A Lark in the Park

June 10, 2002
June 10, 2002

Table of Contents
June 10, 2002

Golf Plus

A Lark in the Park

"He probably wants to talk about steroids," says Bill Murray, the
actor and baseball owner, sizing up a writer from SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED. But in fact the writer, like Murray, has an even
unhealthier interest at heart: the Chicago Cubs. "In seasons when
the Cubs or Bears are out of it early," says Murray, "I spend a
lot of time cleaning my garage." That garage is--now more than
ever--the Carport of Dorian Gray, for it gets neater with each new
Cubs catastrophe. "I'm getting worried," says Murray. "I'm
worried that my garage, by the end of the summer, will be
spotless." He sighs and looks momentarily stricken: "I might even
repaint it."

This is an article from the June 10, 2002 issue Original Layout

Murray is idling away a rain delay at the home opener of the
brand-new Brockton (Mass.) Rox, an independent minor league team
that he owns with many other men, including Mike Veeck, whose
father, Bill, invented Bat Day, Nickel Beer Night and the midget
pinch hitter. Murray is officially the club's Director of Fun, a
title bestowed on him by Veeck, who is Director of Titles. "My
job is to walk around drinking beer," says still another Rox
owner, Jimmy Fallon of Saturday Night Live, while dutifully
nursing a 16-ounce silo of Budweiser. Looking from the can to his
inquisitor and back again, Fallon says defensively, "I only own
one percent of the team."

The Rox' inaugural home game was to have begun, on this Friday
night, at an auspicious hour--7:11. But at precisely that moment,
lightning veins the blackened skies above Brockton, and a
Biblical deluge ensues. "We were assured this storm would bypass
us," says Murray, sounding fairly Biblical himself, "but the
locals, they weren't fooled, they could feel it coming from the
northeast: These people, they've seen the Perfect Storm; they're
out there praying in Portuguese...."

Thus begins a rain delay so delightful that one prays--in
Portuguese--it is never interrupted by baseball. "Our management
philosophy comes down to one principle," says Veeck. "A
community doesn't need a ballpark, but a ballpark needs a
community." And so, as 4,700 Brocktonians huddle beneath the
grandstand roof, Murray leads a high school marching band into
slanting rain. A white-haired man in the press box, noting the
angle of precipitation, says sagely, "Nights like this, you
don't wanna be playing tuba."

Meanwhile on the concourse Veeck is greeting every usherette by
name, which is easy, as every one of their nametags reads
ROXANNE. Because he inherited all of his old man's whimsy, Veeck
has conceived a Seat Cushion Night for his St. Paul Saints in
which one side of the giveaway cushion will bear the mug of Bud
Selig, and the other side the face of Don Fehr. Fans of the
Saints shall, by the seat of their pants, take sides in the
forthcoming big league labor dispute.

As for Brockton, the Rox will devote a theme night this summer to
Jack Kerouac, who is interred in nearby Lowell. "Thirty years
after his death," says Veeck, "his family still maintains the
residence in St. Petersburg. So tomorrow you can call Jack
Kerouac's house in Florida and his phone will ring. I just think
that is so cool." The Rox are surely the only team in baseball
whose beat writers are Beat writers.

This is random rain-delay conversation of the highest order, a
dying art in baseball. But then Veeck and Murray revere ancient
verities like Kerouac and cheap beer and (in Murray's case,
anyway) blue-canvas Chuck Taylor hightops. "They don't grow 'em
like that anymore," Murray says of his friend Mark Grace, the
former Cubs first baseman now with Arizona. "No batting gloves,
no weightlifting, just a real competitive streak."

"I owned him," Murray adds, two hours into this epic rain. "I
owned Mark Grace. Mark Grace was his slave name, and I've
allowed him to keep it. But I owned him with the Pittsfield
Cubs." Indeed, in 1987 Grace played for the Double A team owned,
in part, by Murray. "We won the pennant by a load," says Murray,
"but then partied too much in the playoffs." The resulting
collapse scarcely upset him, for Murray seems concerned--above
all else in baseball--with simply adding to the sum of human

The same goes for his partners. "I grew up one of nine kids,"
says Veeck, whose dad planted the ivy at Wrigley. "And it was
like we had Gepetto as a father, in this house that was always
full of joyous, raucous yelling." It's a sound that he hopes to
hear echoed in his ballparks.

Marvin Goldklang, a partner in four teams with Murray and Veeck,
recalls a recent promotion in St. Paul. "The park was filled with
6,000 kids," he says, "and adults weren't allowed in unless
chaperoned by a child. All game we kept hearing these cheers that
we hadn't heard in 30 years, like, 'We want a hit! We want a
hit!' I mean, when's the last time you heard 'We want a hit!' in
a ballpark? It was beautiful."

The rain is relentless in Brockton, but Goldklang is still
smiling at the memory of St. Paul and a stadium full of

"I remember what the concession guy said that day: He'd never
seen so many wet, crumpled one-dollar bills."

Murray seems concerned--above all else in baseball--with adding
to the sum of human happiness.