I want to tell you about Ralph Kiner Night. I really do. But first I have to tell you about Norris Hopper Weekend.
Norris Hopper is the Reds' centerfielder. He plays Ken Griffey's former position and wears Ken Griffey's former number. That's all I knew about him as of the first inning Friday.
Well, that's not entirely true. I also had a very strong hunch that he would provide, through no fault of his own, heckling fodder for Joe, my uncommonly intense Mets companion for many a Mets game over many a Mets season. Joe wants the Mets to win. Joe wants to help the Mets win. Thus, Joe goes after the other team with whatever he can muster. He finds what only Joe can find and he pounds away at what he perceives are the vulnerabilities of an individual opponent.
For example, some random Marlin might remind him in some random manner of some random actor from some random '60s sitcom, let's say, and for the next nine innings, Josh Willingham becomes — I don't know — Jerry Van Dyke, as in Hey Willingham! “My Mother The Car” SUCKED! Invariably, Joe will scream this at every Josh Willingham plate appearance and Josh Willingham will hit for the cycle and the Mets will lose 11-3.
Joe's default position when he doesn't see an obvious (to Joe) angle is to take shots at the first thing that jumps out at him…a player's first name. Never heard of Norris Hopper? Uh-oh. That can only mean I'm in for an evening of…
NORRIS? WHAT KIND OF NAME IS NORRIS FOR A BASEBALL PLAYER?
Though Joe thinks he is psyching out every non-Tom, Dick and Harry with that kind of observation, it never, ever, ever works. Friday night in the first inning, Norris Hopper, whatever the derivation of his first name, bunted his way on. Two batters later he crossed the plate.
In a later at-bat, Joe only got madder.
NORRIS! WHAT KIND OF NAME IS NORRIS FOR A BASEBALL PLAYER? NORRIS! YOU'RE A NERD!
Norris the Nerd singled and later scored.
Clearly the psyche-out had backfired. Karmically if not actually (given our distance from home plate), Norris Hopper heard Joe's taunt and shoved it right up John Maine's and Mike Pelfrey's respective two-holes.
I hate when Joe does stuff like that not only because it's bad — or at least weird — sportsmanship, not only because it is so destined to produce opposition runs, not only because it gets those uninitiated in the ways of Joe staring at us, but because how the hell do I know there isn't another Norris, perfectly proud and terribly touchy, sitting right behind us, having come to Shea just after his late-afternoon workout at Gold's Gym or perhaps a swing by the nunchuck store? Maybe the Norris one row back will fail to see the humor or utility or Joeness of these barbs and accept them good-naturedly. In other words, as I suggested to Joe in weaving this hypothetical scenario to him Friday, perhaps he should shut the fudge up with this line of Norris-baiting.
Joe professed not to be worried about another Norris materializing in the mezzanine and beating our asses to a bloody pulp for making fun of his name. But he did, blessedly, give “NORRIS!” a rest.
It's 24 hours later. Joe and I are at it again, back-to-back nights. We wanted our Endy Chavez (Joe's a bobblehead fiend) just like we wanted our Ralph Kiner. Ralph's ceremony, which I will delve into in a later post (because I don't want to sully him by association with this sordid tale), is concluded and the game is on. The first inning has passed without incident. Brandon Phillips has homered in the second — move over, Pat Burrell. A moment or two later, three fans arrive in our section of the loge. Two men, one boy. Their leader is a fellow in a white tank top, the kind of garment unfortunately nicknamed for one who would abuse one's spouse. He has many tattoos. He is very hip-hop in his bearing. He is, as the Offspring so memorably phrased it, pretty fly for white tank top guy. As he and his party take their seats one row behind us, I instantly hear his story in full with 30 seconds of his pulling out his cell:
“Yo! I'm in Queens! I'm at the Mets game! I'm here for my boy Norris Hopper! I know Norris from the 'hood! Norris was supposed to leave us tickets! I had to buy tickets! I'm sitting in the blue shit! Like 30 rows back! Norris was supposed to leave us tickets! He's supposed to sign a ball for my son! I wanna get a ball! I'm not even a Mets fan! I'm a Yankees fan! I don't even care though! I'm here for Norris Hopper! That's the only reason I'm here! Norris is my boy! I know him from the hood! He was supposed to leave us tickets! He's gonna leave us tickets tomorrow! He's gonna sign a ball for my son!”
