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Nobody in Maryland was fighting for those who believe the pursuit of happiness includes one day a year of binge-drinking, haymaker-throwing, show-us-your-tits bliss. Those who fill the Preakness infield, that is.
So Todd Schuler stepped in.
“I guess you could call it a populist thing,” laughs Schuler.
Schuler, 32, is a Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing eastern Baltimore County. He’s also the author of Amendment No. 1 to House Bill 1578, a recent bill dealing with the state’s troubled horse racing industry.
The main bill would prevent the Preakness from leaving Maryland if Pimlico gets sold. Schuler’s amendment would simply let Preakness patrons bring their own beer. That’s a much more pressing matter.
For reasons that have nothing to do with racing, things just won’t be the same when Mine That Bird leads the field of three-year-olds in the 134th running of the Preakness Stakes next week. Pimlico management recently announced that for the first time since Prohibition, fans can’t carry alcohol bought away from the track into the infield. As part of a race-day promotion called “The New Infield Brought to You by Bud Light,” anybody who wants a drink will have to buy it from a concessionaire.
That makes the Preakness pretty much just another sporting event, instead of something so much more—or so much less, depending on your view.
While the outside world would be most concerned with the horse racing taking place elsewhere on the premises, infield regulars would go all day without even seeing a horse, let alone betting on one. Because of its historic and liberal booze policy, the Preakness infield over the last several decades had become a special place, in the same way Sodom and Gomorrah were once special places. Nowhere on the planet could you see so many fights, so much unfortunate nudity, so much public intoxication, so many body fluids—of every type imaginable—in such a confined space and time.
They didn’t call it the Freakness for nothing.
Yet year after year, about 50,000 people, to use the word loosely, would pack the infield grass. Like the Running of the Bulls, it’s hard to explain to folks who’ve never been to the Preakness infield why they should show up. The Preakness infield even featured a spectacle called the Running of the Urinals, where folks would race on top of rows of portable toilets.
Again, you have to have experienced it.
The track was usually set up so that there would be almost no commingling between the infield crowd and the other 50,000 or so folks at the track on Preakness Day. And bad things happen when the inmates break out: In 1999, a well-lubricated infielder named Lee Chang Ferrell jumped a few fences and ran out onto the track during a stakes race on the Preakness undercard and tried to punch Artax, a multi-million-dollar horse, as it galloped by. Amazingly, other than the bumps Ferrell suffered when the cops got him, nobody got hurt
Schuler grew up in Baltimore, and he spent his share of third-Saturdays-in-May wallowing in the depravity and loving it. No new rules to curtail the drinking have been implemented since 1987, when full kegs were prohibited (reportedly because a girl was severely injured by a flying empty keg).
And Schuler doesn’t think any more restrictions are necessary. He regards the new regulations at the track as more than anti-beer; they’re anti-Baltimore.
“My amendment was out of respect to the ‘bring your own’ era of sports here,” Schuler says.
He named his measure the Wild Bill Hagy Amendment, after the Baltimorean who became a folk hero by drinking to excess and leading Memorial Stadium cheers during the Orioles’ late-1970s, early-1980s glory days. Hagy’s antics were beer-fueled and came at a time you could bring your own booze into games so long as it wasn’t bottled. (On a personal note, I remember the joyous pre-game routine of pouring 10 Natty Bohs into a milk jug in the Memorial Stadium parking lot.)
Schuler says one of the fondest memories of his youth was when Hagy was the celebrity guest at opening-day ceremonies for his Little League.
“Can you imagine a time when a fan like that is a celebrity?” Schuler says. “But that’s Baltimore. Wild Bill Hagy was known for his drinking, but, at the end of the day, he becomes as iconic as Eddie Murray.”
The O’s got rid of their BYOB allowance in 1985. And Hagy took a stand: He threw a beer cooler onto the field from the upper deck at a game just before the rule took effect, and he never showed up at Memorial Stadium again.
Schuler says that while a lot of his colleagues in the statehouse expressed amusement and verbal support for his amendment, he knew early on that it had little hope of acceptance. Fellow Democrats told him that no matter how righteous his stand, they didn’t want to do anything to make H.B. 1578 less easy to pass.
“I got a very positive reaction for this,” he says. “But even people who were sympathetic to my cause were afraid of muddying up the bill, which most people regarded as the important work. So I could tell that at best I was going to get 50 votes for my amendment, and I would have needed 71 to pass and make it a part of the bill.”
As it was, H.B. 1578 passed, but the amendment never even made it to a roll-call vote. It was put up for a voice vote, and the nays had it.
So, “The New Infield Brought to You by Bud Light” will indeed take over. Schuler won’t be in the infield. He’ll be hosting a Preakness party at his house. It won’t be the same as being at the real thing, he admits.
“There won’t be a Running of the Urinals,” he says, “because we haven’t lined up enough Port-a-Potties in our backyard.”
But you can bring your own beer.