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Toke Me Out
to the Ballgame
By Michael Malone
Special to Page 2
Nothing makes the New York City Parks & Rec guys salivate more than when the softball team representing the marijuana mag, High Times, plays in Central Park.
This particular late spring day -- its box on the Parks & Rec calendar undoubtedly outlined in heavy black marker -- featured a match made in hedonism heaven. The illogically undefeated Bonghitters of High Times faced off against the winless Bad News Bunnies of Playboy for their annual tangle on the Great Lawn, informally dubbed the Burning Desires Classic and even less formally dubbed the Stoners vs. Bon--- ... well, you get the picture.
Contributing to the overall salivation situation were the friends and co-workers of both squads. Rumors abounded as to what odd and thoroughly enticing spectacles would accompany the game. Veterans of past Classics spoke of the lavish food spread put out by High Times ('cuz sometimes ya get the munchies, ya know?), curvalicious Playmates rounding out the Bunnies team and High Times' own resident bongo player pounding out the game's rhythms on his drum.
Would Hef send a girlfriend or three to bolster the Bad News Bunnies? Would Woody Harrelson make like Buddy Harrelson and save the day for the schwag mag by snaring a ball deep in the hole with his glove made of hemp? One could only imagine the possibilities.
It turned out to be a day as dour as a Parks & Rec uni -- cold, a misty rain blowing in the breeze, storm threatening overhead. Hef's heavenly hutch stayed in the comfort of his wondrous West Coast warren. One Playboy team member revealed the possible reason why: Apparently, several Bunnies came out to cheer on the team the year before, but abruptly departed when one was struck in the head by an errant throw from a Playboy intern manning third base. No Woody Harrelson and no bongo boy. What's worse, the weed-read's food spread was reduced to a half-eaten bag of Cool Ranch Doritos sitting atop their bench.
But the players soldiered on. Whereas the standard NYC pre-game softball routine involves lobbing verbal grenades at the other team, the Bunnies and the Bonghitters chatted amiably as they shared the grass for joint warm-ups. Both squads volleyed questions about the other's equally enviable work environment.
Do the High Times guys spark up in the office? Nah, never, came the answer with a wink and a nudge.
Are the cushy Playboy digs on 5th Avenue simply crawling with Playmates? As far as the naked eye can see, came back the reply, accompanied by its own wink and nudge.
The Bonghitters gazed out at the verdant expanse of the Great Lawn, host to several historic concerts over the past few decades, and wondered aloud what it would take to get Phish to play there. The Bad News Bunnies, meanwhile, hopped right into pre-game calisthenics.
All the while, the Parks & Recs guys lingered, circling the field like famished buzzards.
The umpire broke up the chatter with a resounding "Play ball!" and the game was under way. New York City's overcrowding problem is legendary, and the Great Lawn, despite its portentous name, mirrors the city's claustrophobic vibe. What is right field on one diamond serves as left field in the opposite diamond, up and down the Great Lawn, eliciting the forced interaction of outfielders from different games, which goes something like this:
"Got my back?"
"Yeah. Got mine?"
Further conversation is optional, though, it being New York, it's generally discouraged. But on this particular day, the outfielder backing up to me, wearing the jersey of some nameless law firm, was in a downright chatty mood.
"So, who ya play for?"
"Playboy," I replied, a reply I never get tired of replying.
"Bull----," he shot back, as if every right fielder he backed up against took the field in silk PJs.
"Who ya playin'?" he asked.
"Bull----," he snapped, as if every team on the field next to his serenaded its opponent with a rousing rendition of "Take Me Out to the Bong Game" ("So it's root root root for the stoned team/Everybody get high/It's one-two-three tokes you're out of the old Bong Game!"), before he turned back to face his opponent, some other nameless law firm.
Fired up from, well, probably just from being employees of Playboy, the Bad News Bunnies took a 3-0 lead in the first. But the Bonghitters -- call it pot luck, but they haven't lost since '99 -- blazed back to claim the lead. Their pitcher, emulating former Indians hurler/High Times hero Herb Score, allowed just one run the rest of the way. Seven innings later, the High Times team was high-fiving one another, having buried the Bunnies 11-4.
Both teams then got together for handshakes, cheers and general postgame bonhomie, and watched as the Parks & Rec guys slowly, stealthily emerged from their trucks. But, like a wisp of smoke in the late spring breeze, the players vanished, off to celebrate the glory of (not so) corporate summer softball over a Bud or two, away from the buzzkill buzzards' watchful gaze.
A senior editor at Playboy.com, Michael Malone plays right field and bats third for the Bad News Bunnies. His work has also appeared in New York Magazine, Gear, Stuff, The San Francisco Examiner, Rugby Magazine and Time Out. He does not advocate the use of mind-altering substances, particularly while playing softball, especially with park officials around.
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