Holy Wayne Krenchicki! A variation on the situation that I speculated, purely theoretically, could exist DID exist! Apparently, based on the white tank top in Row H's description, Cincinnati Red Norris Hopper — Joe's “nerd” — was a homeboy, a New York Red. He had friends here, friends who were all about Norris Hopper. What's more, he had friends in the “orange shit,” as the cell phone guy termed field level. One of the recipients of his many cellular transmissions was another hip to Hopper who in fact had been left seats, better seats, just two rows behind the third base ump by No. 30, playing center for Cincy.
“Do you hear this?” I asked Joe sotto voce. “This is like what I was talking about last night. So go easy on the Norris Hopper stuff, would you?”
Joe may appear oblivious, but he occasionally plants two feet in the real world.
“Why do you think I've shut my mouth about him?”
I was tempted to ask this guy one row behind us about Norris Hopper, where exactly he's from around here, how you know him, what kind of player is he, but…nah, didn't seem all that good an idea. I didn't really want to engage the white tank top. The thing about being a Yankees fan was a turnoff. More so was the thing about NOT SHUTTING UP about Norris Hopper from the second to the seventh inning. That summation he gave over the phone? He gave it over and over again. He gave it to everyone in his Your Five, in his Your Fifty. He told it to his similarly white-tank-topped 13-year-old son (a boy initially presented as proof of age to the beer vendor as in “I've got a 13-year-old son, that's my I.D.!”), a preteen (looked younger than 13) who seemed not impressed and not a little bored. He told it to his friend, some kind of D.J. it was implied. He told it to anybody within listening range. He told it to the air.
It is no exaggeration to say by midgame I had come to be a player-hater and that the player I hated was Norris Hopper. I wanted every Met to hit every ball at Norris Hopper and I wanted Norris Hopper to make every conceivable sort of error. I wanted Norris Hopper's nickname to become E-8. I could look past Brandon Phillips' one-man demolition job and Ken Griffey's eight-year-old refusal to accept a trade to us and Mike Stanton for being a Yankee when he was a Met and David Weathers for being a Met at all and Pete Rose for what he did to our Buddy and Joe Morgan for announcing so poorly and every transgression ever perpetrated by a Red, past or present, against our team because all I could wish was ill on Norris Hopper.
It wasn't just the yo!norris!myboy!fromthehood!getaballformyson! loop that was getting on my nerves nor the incessant, overdone Norris cheering for every Met fly ball to center that wasn't mishandled. This guy was simply bad news. He received his vended beer and then some. He grew louder. He told various members of Row H and Row G and Row F he didn't care for some stray characteristic of theirs. He thought it hilarious to have turned “Lastings Milledge” to “Lasting Mileage” (thus making Joe sound like a Nobel Laureate taunter by comparison). He divined his boy Norris must be good because he was batting second “just like Derek Jeter”. Somewhere along the way, he admitted he wasn't much of a baseball fan at all, that he preferred football, that after his boy Norris gets his last at-bat, yo we're outta here.
I'm a little fuzzy on what transpired next. I heard him telling his son over and over that “you're my son, you understand?” (I could imagine the kid wanting to forget that fact.) I saw him and his D.J. friend heading downstairs for more beer or something harder. I noticed their return. And then, out of nowhere, appeared about a half-dozen Shea security officers.
“You're leaving,” their supervisor told him.
There was lots of “huh?” and “wha'?” and “why me?” but the security force brooked no sass. “Your night is over,” the supervisor said. “Let's go.”
Wow, I thought. I didn't know being an annoying Yankees fan could get you thrown out of Shea Stadium.
