Cordova Chronicles: Take me out to the ballgame — sort of

In their televised season opener against San Francisco, Dodger shortstop Corey Seager takes practice swings in the on-deck circle as cutout LA fans look on. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

Remember this famous tune, beloved by true baseball fans?

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.

Sung by packed crowds during the seventh inning stretch, with beer or Pepsi cups swinging in rhythm, it has been an American institution almost as old as the game itself.

In fact, it was composed by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer in 1908, although neither had attended a game prior to its composition. It was 32 and 20 years later, respectively, that they finally saw their first major league contest.

And here we are, 112 years later, with no fans attending the games, which are being played before empty ball parks in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

No one can say for sure if major league baseball can make it through a shortened 60 games schedule, but thanks to human ingenuity and a much-needed sense of humor, substitutes for fans are gradually packing the stadiums.

Called cutouts, they are cardboard life-size images of fans, in a revolution that is filling many of the empty seat in several ball parks. Actually, they are made of Correx, a material similar to that used for sale or political campaign yard signs.

Costs of the signs vary from team to team. For example, cutouts in the Dugout Club right behind home plate in Dodgers Stadium cost $299, while seats further back go for $149. Proceeds from the sales are going to the Dodgers Foundation, which does charitable work, including building youth baseball fields throughout Los Angeles.

Other teams are likewise donating proceeds to non-profit enterprises, often at considerably lower prices. Seattle Mariners cutouts can be had for as little as $30.

Fans and teams are making creative use of the signs. Former “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart, wearing her Dodgers sweater, is in her regular seat right behind home plate. There are photos of babies, including twins. More than one dog has snuck into the stands. The Oakland A’s have a cutout of movie star Tom Hanks when he was hawking hot dogs at their park as a teenager in the 1970s.

Naturally, my Austin, Texas, grandkids Huck and Liesl, ages 7 and 5, are big Astro fans and are trying to get into the action. Before major league baseball even came up with the idea of giving a baseball autographed by the player who hit a cutout with a homerun to that fan, Huck wanted to know if he could keep a foul ball that clobbered his cutout, if he got one. Turns out the answer is yes, although it might not be autographed. Both he and Liesl were dismayed to see foul balls bouncing like ping pong balls down rows and rows of empty seats.

Recently, while Facetiming, I tried to get them focused on our traditional milkshake bets when the Astros and Dodgers played (LA swept a two game series July 28-29), but Liesl was too busy trying to earn money for a cutout by giving her dad a foot rub, and Huck shocked me by upping the ante to a plane ride in a Super Cub when he comes up next summer.

Stunned, I said ‘What?”

His reply: “Remember Grampa, when you took me down to that man’s hanger by the lake, and he let me get in his plane? I want to fly in it next time, OK?”

Jared Kennedy and Dick Shellhorn stand in front of his Super Cub prior to a flight to Pete Dahl. It is in this plane that my grandson Huck wants to fly next summer. Photo courtesy of Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

That man was retired flying legend Terry Kennedy, and when I stopped by his hanger the other day to relay the request, he remembered Huck, and said, with a laugh and smile, “Sure thing.”

So, I suspect, whether major league baseball makes it through the shortened season or not, someone will be flying out of the park when the young Texans arrive next summer.

I’m also sure that “take us out to the duck cabin,” for frolicking in the mud, as well as countless other traditional activities, will still be on the schedule.

And “Cruising Down the River” — rather than “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” — will be the song of choice as we head down Alaganik Slough to Pete Dahl.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes.