A little unfinished baseball business before the World Series is done:
In the early evening of Saturday, May 21st of this year, a man named Art Romero pushed the wrong button on a computer console. By Monday morning, thousands of people he had never met were lighting up his computer screen with one message: that Art was a bag of shit.
How had Art gotten famous?
Romero, who performs as DJ Artform, went to work about ten in the morning that Saturday, as was usual on game nights. He is the music guy at Petco Park in San Diego. He chooses the mix of songs during batting practice and during lulls in the game. If you are familiar with baseball—essentially two minutes of excitement packed into 30 minutes of tension packed into three hours of lulls—you appreciate that Art is under a lot of stress to keep things humming.
In any case, the Dodgers are in town and the Dodgers are different. Not just that they are always a sellout, with the visitors’ fans seeming to outnumber the Padres’. Loyalties aside, the stadium is raucous for the Dodgers, often over-served as they say in the refreshment industry, and often fights break out in the stands between brawls.
There is also the matter of the Star Spangled Banner. Different musicians are invited to perform the National Anthem, and while some of them sing a cappella, most of them choose an instrumental accompaniment. The accompaniment is part of Art’s job too.
As it happens, on the night that would make Art famous, the Padres had engaged the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego to sing the National Anthem. The chorus varies from 80 to 100 members, and over the years has become an institution in the city, which did not keep the Padres organization from reportedly charging them for their seats. The chorus took the field and the stadium quieted.
Up in the control booth Art hit the button, and what came out of the public address system was not a musical preamble to The Star Spangled Banner, at least not the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego’s preamble. It was a female performer from the previous night, a San Diego police officer who sang all the way through to the end—“and the land of the free.”
To their credit, the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego stood respectfully where they were and when the recording was finished, the chorus walked off the field.
Romero said he knew the instant he heard the voice on the public address system that something was wrong, but he thought it was his heart, which had begun pounding so hard he could hear it. Meanwhile, nerve ends started twitching all over his body, and by the time he fully appreciated what had happened—someone had queued up the wrong track—it was too late to stop and start over.
The messages began coming in on Romero's Twitter right away. Every time he looked at his phone, somebody new was accusing him of hate crimes. Even after a public apology, he was a homophobe, a sexist, a bigot. People were hoping he would die. The Associated Press picked up the story, and that produced a new wave of hate mail.
There was a call from Major League Baseball. Likewise, a call from the Padres.
Art was fired.
He spent the weekend curled into a ball on the floor in front of the television, watching cartoons. He checked his phone more often than he meant to, or wanted to, hoping for some bit of good news, but every time he looked there was a line of new messages, anonymous Americans hoping he would die. Just as disturbing, there were messages thanking him for standing up for American values.
Art told anybody who would listen that it was all a mistake. Listen, he said, he’d missed a favorite cousin’s wedding during the Mets series earlier that month because he had to be at work. The cousin, by the way, is gay. So are other members in his family. So are the patrons at the bars where he often spins records. And slowly, a step at a time, people began to find out who Art Romero was. He was no homophobe or hate monger, he was just a guy who’d pitched a little at Cal State in Dominguez Hills, and then lost his scholarship when he was injured. That was 2005. In the years since he’s coached after-school programs, a lot of it unpaid. Worked at a school as a PE teacher, and taught himself to mix music.
And for ten years that’s how he’s lived, teaching kids to play baseball and working as a disc jockey at bars and weddings, and one day stumbled into the job with the Padres. There were dozens of applicants, forms to fill out, auditions, interviews, a video submission. And in the end, Art won.
This to Art Romero was a dream job, and seven weeks after it started, it was over. San Diego is a gay-friendly city, and DJ Artform was a public relations problem the Padres did not need.
But then something strange. More of the story began to come out, the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego was big enough to chalk the incident up to what it was, a mistake. Five thousand people signed a petition circulated by Newsradio 600 KOJO, a local station, and pretty soon public opinion moved in a new direction.
And the Padres, feeling that change in the direction of the wind, announced that they had reconsidered and DJ Artform was back on board.
So the story moved on and out, everybody congratulating themselves on doing the right thing, and—not that anybody but Art Romero and maybe his mother are still interested—there was a small clause in the re-hiring announcement saying that he would resume his duties with the Padres but no longer be involved in work in the control room.
That clause cut Art Romero’s workload to playing music during batting practice. A job that paid $3,000 a month now pays $300. DJ Artform is back doing weddings and bars to make the rent, and the Padres' director of communications, Shana Wilson, who was contacted for this story, says she doesn’t believe the club has anything more to say.
Now, we don’t know who pulls Wilson’s strings, but whomever it is should keep in mind that baseball, more than other games, acknowledges mistakes. It embraces mistakes. It keeps track of them forever, yes, but at the same time, opening day rolls around and all is forgiven. That is what puts the fans back in the seats, a fresh start every spring.
So yes, Art Romero made an error, just as everybody who shows up at Petco Park next April 7th will have surely booted a few too, one way or another.
And the fact that Romero’s mistake touched a third rail doesn’t change his intentions—clearly, he didn’t mean to insult anybody.
But as we were just saying, no sport starts over again like baseball. Opening day—as the writers will be saying for as long as they can’t think of something else to say—hope springs eternal. Last year’s mistakes and disappointment are set aside, and for a little while we are all in the hunt.
By nature the game is slow, and the season is long. Despite the popularity of this year's World Series, it is dropping out of favor with a country whose attention span is 30 seconds long, and the prospect of going into a new season with a bad taste lingering from last year is taking away the best reason for going into it at all.