The rules of the game

Baseball: Computer programmer and his buddies weren't looking for any trouble. Things just sort of happen sometimes.

June 26, 1999|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,SUN STAFF

You know The Fan. You've sat near him at a game, maybe had some of his beer slosh on you, even felt his sweaty, unsolicited hug when the Orioles scored. If you have children, you might have switched seats with them to put as much distance as possible between them and The Fan.

Before the end of the first inning of Thursday night's game against the Boston Red Sox, a group of ushers was already descending upon Section 96, row N, with a stern warning: Any more incidents, and you're out. This lecture wasn't delivered directly to Mike Waldhauser, who happened to be perched in Seat 14 -- the spot The Sun has been periodically checking in on since Opening Day.

No, it was Mike's buddy who had leapt into the air to cheer, spilling some beer on a young girl seated behind him. Mike, a clean-cut guy of 28, was instantly, magnanimously apologetic. "Anything she wants, I'm getting," he tells the girl's parents.

After all, Mike isn't looking for trouble. The 28-year-old computer programmer came to the game against Boston with a bunch of guys from work. They're out to have a good time, and, depending upon your definition of a good time, you might find them entertaining, as a number of people seated around them in the bleachers seem to.

Then again, you might decide to move away, as did the family of the now-damp girl.

Back to Mike, though. During the course of this series, we've met reserved, dignified couples, as well as a woman so shy about being profiled that she had to be urged to talk about herself. This isn't the case with Mike. "It's all about ME," he chastises a friend named Graham who tries to talk to a reporter. "I'm the picture guy."

Graham sneers: "This guy's about as attractive as wallpaper from the '70s. ... Is it a bad time to mention I'm his boss and he does nothing at work?"

Mike, undaunted, eagerly offers up details about his life: He is an only child, born and raised in Baltimore. Six months ago, he got married to a woman named Chris on a beach in Hawaii. Married life is great, he says. He isn't a big baseball fan, but he loves the O's.

Mike pauses a moment in his narrative to shout insults at a Boston fan. Anyway, where was he? Oh, yeah, he wants to have kids someday. His colleague, a guy named Augie, will become a dad in January.

In fact, here comes Augie now, a concerned look on his face. Augie, who is sipping spring water, is worried about the tone of this article. Told that it focuses only on the occupant of Seat 14, Augie promptly switches seats with Mike. Aha! Now he is the subject.

"What do you see as the headline of this article?" Augie inquires.

Told reporters don't write headlines, he tries another tack: "What's the best headline you've ever written?"

Augie, who the others say is one of the more responsible guys at work, frets that his company will come off looking poorly in this story. This baseball outing isn't a company-sponsored event, he explains, it's just something a few team leaders decided to informally organize. Mysteriously, he refuses to explain how the guys got the $9 bleacher seats. Instead, he decides to take charge of the article's direction: "It's about the [company] unit being strong and together."

Actually, no. It's just a story about the seat.

Augie reluctantly surrenders Seat 14, but only because a few of his colleagues have wandered off and disappeared. Graham and another guy join the search party. "We lost some comrades," Graham says somberly. "It's like Vietnam."

Mike happily reclaims his seat, chomping french fries and sipping a fresh beer. His favorite hangout is Della Rose's, he says, and on weekends, he likes nothing more than to go fishing.

Another friend of Mike's, who refuses to give his name, is impatient with the attention Mike is getting. "This is the guy you need to interview," he declares importantly.

Told the story focuses only on Seat 14, Nameless Guy mutters darkly about a reporter: "She's selfish."

"Can you get us a beer?" Mike asks an usher. "I'm a celebrity."

During the seventh-inning stretch, Mike reveals that he graduated from West Virginia University in 1994, that he's "not into" pets, and that once, he skipped naked across a football field on live ESPN.

Why? "Just trying to entertain."

At the bottom of the eighth, Mike is seized with an impulse. His friend Graham, who has returned from his search-and-rescue mission, is a ripe target. Mike grabs Graham's pants and pulls them down a few inches.

The usher supervisor is over in a flash: Two warnings and you're out, buddy.

Mike and Graham depart to the crowd's serenade: "Nah-nah-nah-nah, Nah-nah-nah-nah, hey, hey, good-bye!"

Pub Date: 6/26/99

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