Monday, June 7, 2010

Interspecies Rodeo

Who among us has not at one time or another felt like a spider monkey strapped to the back of a border collie, chasing sheep across a minor-league baseball field in Gary, Indiana? I mean, is that a metaphor for the way life takes you into unexpected situations OR WHAT?

While major-league parks do their best to makes sure that no between-innings moment goes unfilled with noise and spectacle, minor-league parks tend to have a larger range of antics and far more on-field activity. The events generally fall into a few categories: team promotion (e.g., T-shirt cannons), local boosterism (e.g., first pitches by local “celebrities”), fun for kids (e.g., mascot shenanigans), and fun for drunks (e.g., dizzy-bat races and Thirsty Thursdays). There are some stalwarts of shtick on the minor-league circuit, like Myron Noodleman, Zooperstars, Birdzerk, the Famous Chicken, and so on—most of which boil down to people in costumes doing a series of pantomime and dance routines. (Whether those people are actually men or women can be a diverting question—hint: if there’s just a lot of shuffling and arm waving, it’s a guy.)

Muddy the [Toledo] Mudhen

A little of this goes a long way—especially of the circuit-riders. Although I suppose if you’re nine years old or younger, you might have a different opinion. So it was both a refreshing change and something of a shock to see an act at the Gary SouthShore Railcats / Winnipeg Goldeyes game on June 1 that not only was much too short but was also not at all interested in whipping up the fans to cheer for the Railcats.*

For me, Team Ghost Riders—spider monkeys, riding dogs, herding sheep up first into a pen, then up onto the cab of a pickup—raises a lot of questions. Among them:

  1. Why “Ghost Riders”? I realize the term predates Nicolas Cage's use of it (and Gary Friedrich's for that matter), but how does it apply here? “Nightmare Riders,” I could understand—let me repeat, we’re talking about monkeys careening around on dogs here. That could turn to carnage in a moment. Does it perhaps, in the sense of “ghost-riding the whip,” reference the fact that the monkeys are not actually in charge of the things they’re riding?
  2. Are the monkeys strapped on to the dogs? They certainly appear to be. If so, is that for their safety, our safety, or the mental well-being of the dogs? Would you want to be guided by a monkey in a cowboy outfit?
  3. Why monkeys anyway? Are they the only species small enough to stay on the dogs and placid enough to put up with the Rodeo Slut Barbie stylings?
  4. Seriously, what do the dogs make of this? They’re working out there, damn it!
  5. Is this a viable business? Rob noticed that the man behind this operation, Tim Lepard, is also the rodeo clown that we saw perform motorcycle tricks and the like in Steamboat Springs last year. He’s got a big-ass trailer (presumably the home-away-from-home for the monkeys, dogs, and sheep) that can’t be cheap to operate. Which is the side act, the clowning or the interspecies mayhem? Lepard does seem to have a number of other acts, including a trick bison.
  6. Lepard claims to be inspired by his brother, who told him he could do anything he set his mind to. We can debate whether that’s good advice or not; what’s inarguable is that taking that generic sentiment as a green light to buy some monkey harnesses and hit the road is, well, unusual.
  7. This is an intensely patriotic act, with flags all around. Lepard gives a little speech about his brother and about his love of this great country. Is that what the founders had in mind?
  8. Last, what on earth does any of this have to do with baseball? I ask more of out of perplexity than criticism.

If this act really is the product of Tim Lepard’s faith in himself and in of his ability to train animals to do pretty amusing yet apparently harmless things, then god bless him. A man's got to have a calling, after all. But I can't quite shed the suspicion that he might just be playing us for chimps.

*The Railcats beat the Goldeyes 3-2 in the first game of a nighttime doubleheader (seven innings each). The defense on each side was appalling. Also, the Goldeyes' logo includes a depiction of the namesake fish, which appears to be a piranha crossed with a guppy.

1 comment:

  1. Monkeys riding dogs herding sheep changes you--it has me. Life just seems to make a little more sense now, although I couldn't tell you why.