The columnist suffers (with hot dog and brew) for you

March 22, 2014
Arizona Republic
EJ Montini

Because politicians and academics do not understand the working man a news columnist must make sacrifices.

This became clear to me one recent afternoon when I was on the streets of our beautiful city, plying the journalist's trade, and found myself on East Van Buren Street, stopped at a traffic signal in front of Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which happens to be the spring training home of the Oakland Athletics.

At least until the end of the month. 

After that, the lovely old ballpark known as Muni will be taken over by Arizona State University. The A's will play spring ball in Mesa next year.

The politicians and academics are thrilled by the arrangement.

"This is a walk-off grand slam for ASU and the City of Phoenix," Mayor Greg Stanton said when the announcement was made.

The President of ASU, Michael Crow, added, "Phoenix Municipal Stadium will be an outstanding home ballpark for the ASU baseball team."

Good for them.

But what about the working stiffs of downtown Phoenix?

There is nothing better than spring training baseball. Nothing. Seriously. I mean it. And there are stadiums scattered all over the Valley: Goodyear. Peoria. Scottsdale. Surprise. Mesa.

But how convenient are they for the men and women who labor in downtown Phoenix?

What about the retail clerks, the bankers, the restaurant workers, the lawyers, the sales people, construction workers and others (say, news writers) who toil away downtown.

For them, Muni is only a 15 minute drive.

(Ten if one goes heavy on the gas and catches the lights.)

I've heard tell that among these hard-working, baseball-loving citizens there are individuals who take note when the A's have a home game with a 1:15 p.m. start.

(Perhaps because they happen to have the spring training schedule bookmarked on their office computer.)

I've heard that some of these stressed out, overburdened, underpaid folks from downtown make periodic visits to Muni during March for what some describe as a "working lunch."

I suspect that many of them are greatly upset by the impending loss of this long-standing spring training venue.

And since I happened to be passing by Muni, and there happened to be a game, I decided to stop at the stadium and interview some of these distraught fans.

Seasoned investigative reporters know that the best way to get inside information is to blend in. With that in mind, I removed my necktie and donned a ball cap that just so happened to be under the front seat of my car.

After purchasing a general admission ticket I decided that, painful as it may be, I needed to put myself in a position to interact with the most heartbroken spring training fans.

So I made my way to the nearest cold beverage vendor.

As I was paying for my modest, chilled refreshment the customer behind me said, "Beautiful day, ain't it?"

"Yes," I answered. "Too bad about next year, though, when there's no more spring training in this stadium."

"Not really," the man said. "With all the teams that play in the Valley there are lots of choices."

"Gotta go," I said, hurrying away, unable to listen to more of the poor man's desolate ruminations.

There were equally despairing fans at the hot dog stand. As well as the condiment cart.

A gentleman hoping to get the attention of a man hawking churros was absolutely inconsolable. To the untrained eye, the man grieved because the vendor had sold his last fried pastry stick. Journalistic intuition told me he mourned the impending loss of Muni.

These are difficult assignments for a news columnist, but one must be willing to document the heartache of his neighbors close up -- even if it requires him stand in the beverage line for the second time. 

"It's terrible there won't be spring training here next year," I said to the customer in front of me. "Muni is so close to downtown."

"I guess," he said, pausing to compose himself, then adding, "Tempe Diablo (Stadium) is just as close to downtown, though. In fact, haven't I seen you th…"

Poor man.

The tears in his eyes must have affected his vision.