He once was quoted as saying, “I knew when my career was over. In 1965 my baseball card came out with no picture.” In my case, I knew it was over when in 2002 I barely beat one of my teenage sons at a game of “make-it-take-it” on our driveway basketball court.
On another instance he bemused, “I had slumps that lasted into the winter.” That hardly compares to my seasonal slumps that could last all winter!
Some can easily picture the legendary Bob Uecker sauntering down to his stadium seat while confidently clutching his cup of Miller Lite. Anticipating unrestrained fanfare once his identity is fully revealed to the nearby crowd, he shrugs off an irate fan from behind who’s yelling, “Down in front!”
Now confidently and comfortably seated, a red-clad usher quickly leans his direction and instructs “C’mon buddy, you’re in the wrong seat.” What follows, as he readies to move, is that lightheartedly innocent line, “Oh, I must be in the front row!”
Decades ago, as a new Putnam County resident, I decided to give our kids a treat by taking in the fanaticism of a Friday night boys basketball game at Ottawa-Glandorf’s own Robert J. Hermiller Supreme Court. Wanting to get my full money’s worth with kids in tow, I figured we’d catch the JV game, too.
By arriving early, quality courtside seats surely awaited, or so we thought. To my chagrin, the gymnasium was essentially packed, and we were shoved up to the balcony, near the rafters and behind a steel beam forcing me to crane my neck for much of the night. This has got to change!
Having come to Ottawa to plant a new Lutheran church, it would be a few months before being deemed “legitimate.” After all, we started the church with six, my wife, me and the four kids. We finally got “in” by gathering the flock for the first time in the O-G High School auditorium, our initial place of worship.
Some months later, to my surprise, I received a mailing from the local high school’s athletic department. In it was a brief form letter alerting me, as local clergy, that I was receiving a complimentary athletic pass to any and all Ottawa-Glandorf sporting events for the year. Boomshakalaka! That’s my kind of pastoral perk!
Every August the passes kept coming! How could I appropriately express my undying gratitude? The lightbulb went off when news came of an opening at the boys varsity basketball scorers’ table. David Sweet, the head coach at the time, needed a new scorebook keeper. I knew I was his new man! Even with no experience on my resume, I applied for the job and got it!
For years, I had the best seat in the joint – an unobstructed view, in the front row and at mid-court! Time marched on, however, and years later I eventually ran out of ink in my pens, retired and gave up my cherished seat.
On plenty of occasions thereafter I was still able to “squeeze” some front-row seating. It pays, with my well-seasoned pass-in-hand, to have a few season-ticket-holding friends with “primo seats.” What’s more, I sometimes knew when they were out of town for the weekend!
Today, as any local sports pandemic-fatigued-fan knows, those days have been over as I look at my empty calendar, for just over a year.
Gone are the days when you can confidently stride into a game, with or without a pass. Gone are the days when having connections with the athletic department will get you any “seat in the house.” Gone are the days where even a sellout crowd wasn’t enough to force a “Plan B” where the only option was to tune into 106.3 on the FM dial and catch the voice of the Titans.
Almost 20 years ago when I had a couple sons playing basketball during a nice tournament run, gone are the days when I had to manage an Excel spreadsheet to organize how it was that I planned to divvy up 40 tickets for family and friends.
Gone are the days when Ottawa-Glandorf and Putnam County alone seemed capable of maxing out the seating capacity at the Value City Arena on the campus of OSU. With eyes welling up, we can kiss those days goodbye!
Gone, of late, are the days when I might take in 15 games, meets or matches a month. Sadly, I’ve seen barely half that many in the past year.
The flash of my pass is presently a thing of the past. Woe is me.
Without a doubt, my grieving extends to all athletes, parents, programs, teams and terminated tournament runs, stifled or brought to a screeching halt when protocols came down from on high. Presently their pains are hardly assuaged having to compete before masked and muffled crowds. “Crowd” might even be a misnomer, given the severely restricted number in attendance, all of whom are cordoned-off in partitioned pods.
Gone are the days of a free-flowing pipeline for purchase of premier seating, or any seating, for that matter.
Even for our niece’s postponed college volleyball season, now reinstated, the closest I can get to seeing her play is paying $35 to get my face plastered on one of those virtual fan cutouts attached to a vacant seat.
Always the optimist, the good news is that, if I’m lucky, I might get placed in the front row.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org