For three consecutive baseball seasons, my friend Steve and I have had one singular goal directing almost every aspect of our lives: win the Hamburger Race, a promotion which usually takes place once a weekend.
Here’s how it works: two teams of two compete. Each contestant wears a large, foam hamburger bun costume. One team member lays on the ground, while the other shuttles back and forth, collecting the components of the “burger”: foam patty, tomato slice, slice of pickle, cheese and bacon, which are laid out on the ground up the first and third base lines.
The first team to place all the pieces on the contestant lying on the ground, and then complete the burger by having the runner jump on top of the pile that has been formed, wins the contest.
On March 13, 2009, Steve and I finally got our chance.
The following is my account of the night.
6:30 p.m. – Steve and I walk through the turnstile to enter the stadium. Our friend Will, who works in the Athletic Department and set this up for us, tells us to meet him in the stadium early so that we can get officially registered for the event. As the turnstile clicks and I enter the stadium, I realize that it really is game day.
6:33 p.m. – Steve and I meet Will and Alex, Emily and Maggie of the Marketing Department. They take our names and tell us to meet them in the same spot at the beginning of the fifth inning. We are officially on the clock.
6:38 p.m. – Steve and I sit down and begin to finalize strategy. We have been playing this race out in our head for years, but now it is time to be serious. We decide a few things. First of all, Steve is faster laterally than I am, and this event requires side-to-side burst. However, to protect my dignity, we will stage a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and declare Steve the winner (and therefore the runner) before we begin. We also decide on a pre-game handshake. This is all very important stuff.
6:42 p.m. – Pre-Game Meal. I select the chicken fingers and French fry combo, while Steve selects a lighter meal of Powerade and onion rings. I am not sure why I think this is important, but we agonized over these choices for at least five minutes.
6:50 p.m. – Ryan Braun’s ceremonial first pitch. Great stuff Ryan, but that’s the shirt you’re wearing?
6:55 p.m. – Side story #1. I love the Homestead T-Ball Indians’ chance of winning their league this year. They clearly outshone the rest of the youth teams that were introduced before the game, and their fan base must be the t-ball equivalent of the Cameron Crazies. Very loud, very inspiring, probably makes life hell for all the other four and five year olds in the league.
7 p.m. – Nothing routinely gives me chills like the national anthem at twilight before a baseball game. Nothing.
7:03 p.m. – Side story #2. Steve and I continue a conversation we have been having consistently for three years. “If you were a closer, what song would you enter to?” The following were ruled out, because they have been done famously by someone else: Hell’s Bells, Enter Sandman, Bodies and For Whom the Bell Tolls. My selection: In the Air Tonight. Not only is it my favorite story, but the song builds to a point which culminates in a tribal drum beat that if timed correctly would coincide with my final warm up pitch. I love college for debates like this, which always get more fun when beer is involved.
7:14 p.m. – Will sends the following text message from the press box: “U guys look like ur in the zone.”
7:20 p.m. – The always-clutch Jason Hagerty cuts the Duke lead to 2-1. Eat it Scarpa.
7:33 p.m. – The thing that is beginning to eat at me about this experience is the waiting game that it has become. Steve and I were ready to run through a wall an hour ago, but now we have been sitting for an hour and the intensity is beginning to fizzle. Our buddies Mark and Eder are the competition, and after about half an hour of good old fashioned hostility between the teams, we have now begun to act like buddies again. However, a two minute top of the second inning brings us back to the reality that battle is imminent.
7:39 p.m. – Jon Weislow puts together a great at-bat. Side story #3: every year, my buddy Scarpa and I pick a sleeper guy to be “our guy” for the year. Freshman year we picked the Flyin’ Hawaiian Nick Freitas, who then hit something like .050 and lasted one more year before transferring. Sophomore year it was the immortal Kevin Diego, a scrappy outfielder who was so productive that after the season he quit the team outright. Guess he wanted to retire on top. Last year it was Weislow, who was not terrible but really only contributed as a pinch runner as he struggled with injuries. This year, we picked Teddy Blackman. In the their respective first games after our selection, Weislow (newly relieved of the tremendous burden) hit his first two career home runs and Blackman hit in to a double play and turned a single in to a triple with a poorly timed dive in left field. The moral: Scarpa and I are a curse. We apologize ahead of time to Blackman for his disappointing freshman season. Look for him to transfer out at the end of the season. Just a prediction.
8:16 p.m. – We are one out away from the top of the fifth inning. I call my dad for a pep talk. His words: “Don’t mess up. The Stein family name is at stake.” Love you, dad.
*The Warm- Up*
I am not really sure on the specific times for all of this, but here is how it happened.
The four of us made our way down to meet up with the marketing crew. They lead us back behind the home dugout, to the holding area for the grounds crew. We were taken in to a small locker room and the rules were explained exactly as the interns coached us on how, where and when to enter and exit the field.
We were given the costumes to put on. The costume was bulky, heavy and awkward. It smelled like B.O. and stale plastic. It was epic.
As we were waiting, a foul ball struck a light. I have been watching baseball games at Mark Light Field (as I will forever call it, sorry A-Roid) for the past 15 years and never once had I seen that happen. Not once. Remember that.
We spent the bottom of the fifth inning along the fence behind first place and watch as the ‘Canes rallied to cut the lead to 4-3.
As the four of us begged the marketing crew to let us borrow the costumes to wear to Sandbar some time, the inning ended, and it was show time.
The text messages and Facebook updates we sent out worked, as a surprisingly large number of our friends turned out to watch us. Add that to the near-capacity crowd which was frothing after the ‘Cane rally and all the ingredients were in place for a great performance.
Once on the field, I took a minute to ask Emily for some last minute advice. Emily’s response:
“Don’t run on the ACC paint. Uhhh…I guess…run fast.” She’s the best.
The race itself went very quickly. Steve and I tried to get the crowd into it with the staged RPS game and our handshake, which was well executed and drew a nice chuckle from the crowd.
Our strategy was simple, taken from Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest: “Get there first with the most.”
Steve’s job was to get the foam pieces near me and not waste time with placement. Mine was to get the pieces stacked neatly once they were near me. Our execution: flawless.
Steve moved like lightning. I was unable to maneuver much, as I was on the ground, on my back, in the costume (I felt like a beetle); however, I was able to use my feet very efficiently to kick the pieces up to my chest.
We beat the other team so badly that when Steve made his leap on to me, they were still two pieces short. Mark, their runner, started walking the rest of the way as we celebrated.
It was, in a word, epic.
The completion of four years of effort.
Yet another fortunate moment in the sun for me.
A reason to command ten pushups on the spot from Mark and Eder.
My epic night only got better.
The ‘Canes rallied to tie it and then win in the bottom of the ninth on a shot from Scott Lawson that my buddy Justin called at the beginning of the inning.
Our anxiously awaiting fan base fawned over us.
Will put the video up on Facebook immediately. Five people e-mailed me photos of our night.
Afterwards, Steve and I were toasted endlessly.
We began to realize that, having realized our dream, baseball games would never have quite the same intrigue again.
Looking back, the smallest things seem so big.
Was the foul ball striking the light a sign from God himself?
Was this seemingly insignificant baseball promotion a metaphor for the greater struggle we will each face once out in the “real world”?
Why does the burger costume smell so awful?
I will continue to search for the answers to these questions.
However, there is one certainty from the night.
On March 13, 2009, I was the burger race champion.
And no one will ever take that away from me.