Thursday, July 14, 2011

Good Time Baseball: Adam 89er, and the One Sport They Played at All Sports Stadium

 "Bee-yuh!"
"Cold Bee-yuh!"
For many years, that loud refrain was the true voice of summer baseball in Oklahoma City. If you watched the Oklahoma City 89ers in the 1970s and 1980s, you knew who Adam 89er was.

Adam was the old guy who sold beer at All Sports Stadium. Every night he would push a cart filled with ice and "bee-yuh," back and forth on the walkway between the box seats and the upper reserved seats.

I got to watch him in action close up in the summer of 1979, when I got my first job: ballpark vendor.

I was 15 (underage) when I interviewed for the job with Mike Cox, who was the son of 89ers owner Patty Cox Hampton and in charge of concessions at the ballpark.

This was, I thought, the greatest job a guy my age could possibly have. Free admission to the ballpark. Every night.

Cool!

My primary job was to fill up wire racks with cups of Pepsi, and sell them in the stands. They had rigged a handle that opened six taps at once, so you could fill up an entire row of the rack at a time. Then you had to slap lids on all the cups, and try not to spill anything. Sticky work.

As I walked up and down the steps and aisles of the ballpark, I would rather timidly say, "Pepsi. Who wants Pepsi?" I was kind of shy, and I didn't holler like I should have, but I reasoned that anyone in the stands who could see me had to know what I was selling. In spite of myself, I sold a lot. Especially when my parents came to a game early in my career. Every time I walked by, my dad would order another drink; I knew he hated Pepsi.

I was too young to sell beer, but I watched and followed the beer vendors. They knew how to belt it out - Adam 89er was, however, in a class by himself. When Adam was selling "bee-yuh" everyone in the ballpark knew it. He was good natured, always joking with his customers, and he seemed very Yoda-esque.

One of the first lessons I learned was to never buy popcorn at All Sports Stadium. My first night on the job, they put me in a dank concession kitchen and had me pop popcorn during the entire ballgame. Being a lightly-attended Thursday night game, we sold very few boxes, so the boss had me scoop all the remaining popcorn into big black trashbags and store them in a walk-in freezer. Then the team went on a week-long road trip. First game back, they had me sell that now-stale popcorn in the stands. One guy threw his popcorn at me the next time I walked by his seat.

I tried to stick with Pepsi after that.

The team's marketing slogan in those days was "Good Time Baseball!" And it was a good time. All Sports Stadium was state of the art when it opened in 1962, and it was still a decent park, though a little down in the heels, the summer I worked there.

The named it All Sports Stadium, after Oklahoma City's All Sports Association, which had been instrumental in its development. Over the years the name became a kind of running joke; some even called it One Sports Stadium.

It was nothing fancy; a concrete bowl dug down into the side of a hill at the State Fairgrounds. The general admission sections featured wooden bleachers painted blue. The reserved seats were blue metal folding chairs.
But there was an awesome hill down the third base line, and every game it would be swarmed with kids running, playing, and rolling down it. There was no upper deck, no outfield seating.

The 89ers were the Triple A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies in those days, and while the Phillies were good, the 89ers rarely were. We did have some notable players come through during that period - Keith Moreland, Bob Dernier, Ryne Sandberg, Lonnie Smith, Julio Franco come to mind. Of that group, only Moreland and Smith were on the 1979 roster - a team managed by Lee Elia, who would go on to infamously manage the Chicago Cubs and insult all their fans.

The stands were rarely full, but there were a number of colorful "regulars," including a guy who would play a bugle until he got too drunk to pucker his lips.
I only recall one sellout during my summer at All Sports - the 89ers played the Phillies in a July exhibition game. It was a weekend afternoon game, with temperatures seemingly near the boiling point. There were so many people there that the mezzanine was practically impassable from the crowds in line at the antiquated concession stands. I would emerge from the concession area with a rack of Pepsis and sell them all before I walked 10 feet. I don't remember seeing any of the game.

It was a great job, but it was only a one summer gig. Years later, when I worked as a reporter/photographer for the nearby El Reno Daily Tribune, I went back to All Sports Stadium to do a feature on Adam 89er.

Adam met me at the ballpark one evening, a couple of hours before the game, and told me his life story. He played for the St. Louis Stars in the Negro Leagues briefly, and he met Babe Ruth. He told a lot of stories, some of which I'm pretty sure he made up. And he let me follow him around and take some pictures.

Walker was actually featured in the Oct. 8, 1985 edition of the Weekly World News as the "Offspring King." The article credited him with 16 daughters, 12 sons, 98 grandchildren, 41 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.

Clearly he did more with his time than sell beer.

When Oklahoma City's MAPS project funded a new downtown ballpark in the mid-1990s, All Sports Stadium closed. I visited it one last time, a couple of years later, when the American Cancer Society held a Relay for Life there. Grass had overgrown the infield dirt; huge weeds sprouted from the warning track. It was a dried out husk. All Sports Stadium was dead, and Adam 89er was long gone.

Before I left for the last time, I went to the top of the third base hill, yelled "bee-yuh" and rolled down it one last time.

Good Time Baseball.

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Postscript: I took these photos to accompany a feature story I wrote for the Northwest News, a tabloid-format paper that the El Reno Tribune owned for a few years in the late 1980s in an effort to broaden their reach into northwest Oklahoma City. In the third photo, Adam 89er is accompanied by one of his many grandchildren.

4 comments:

Ralph Perdue Jr. said...

Great story. I went to a few 89er's games in the late 80's, but don't recall Adam 89er, but I wasn't much of a drinker either. Saw Jimmy Buffet there once. Keep the memories coming, Tod.

TodBryant said...

Thanks, Ralph. I didn't even mention the lady who blew herself up on the field between innings one time. That's entertainment!

Friar said...

Dynamite Lady!

And as much as I like the Bricktown Ballpark, I've never yet been able to basically walk in free for better than a dozen games in a season ;-)

Virgil Moody said...

Enjoyed the story. It took me down memory lane.
They had a couple of teams in that time period that were pretty good, but there was always another team just a little better.
The 1976 team was fun to watch and Ryne Sandberg was on that team, I think.
I would love to see more pics from those days of games and the concourse of the stadium if you have any.