Sunday afternoon after the game. It should be a mellow time in the park, fans gathering up their stuff and, content after a weekend of baseball, heading for home.
Mellow would not describe the gaggle of little kids lined up on the fence across from third base. They are wiggling and giggling, getting ready for the most fun in the ballpark: their chance to run the bases.
It’s a tradition on Sundays after the game for children to run around the bases, tagging each base (or not) as they go by, and ending up running through a double row of Crabs players, getting high fives all along the way.
If your kiddo hasn’t had a chance to do this, get to the park soon as Sunday, Aug. 4 is the last regular game of the oh-too-short Crabs season. That’s only two Sundays left, so put it on the family calendar.
Folks around the ballpark weren’t exactly sure when the tradition started. Most seemed to link it with their own kids or with the manager or coach at the time.
“Let’s see, my son did it when he was one and he’s 13 now,” Michelle Butler said.
Bob Studdert, a McKinleyville resident who has been coming to Crabs games for “45 or 50 years” by his own estimate, said that the tradition started in “the Shorty years.”
Several board members estimated it to be around 1995, because that was when the new board came in.
Going to the source, I asked Shorty Ames the question. Ames was the manager of the Crabs from 1996 to 2005. “It was around ‘98,” he said. “We loved it and the players got into it so it’s been great.”
It has been great and moms like the effect it has, too.
“When my girl friends have their kids do it, they run around at least three times,” Board member Tracy Mac explained. “”The kids are so tired when they get in the car the motion of the car puts them to sleep and they take a nice long nap.”
Board treasurer Ellen Barthman and I had talked about signing up for Crabs camp, even though we were grownups. We both wanted to learn the baseball skills we never learned as kids. But her schedule was too full (that woman does every job in the ballpark, I swear, filling in wherever she is needed) as mine was. “Next year,” we promised each other.
“But hey,” I said, “maybe we could run the bases on Sunday with the kids.” Her face lit up and we were on.
I got nervous as we lined up with the kids but with Ellen beside me I knew it would be fun. She promised she wouldn’t run really fast.
We took off at a pretty good clip, rounding first. “You missed the tag,” she told me. “Oh, ****,” I said, and promptly looked to see if any little kids had blistered ears. Crabs Code of Conduct prohibits foul language in the park. It says so, right on page 46 of the official program.
I ran back and tagged first and caught up with her. After that it was a breeze. When we went through the line of Crabs players, waiting to high five us, I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear.
“The best part,” Barthman said, “was the double row of Crabs high fives. And I especially enjoyed that the Expos lined up and slapped hands as well.”
The California Expos were the epitome of good sportsmanship even though they had been swept by the Crabs in the whole series.
In four years of writing for the Mad River Union I’ve gotten to interview farmers, artists, authors, and musicians, review plays and newly released CDs, photograph interesting people, and even fly in a World War II bomber. But running the bases after a Crabs game might just be the best perk of this job, ever.