Monday, May 08, 2006
Bonghitters in Crain's & Gawker.com
Gregory Zuckerman warms up for the big game by stretching his legs and tossing a softball. Danny Danko prefers to take a hit from a bong.
The two men are competitors in one of the toughest springtime rivalries: the annual softball game between The Wall Street Journal and High Times.
"We play a disciplined game, even if we are stoned out of our gourds," says Mr. Danko, the cultivation editor for the magazine, which promotes marijuana use. The two teams have been battling it out for the past four years, ever since the Bulls beat the Bonghitters 9-2 and ended High Times' historic three-year, 29-game winning streak.
This is the start of softball season, a time when New Yorkers leave work early and head out into the balmy weather for a nearby baseball diamond. Demand for field time is so great in the city that one league has a waiting list of 50 companies looking to start teams but lacking permits.
Altogether, 50 corporate softball leagues in Manhattan play on 98 ball fields from Central Park to the East River, according to the city's Department of Parks and Recreation. The leagues field teams that range from all-male to co-ed, from relaxed to fiercely competitive.
"Softball is the perfect way to meet people and build company morale," says Al Morales, president of the Yorkville Sports Organization, which oversees 350 softball teams with 8,000 players.
Workers trade in their suits for softball jerseys for the opportunity to bond with colleagues, network with clients and maybe even find a date.
"Softball gives people something other than work to talk about," says John Gallagher, the director of brokerage services in New York for Cushman & Wakefield Inc., which has an all-male softball team. In an industry where most brokers work independently and on commission, the opportunity to play for a team can be rewarding.
"We are all busy promoting and cultivating relationships with clients, but this gives us the chance to do the same thing internally, promoting teamwork in the firm," says Mr. Gallagher.
The laughs and experiences shared on a softball field can create a bond, even when teams have little common ground. The Bonghitters, in a nod to an American tradition, wrote a cheer to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which they sing at the close of every game. Lyrical gems include: "So let's root, root, root for the stoned team/ Everybody get high/And it's one, two, three tokes you're out at the old bong game."
This degree of creativity is admirable, says Mr. Zuckerman, a Journal reporter who admits to having a shoddy attendance record for most of last season, save for the game with the Bonghitters. "We have a healthy respect for their talent, even if we focus on P/E ratios while they focus on pipes," he says.
Employees also join softball teams for the chance to network. "Relationships are made and deals are negotiated during a game or over drinks afterward," says Marc Lawrence, a broker at The Corcoran Group. He oversees the firm's softball team and was in charge when it first played archrival Prudential Douglas Elliman two years ago. The record between the two competitors is 1-1.
"It is funny how I see people all the time I've met through softball," says Steve Bloom, an editor at large for High Times and the captain of the Bonghitters. "Not long ago, I was at a movie opening when I realized I knew one of the directors because he played softball for the Paris Review."
But not everyone is happy with the progress of springtime softball. One of the most common complaints is the difficulty in recruiting women. Co-ed leagues typically require six men and four women per team, although in many leagues these rules are not enforced.
"I am constantly complaining to teams that they don't work hard enough to recruit women," says Mr. Bloom. His team is one of the few in his league with several female players. The Journal had a female coach, but she relocated to the Washington, D.C., bureau.
Women players say they can handle being in the minority. "Other teams will harass and heckle you," says Valerie Vande Panne, a freelance writer and catcher on the Bonghitters. "But our team has camaraderie, and we just laugh it off."
When things are really bad, the team will break out its "rally joint," which might not revive a flagging performance, but can be counted on to raise spirits.
Romance on the baseball diamond doesn't always lead to more playing time, as some married couples have learned.
The Airborn team - which is not affiliated with a company - has two married couples on the roster, but Jorge Benitez, the team captain, says they rarely share the field. "They never get to play in the same game because one or the other always needs to watch the kids," says Mr. Benitez, who grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, playing softball with many of his current teammates.
Meanwhile, in today's Gawker.com, the Manhattan media news and gossip site posts the Bonghitters "potcast" and marvels, "High Times has graciously begun providing newsreel-style 'Potcasts' of their games. We’re duly impressed with the craftsmanship, but, even more than that, we’re impressed with the thing’s actual existence. We could never motivate to get something like that finished, even if we were sober."
To see today's softball coverage in Gawker.com: CLICK HERE Scroll down about 10 stories.
* really good at softball and generally hit it very far, very often.
* really good outfielder, but can play any position
* former pot smoker, especially at Phish shows.
* currently on staff at a magazine without a softball team and would like nothing better than to kick the snot out of brainiac teams from the New Yorker and NY Times.
* will always organize or participate in post-game revelry.
* I've got lots of good, new equipment.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need a serious ringer.