March 22, 2012, 4:00 pm: The Social Ramble boogied over to Ace’s in the Nob Hill district of San Francisco on Thursday, in time to catch the Yanks-Sox spring training matchup from JetBluePark in Fort Myers. Ace’s is a “New York” bar with the clientele to prove it, and a lot of Big Apple ambiance in the form of NY subway signs, photos of Frank, and cheap drinks poured by actual mook bartenders. These barmen subscribe to the fading “buyback” policy in the pubs of yore, and admission of Yankee-worship is usually good for a beer or two as well.
Thursday afternoon, TSR bellied-up five minutes before first pitch and demanded a frosty from the bored-looking barman. I had the place almost to myself. With my pint sweating on the bar in front of me, I flipped open my notebook and started writing. In a few minutes, I would be meeting a friend here, Red Sox fan and meat expert Zane, to enjoy the game, talk trash, and toast the upcoming season.
Instead, disaster struck.
Another bartender arrived and casually changed the channel on each of the dozen TVs simultaneously, and then unzipped his fly, extracted his testicles, and smiling, dipped them in my beer.
Well, okay, not that last part, but he may as well have. “Excuse me” I stammered, “But will you not be showing the Yanks game today?” “Wisconsin game tonight man, sorry” was his reply. F***ing basketball? I sat in stunned disbelief and considered my options. I could ditch Zane, hail a cab, get home and probably only miss the first two innings. Or I could try to find another bar, but with San Francisco fully in the grip of Bracketology I doubted I would fare better anywhere else.
Mercifully, the other barman came to my rescue: “Hey pal, maybe I can get the ballgame on the small TV, the one above the door.” I grabbed my beer and stool and set up facing the entrance, an awkward but welcome respite from being forced to watch the future rapists of the NBA. From my stool immediately in front of the door I was able to inspect every one of the patrons flowing in from Sutter street, and noted with some amazement that the Wisconsin Badger fan makes up some 87% of the Bay Area populace. Borne upon a tide of March Madness, a thirsty-looking Zane Clark rolled in and surveyed the TVs, grasping the situation right away. “Who’s that pitching?” Zane asked. “Exactly” I replied as Red Sox hopeful Aaron Cook took the mound.
Zane is a butcher at one of the city’s finest groceries, Bi-Rite Market in the Mission. He is a coarse Bostonian, and a man comfortable spending hours at a time elbow-deep in blood, organs, and flesh. While I sip from a glass, Zane grips a bottle in his fist, and pours half a beer down his throat with each gulp. We discuss meat, waylaid friends, and Terry Francona while the bar reaches capacity. It takes a while to acclimate to our bizzare situation, for every time our eyes wander from the game a cheer erupts and we are startled back to attention, to find the uproar was about…basketball. Very disorienting. By the second inning, I have learned to ignore the Badgers altogether. We are the only two people facing the door, the rest of the bar is turned in the other direction toward the huge flatscreen TVs showing Syracuse and Wisconsin. It is as though we are unknowingly-deaf participants in a huge game of Simon Says, awaiting instructions while everyone else reacts in unison.
During seasons past, Zane and I have passed an hour or two in heated debate over whether or not the Red Sox are assholes, or if in fact Jeter swallows. On Thursday, in the midst of college basketball fervor and the general lack of enthusiasm that spring training inspires, I found it difficult to summon much hatred for the Sox. Instead I spent the evening sharing memories of The Greatest Rivalry In Sports with my local butcher, and found common ground in our mutual respect for Tek and Posada, Wakefield and Pettitte. Through nine long spring training innings, and an ignominious Wisconsin defeat, Zane and I traded rounds and trips to the water closet.
In the fifth inning, while I was explaining to Zane why Curtis Granderson is a more entertaining ballplayer than Kevin Youkilis, (Grandy stands in the box like the Highlander; Youk looks like he’s waiting for his 9-year-old son to quit screwing around in the bathtub already so he can take a shit, fer chrissake) the Yanks had built a 4-0 lead over Boston and were cruising. Of course, this late in a spring game, neither of us had any idea who was actually playing at the moment. Temporarily sporting our teams’ colors were “prospects”, “hopefuls”, “also-rans”, “longshots”, and “journeymen”, none able to call themselves real no-foolin’ Major Leaguers yet.
Later, an eighth inning surge from the Sox has the game knotted at 4. Just as TSR was preparing for another set of 12 ounce curls, Joe Girardi decided his Yankees had played enough baseball today, thank you very much, and the team packed up and hurried to St. Jetersburg to play Grand Theft Auto and drink light beer. Meanwhile, in the Sox dugout, Bobby Valentine was left feeling hurt and angry, and channeling his inner Stephanie Tanner.
During the regular season, The Social Ramble digs extra innings, (i.e. free baseball) but on Thursday I was ready for a sandwich (Prosciutto) from Bite up the street and a cab ride home. My lovely young lady, a Dodgers fan, had promised she was going to take her shirt off later that night. So it was with a spring in my step that the butcher and I parted ways, as amicably as we ever will until after the playoffs. I will return to Ace’s throughout the season, and perhaps without NCAA basketball as a distraction, and the games bearing more statistical significance, I will better “get the dander up” and shout insults at Bostonians. But today I am content with the small TV in the corner and the rarely agreeable company of a Sox fan. Zane Clark himself may have put it best. Two seasons ago, while being heckled for wearing his Dustin Pedroia jersey to a Giants-Mets contest, Zane turned and spotted the foul-mouthed ruffian. “Hey!” he called out, drawing the attention of nearby spectators “I’m here for BASEBALL Motherf***er!”
The Social Ramble, 28 March, 2012
Ace’s, 998 Sutter St, San Francisco
Here, for Zane Clark, butcher and holder of the domain name facebook.com/thebostonredsox The Social Ramble presents our photo gallery
”Kevin Youkilis; Someone Help Me Unzip My Uniform”
Youk considers intentionally striking out, just to get to the clubhouse bathroom quicker
The intestinal pain has intensified, and the other ballplayers scatter fearfully
There’s not much time now, Youk has to think of SOMETHING