By Dave Price
When considering the Grateful Dead, you probably don’t think about baseball. But the still popular improvisational San Francisco jam band and the game known as the national pastime have a strong connection.
Original Dead co-guitarist Bob Weir is a baseball fan. In fact, it was reported a few years ago that Weir was considering working on a music project involving famed Negro League pitcher Satchell Paige.
The Dead first came to widespread prominence during the 1967 San Francisco-based Summer of Love and a love affair of sorts was born between Weir and the hometown Giants. In 1993, Weir, along with now-deceased Grateful Dead members, guitarist Jerry Garcia and keyboardist Vince Welnick, sang the National Anthem at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park for the Giants opening day game against the Florida Marlins Weir and former Dead bassist Phil Lesh also sang the anthem for a 2014 National League Championship game in the City by the Bay.
Now calling themselves Dead and Company, the remaining original members of the band – Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart with newcomers John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti continue to perform sold-out concerts across the country. Over their 54 years of performing in various configurations, members of the Dead have built one the most devoted fan bases in all of rock. The tie-died fans, called Deadheads, consider the band a lifestyle, not just their favorite musical act.
Realizing the relation between the Dead and baseball and the band and its fans, executives for several baseball teams have been scheduling special Grateful Dead Night for a home game. The first such promotion was created by the Giants in 2010 to recognize the 15-year anniversary of band leader and counterculture guru Garcia’s death.
“The Grateful Dead are an iconic band that appeals to a wide demographic, so it was not a difficult decision to make,” the chief operating officer of the Milwaukee Brewers Rick Schlesinger told Business Sports Journal.
Now, while I appreciate the eclecticism of the Dead, the laid-back lifestyle of the Deadheads and have attended a few band shows over the years, I am not a fanatical follower. But our 46-year-old son Michael has been attending shows regularly since he entered college in 1991. And he has hopes that our 10-year-old grandson Owen will also someday come to understand the joy expressed at a Dead concert.
So when my wife Judy and I discovered that the Washington Nationals were holding an August Grateful Dead night promotion which included giving away Grateful Dead baseball caps, we saw it as a way to pick up hats for Michael and Owen.
Now Judy and I, being South Jersey natives, are Phillies fans, but since we now live in Crystal City, Virginia, which is only four Metro stops from the Nationals Ballpark in Washington, D.C., we have been attending a few games a year there, especially when the Phillies are in town.
We bought out tickets online. On game night, we headed to the Nats’ ballpark. But as all Deadheads know, when the Grateful Dead are involved you can expect the unexpected.
Arriving at the stadium, we were surprised that the Dead caps weren’t being distributed at the gates as they do for bobble heads, t-shirts, and other promotions. “No big deal, they’ll probably just give them out when we exit,” I told Judy.
We were greeted inside by swirling, dancing bears (one of the group’s many symbols) and a local DC tribute band playing Dead covers on the giant screen. As we began making our way to our seats, we saw a fan sporting a Dead baseball cap. Then a few others. Then a whole lot more. Judy checked in at a promotions kiosk to see what was going on. She was told that only those fans who had purchased special tickets at a special price would be receiving the special hats. They were being distributed at a large blue tent outside the First Base gates.
This wasn’t what we had expected, but since we had only really come to get the two Dead baseball caps, we decided to exit the ballpark and see if we could sweet-talk someone into giving hats to us even though we didn’t have the right tickets.
But despite the fact that we did see about 25 hats still on the table, we had no luck. We learned that actually the promotion had been “capped” at 3,000 fans and the special-ticket holders who didn’t pick up their hats would have them mailed to them.
Of course, as another rock legend, Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jack has been singing for 51 years, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might get what you need”.
And, at this point, Judy and I decided we needed to get back to our apartment and pack, since we were leaving the next day for the 50thanniversary celebration of Woodstock, at the original Bethel, New York, site of the festival.
On the walk to the Metro, we briefly discussed buying Grateful Dead caps online for Michael and Owen. But, although we love both of them greatly, we decided against it for economic (our son is a professor of economics and Owen has expressed interest in becoming one himself so I’m sure they will understand) reasons. We had spent $20 each on our tickets and $24 each for dinner. In addition, I had treated myself to one of those $6 ballpark Cokes. With tax and Metro fares, that meant our hatless baseball sojourn had cost us more than $100.
Besides, I’m fairly certain the Nationals will have another Grateful Dead promotion next season. And I know that if I decide to go that game, I won’t be leaving without whatever Grateful Dead swag they’re offering. Or maybe, on second thought, I ‘ll just buy Michael and Owen tickets to a Dead show next year. That would probably be cheaper.