers aren't the cheapest seats at Wrigley Field, sitting midway in the price chain.

It is a Wrigley hallmark that the home-run baseballs hit by opposing batters are tossed back on to the field. The only transgressors are out-of-towners who are booed for their lack of decorum should they decide to take the ball home.

Not that Williamson minded, but the myth of the clever heckler, the erudite leather lung is the only part of Wrigley Field that isn't as quaintly charming as advertised.

First, drunks usually are the loudest but they aren't charming.

Second, they're not that clever. Tolerant, maybe, but clever? Nah.

"People were yelling at me about Cal State Fullerton sucking," Blue Jays left-fielder Reed Johnson said. "Actually, they were pretty good about keeping it clean. I didn't hear anything about my mother or father or anything like that."

There had been rumours that fans circulate sheets with information about players with the most personal of information. Blue Jays centre-fielder Vernon Wells was looking forward to hearing from the best hecklers in the business.

"All I kept hearing was 'Wells, you suck. You suck.' I was looking forward to something different. I hear 'you suck' at home sometimes."

"Sometimes, people do circulate sheets on guys" said 20-year-old Phil Wallin, a right-field regular. "We appreciate it when someone does their homework. It makes for a good heckle."

Wallin is from Iowa but has spent the past four years in Chicago The left-field stands, he said, are a bit more of a drunken party than the right-field seats. He is a student here. "I look at it that I've gone to four years of college to be a better heckler."

The best heckle? "San Diego has an outfielder whose last name is Hidzu," Wallin said. "Some drunk guy stands up and yells, 'Adam eats poo.' The whole right field was chanting it."

The bleachers have the same demographic as a frat house, young white males with baseball caps. They are harmless enough, a bunch of kids looking for a good time at a ball game.

But there are no sages here. Turns out, baseball paradise is full of mortals.


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