As the merry trio was led away, a cloud lifted from over our section. Row H…Row G…Row F…all liberated from the idiot. We were confused as to why it happened, but we were elated that it did. Theories were pieced together, one centering on the guy putting his kid in too tight a headlock when giving him the “you're my son” spiel after the son acted up, leading somebody to alert the authorities; and another involving a fan not from our section who trailed the security guys up the steps — he may have run into some unpleasantness with the white tank top in the concourse that soared beyond obnoxious chatter and decided to do something about it. Whatever motivated their dismissal from the premises, the seventh-inning stretch, the XM Singalong and, especially, the bottom-of-the-eighth rally (capped by Lasting Mileage) were bristling with uncommon energy in Loge 15.
“Enter Sandman,” too. Our crowd was frenzied not just for a Mets win, but a Reds loss. Norris Hopper was due up fourth in the ninth. I of course wanted Billy to mow Cincy down one-two-three, but oh, is there any way Norris Hopper can make the last out? Didn't come to that. Had to settle for a 2-1 win and the white tank top's boy Norris left stranded in the on-deck circle.
Great night for Ralph. Great night for us. And a great night to stick it to Norris Hopper, who went straight to the top of my enemies list…until I got home.
I had to check. Where was Norris Hopper from in the New York area? What “hood” had yielded this blight of a friend of his for us to enjoy? And would this jerk be allowed back in Sunday now that Norris was leaving them tickets like he was supposed to, yo?
Guess what — Norris Hopper is from Shelby, North Carolina.
He was born there. He graduated from high school there. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals from there. He'd been knocking around the minor leagues for seven years before making the Reds last year. I checked the Reds' media guide, I checked every source I could think of. There is no evidence that Norris Hopper has ever lived in New York. If it exists, it is most certainly well-hidden.
Furthermore, there was nothing to suggest the slightest southern charm about the guy in the white tank top. That is, I don't believe the “hood” that gentleman spoke of is or was in North Carolina. What I do believe, therefore, is that, duh, this dope DOES NOT KNOW NORRIS HOPPER!
I'm also thinking there was nobody on the other end of any of those phone calls.
I have absolutely no idea why a person would pretend to know a person he or she does not. OK, let me rephrase that lest you think me sadly naïve: I know there are dishonest and/or delusional people in this world, particularly those who have things about celebrities. Sports seems to create these faux-relationships by the bushel.
I have heard tell of at least one young lady in the Metropolitan Area who claims against all overwhelming evidence to the contrary that she is the steady girlfriend of a certain third baseman we all love but probably don't actually know.
I know of two separate women who claim thoroughly unlikely relationships with a shortstop of whom we aren't particularly fond.
There is a lady who was legendary in certain circles of Shea Stadium for insisting she was the niece of the owner of a rival team.
And to make sure this isn't just a knock on crazy women fans, I once read of a man, a Philadelphia Eagles fan, who bragged to some fellow golfers that he was mighty tight with then-head coach Rich Kotite — only to have Rich Kotite himself wander into the 19th hole (and be kind enough not to blow the liar's cover when he figured out how thin the truth was being stretched).
But Norris Hopper?
Somebody in New York would fabricate a friendship with Norris Hopper who is from North Carolina and plays for Cincinnati? Somebody who needed his buddy and his son to help him divine where to find the score on the scoreboard would enter Shea and then spend his entire abbreviated stay dropping the name Norris Hopper whose entire Major League playing career is 82 games long?
You can make all the excuses and explanations you care to — he wanted to be a hero to his son; he wanted to choose somebody so obscure that nobody could challenge him; he is preternaturally pathological and was pretty damn drunk — but Norris Hopper?
You mean I chose Norris Hopper as my own personal Rocker because some nitwit in a tank top bragged he and Norris were from the same neighborhood when, in fact, they appear to be barely from the same time zone?
Yo! I'm sorry, Norris. You're not a nerd and you're not a lowlife with a lowlife pass list. You're just some random Red. Based on that alone, I can't say you're a bad guy. In fact, based on that alone, I can't say much of anything about you. But beware, Mr. Hopper, there are actually people who would.
And for what it's worth, I think Norris is a fine first name.