Hansen: Bored boys of summer put beach balls in play - Omaha.com
Published Monday, June 24, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 7:05 am
College World Series
Hansen: Bored boys of summer put beach balls in play

He is slouched in the right field bleachers, and he is grilling like the $9 bratwursts they sell at the concession stands, and by the fourth inning, Reis Rotert has had enough.

“Gimmeeee that!” the recently graduated high schooler hisses at one of his buddies from Manning, Iowa. The buddy promptly and obediently hands over the object of Reis' desire.

Reis snatches the folded-up beach ball, the multicolored kind that has been batted around the College World Series since God invented colleges and world series and 18-year-old boys who get bored during baseball games.

Reis looks furtively left and then right, sucks air into his lungs and begins to blow. Slowly, ever so slowly, one of the dozen or so beach balls this group has smuggled into TD Ameritrade Park begins to inflate.

“We need an air compressor,” he says between breaths.

“We'll have to sneak that in next year,” one of his buddies says.

You might think that sitting in the bleachers on a sun-drenched afternoon at Omaha's College World Series has something to do with the love for the game. Doubles down the line. The beauty of the shortstop's pivot on the double play. Well-executed sacrifice bunts. That sort of thing.

Leave the climate-controlled press box and wander out into the bleachers, and you learn a couple of hard truths.

First off, it's hot out here. Real hot. I repeatedly scald my forearms on the metal bleachers. I repeatedly shoot longing looks at the vendor selling the overpriced Sno-Cones. I repeatedly check my phone, which repeatedly swears it's currently only 87 degrees in Omaha on this Monday. My phone is a dirty liar, I repeatedly think.

The second truth is this: By the fourth inning, a lopsided baseball game between Oregon State and Louisville cannot hope to hold the interest of most 18-year-olds from Manning, Iowa. But that's OK. It's OK because the boys from Manning have a backup plan to fight the boredom.

They have their tickets to the Great Beach Ball Battle.

The rules of the game are as follows: Get five guys together and paint your bare chests and backs “C-A-R-D-S.”

Reis Rotert chooses to paint his chest with the letter R. Naturally.

Do this even though not one of you is actually a fan of the Louisville Cardinals, also known as the Cards. Do this even though Manning is a 671-mile drive from Louisville, Ky.

Do this because everybody knows the bare-chested teenage dudes with their chests painted rule the roost in the bleachers.

Secondly, and even more important, stop at Menards in Council Bluffs on the drive over. There, you will find a virtually unlimited supply of regulation-size multicolored beach balls. There, the nice people at the Council Bluffs Menards sell their beach balls for the low, low price of $1 apiece. (By comparison, the sporting goods dealers around the stadium, recognizing supply and demand when they see it, charge $5 for two tiny beach balls.)

The Manning Boys bought 12 or so at Menards and split them up between the right-field and left-field bleachers.

“How do you sneak them in?” I ask.

“Cargo shorts,” says Austin, who just finished his junior year at IKM-Manning High School. He points at the giant pockets on the side of his baggy shorts.

Finally, wait until an appropriate time — preferably between innings or during a pitching change — and get those puppies into the air.

The Manning Boys in right field smacked two beach balls into the air after the third inning, but that didn't go so well.

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A man wearing the gray shirt of the enemy — a gray shirt that says “Crowd Manager” — quickly snatched both beach balls out of the air, unceremoniously deflated them.

It was even worse in the left-field bleachers, according to another group of Manning high schoolers who venture over as Oregon State scores again and again during the fourth inning. They got their beach balls confiscated along with a warning that one more ball in the air and they were getting kicked out.

The seasoned veterans of the right-field bleachers swear that the Gray Shirts are more aggressive this year. Back in the good old days, like in 2012, you could smack a beach ball around for an entire half inning, they say. The only problem came when it flew out of the bleachers and landed in the outfield.

Of course, at this juncture, an adult might point out that the evil Gray Shirts are just actually poor schlubs doing their jobs. An adult might point out that every time a beach ball flies onto the field, the game must stop until someone retrieves the beach ball.

An adult might point out that one play stoppage is no big deal, but a dozen or two dozen, and you are annoying thousands of fans at TD Ameritrade who actually care about baseball, not to mention the thousands more watching on their TV sets at home.

Yes, an adult might point out these things. I do not.

Instead, I look over at Reis, who has finished inflating two beach balls and is now pondering his next move.

“You might want to try to hit them a little more that-a-way,” I say, pointing to the right-center bleachers where there are more people and thus greater opportunity that the beach balls will stay in the air.

He nods his head.

Whack! One beach ball is in the air.

Whack! Now two.

They are bobbing and flying and darting their way over the heads of the teenagers in the right-center bleachers. One teen, then another, pounds them back into the sky. They are wild. They are free.

“Yes!” yells Casey Berg, a recently graduated IKM-Manning high schooler who has the “S” of “CARDS” painted on his back. “Hit 'em back over here!”

An overzealous boy smacks it too high, and the breeze pulls one beach ball out of the stands and onto the concourse behind the right-field bleachers.

“Dang it, you gotta play the wind!” yells Casey. “Play the wind!”

The beach ball reappears. It gets pounded back into the sky. Both beach balls are still fluttering above the suddenly energized crowd.

A female Gray Shirt is on the scene now. She talks into her walkie-talkie. She is calling for reinforcements.

“Whoo!” yells Casey. “Whoooooooo!”

Gray Shirt No. 2 appears. He is scowling. He has long arms.

He grabs the first beach ball out of the sky. He stares at the random teenager who is holding the second beach ball and who appears to be frozen with fright. Give it to me, his scowl says.

The teenager hands over the second ball. Scowly Gray Shirt pops it and carries it away.

“Boooooo!” yells Casey. “Booooooo!”

The Manning Boys sit down. Their $1 beach balls have lasted approximately one minute.

But Reis is grinning from ear to ear. Casey can't sit still.

“That was awesome!” he says.

Austin checks the side pockets on his cargo shorts. He shakes his head sadly.

“We're out,” he says.

Afternoon turns to evening, and hundreds of people who apparently stopped at the Council Bluffs Menards pack the bleachers for the second game.

Now the beach balls are flying every half-inning. Sometimes two at a time. Sometimes three.

There are too many beach balls now, and too many people. From the climate-controlled press box I watch the Gray Shirts scampering around the bleachers like so many Wile E. Coyotes, futilely moving up the stairs and then down the stairs as the beach balls get pounded back into the sky.

I wander back out to right field, just in time to see Scowly Gray Shirt grab yet another beach ball and bring it to an untimely end. He waves jauntily to the crowd.

“You suck! You suck! You suck!,” the crowd chants, and they point their index fingers at Scowly Gray Shirt, but most of them are laughing. Scowly can't help himself, and his scowl disappears, replaced by a toothy smile.

For a moment, the game-within-a-game is a tie. For a moment, at least, the Great Beach Ball Battle reaches a truce.

Contact the writer: Matthew Hansen

matthew.hansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1064    |  

Matthew Hansen is a metro columnist who writes roughly three columns a week focusing on all things Omaha.

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