To heckle is a virtue
Jose Hurtado, I’ve got a lesson to give.
At the division I playoff game between the Fernley Vacqueros and the Tahoe-Truckee Wolverines, I keyed in on you and your posse as you verbally assaulted one of the Vacquero’s key players. Fernley’s Tyler Seldon was obviously affected when you would announce his number 33, followed by one of many taunts that your friends and you had devised. I felt an internal glow when, during quiet times in the game, your voice would come bellowing from the stands, badgering the obviously frustrated Seldon. He would cast glances at you and sometimes respond verbally to what you had to say … you had him in the palm of your hand.
Why, then, did you stop when he was shooting free throws? You contest that it’s because he always makes them.
Not if you’d keep bothering him.
I assure you, it’s my style. I’m not sure that I’m proud of it – I’ve made a complete ass out of myself in venues across the country – but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It adds spectacle to sport, and it’s the most engaging way I can think to watch a game. In the end, I feel as though I’ve been, often, a component in the game’s outcome.
Take for example, my last stint in Tennessee, when a friend of mine, Jamie Jones – with whom I shared the wonders of full-blown heckling – and I went to our umpteenth Chattanooga Lookouts game of the season. The Lookouts are the farm league baseball team (for the Cincinnati Reds) in the area and were, by far, our favorite pasttime on a lazy weeknight. For a couple of bucks – or less as promotional campaigns were abundant – we could get seats right next to the opposing team’s dugout.
Our method was simple: pick an enemy.
Typically we’d pick the third baseman, as he was the closest one on the field to us. Chiding his sorry performance, no matter whether it was good or not, would get him to thinking. Thinking would lead to a bobble or, god forbid, an error and our collective volcano would erupt. We’d attack his psyche like a pigeon does a piece of wonder bread.
The more response we got, the more we’d heckle. Enemies afforded us more enemies, as players warming up in the batter’s box would tell us to “just shut up,” or something, and we’d lay into them.
Our language was clean and, quite honestly, our heckles were intended to not make much sense, but boy would it get people riled up. The last game I saw at historic Engle Stadium (a great place), against the Knoxville Smokies, the third base coach came over to our area in the middle of an inning and shouted at us the crudest, most uncensored rant, ever. His forehead was sweating and his eyes filled with rage as he could no longer keep his mouth shut. He cussed freely over the legions of six-year olds watching the game in rows between him, Jamie and I. It was a mistake. All the fans around us, inspired by the poor management of the situation, began to raise a master ruckus against the team, no player going unscarred. The coach called the stadium police on us, and the police, with smiles on their faces, said they hadn’t heard us say anything offensive. They advised us to just not talk to the coach anymore, but everyone else was, so that was no big deal. We didn’t want to talk to him anyway. The Lookouts came back from a 9-4 deficit to win, 12-9.
At one game, I had a group of 12-year olds backing me up. On another occasion, I had to fend off a player who was determined to beat me up and, on yet another occasion, after the opposing team lost, a bunch of players heaved water from under the dugout into the stands where I was.
I argued, always, that I was a farm-league heckler. “If you can’t handle it now,” I’d scream, “what are you going to do if and when you get to the pros? We’re in Chattanooga. You think they can’t top this in New York City?”
And that wasn’t all.
When living in Berkeley a couple of years ago, I accompanied some friends to the big volleyball game between the Bears and the Stanford Trees (or whatever). Feeling spunky and having had pent up heckling desires every since moving to Oakland, I was ready. The layout of the gym and the sparse crowd – if you go to Berkeley, you don’t like sports and if you do like sports, you don’t like volleyball – I had the opportunity to stand right next to the Stanford players each time they’d serve. The proximity was divine.
Poised on the edge of the bleachers within point-blank range, I screamed nonsense ‘until veins were popping out in my forehead and I had an unbearable headache. Inevitably – and to my credit – they’d net serve and cast me a dirty look. The more response I got, as I said, the more the tirade fell from my wide open mouth. Before long, overwhelmed by the pain of the collapsing synapses in my brain, I had to resign, piping up only in crucial situations. To the credit of the masses, a corps of people took my place. We had to sneak out of the gymnasium because the Stanford team was making threats.
Later, I was contacted by the coach and various team members, asking if I would come be their mascot for the game at Stanford. Hell no. What do I care about Cal volleyball?
It’s a distinct part of my history … it’s a skill that I’ve fostered.
During my senior year in high school, a couple of my friends and I would go to all the home basketball games, in part because we liked the sport, but mostly because we wanted to rant. We were tossed from several games because of our tendency to just ramble loudly throughout contests. J-E-S-U-S-L-U-V-S-C-S-A-S was our favorite cheer (I went to the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, hence CSAS), and we would invariably whip it out in pivotal matches against Christian schools. We, like you, would key in on the player that was making it happen for the other team and proceed to shout every conceivable non sequitor we could muster. The less sense it made, the more it confused the enemy. The less sense it made, the more prone the players were to think that, somehow, it was an insult that they didn’t get.
It’s a mental attack. It’s a head game. That’s what crowds do. While many come to passively watch, I contend that the crowd serves to create an advantage for the home team. I believe it.
While observing sports on a professional level – it is my job after all – I have to, at least to some degree, maintain my dignity. But realize, deep down, I’m heckling, too, and, Jose, I’m critiquing every word you say.
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