Originally created 09/01/02

Press box staff easy target for game's know-it-alls



It's not for the love of the game or the cheap beer. It's not for the chance to meet the adorable team mascot, Sting, or to catch one of those tasty bagel sandwiches they shoot into the stands.

Want to know why people really come to Augusta GreenJackets games?

To heckle the press box staff.

Like when official scorer Steve Cain makes a ruling, there's the customary cries of: "A hit? That was an error! They get paid to make that play."

Or when GreenJackets general manager Dave Van Lenten, who runs the stadium sound system, plays a song with lyrics no one over the age of 17 can decipher: "Repent devil worshipers!" or "Turn down that dadgum rock and roll garbage."

Or when public address announcer Scott Skadan butchers the name of a visiting player, there's always some nut job who stands up and bellows the proper pronunciation of 'Eric Stuckenschneider.'

Or when GreenJackets play-by-play man Nate Wilks refers to an inning as a frame, or a season as a campaign, there's always some know-it-all listening on his Walkman who marches up to the press box and suggests young Nate return to broadcasting school for "a little more seasoning."

And don't forget the loyal fans of the fourth estate: "Hey Mueller, where'd ya get your journalism degree? Out of a Cracker Jack box?"

That's what you get for spending seven years in that oversized microwave oven known as the Lake Olmstead Stadium press box. After covering almost 500 GreenJackets games over the years, you develop a pretty thick skin and a healthy sense of humor.

Not to mention a few good friendships.

"It's always a lot of fun up here because the guys know the ins and outs of what I go through in my job on a daily basis," Wilks said. "At the same time, they can rip me just like some of the fans do. The camaraderie up here is great. It makes my job even more fun."

While Skadan, Cain, Wilks and Van Lenten do an admirable job handling the hecklers and dishing out plenty of their own smack, they also play an important role, keeping the game running smoothly and the fans happy.

"It's fun, but at the same time you have a job to do," said Cain, who has been associated with the team ever since he was a bat boy for the inaugural Augusta Pirates team in 1988. "As official scorer, you've got to keep track of the plays and make the correct rulings. And with the music or PA, you try and entertain the fans."

Regulars at The Lake look forward to their nightly dose of YMCA and, of course, Skadan's off-key rendition of Take Me out to the Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch. It's as much a part of the GreenJackets experience as the game itself.

Sure, there's the heat (visitors to the press box quickly learn it's at least 600 degrees hotter up there). And there's the ever-present threat of enemy fire (come visit the Lake Olmstead Stadium Press Box Wall of Fame, where foul-ball sized holes in the drywall are labeled with the date and name of the enemy hitter who inflicted the damage).

But for lots of reasons, the press box offers the best seat in the house.

"This is where the magic happens, my friend," Wilks says in his booming, radio voice. "Even if I do have to sit next to you."

Gotta love the hecklers.