He is slouched in the right field bleachers, and he is grilling like the $9 bratwursts they sell at the concession stands, and by the fourth inning, Reis Rotert has had enough.
“Gimmeeee that!” the recently graduated high schooler hisses at one of his buddies from Manning, Iowa. The buddy promptly and obediently hands over the object of Reis' desire.
Reis snatches the folded-up beach ball, the multicolored kind that has been batted around the College World Series since God invented colleges and world series and 18-year-old boys who get bored during baseball games.
Reis looks furtively left and then right, sucks air into his lungs and begins to blow. Slowly, ever so slowly, one of the dozen or so beach balls this group has smuggled into TD Ameritrade Park begins to inflate.
“We need an air compressor,” he says between breaths.
“We'll have to sneak that in next year,” one of his buddies says.
You might think that sitting in the bleachers on a sun-drenched afternoon at Omaha's College World Series has something to do with the love for the game. Doubles down the line. The beauty of the shortstop's pivot on the double play. Well-executed sacrifice bunts. That sort of thing.
Leave the climate-controlled press box and wander out into the bleachers, and you learn a couple of hard truths.
First off, it's hot out here. Real hot. I repeatedly scald my forearms on the metal bleachers. I repeatedly shoot longing looks at the vendor selling the overpriced Sno-Cones. I repeatedly check my phone, which repeatedly swears it's currently only 87 degrees in Omaha on this Monday. My phone is a dirty liar, I repeatedly think.
The second truth is this: By the fourth inning, a lopsided baseball game between Oregon State and Louisville cannot hope to hold the interest of most 18-year-olds from Manning, Iowa. But that's OK. It's OK because the boys from Manning have a backup plan to fight the boredom.
They have their tickets to the Great Beach Ball Battle.
The rules of the game are as follows: Get five guys together and paint your bare chests and backs “C-A-R-D-S.”
Reis Rotert chooses to paint his chest with the letter R. Naturally.
Do this even though not one of you is actually a fan of the Louisville Cardinals, also known as the Cards. Do this even though Manning is a 671-mile drive from Louisville, Ky.
Do this because everybody knows the bare-chested teenage dudes with their chests painted rule the roost in the bleachers.
Secondly, and even more important, stop at Menards in Council Bluffs on the drive over. There, you will find a virtually unlimited supply of regulation-size multicolored beach balls. There, the nice people at the Council Bluffs Menards sell their beach balls for the low, low price of $1 apiece. (By comparison, the sporting goods dealers around the stadium, recognizing supply and demand when they see it, charge $5 for two tiny beach balls.)
The Manning Boys bought 12 or so at Menards and split them up between the right-field and left-field bleachers.
“How do you sneak them in?” I ask.
“Cargo shorts,” says Austin, who just finished his junior year at IKM-Manning High School. He points at the giant pockets on the side of his baggy shorts.
Finally, wait until an appropriate time — preferably between innings or during a pitching change — and get those puppies into the air.
The Manning Boys in right field smacked two beach balls into the air after the third inning, but that didn't go so well.
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