Area tradition runs dry
Craig Grau/The Explorer, Susan Reyes (right) and Marie Bustamante moisten Sidewinders fans at TEP's final Thirsty Thursday.

When beer spigots spew cheap American lager and baseball fans line up 50-deep to shuffle away double-fisted, something’s afloat.

More than 9,400 people spilled into the Tucson Sidewinders’ stadium for the final Thirsty Thursday promotion last week, capping a local tradition of $1 beers and Triple-A ball that dated back to the early 1990s.

Marana High School alums Nick Gaiser and Lex Levario waited for another round as a passing spectator’s brew leaped the plastic rim and splattered nearby concrete.

The pair savored their evening, as the Sidewinders get ready to pack bags for their 2009 season in Reno, Nev.

“It’s just a good time,” said Levario, who assured he was of legal drinking age. “All of our boys come out. Even if they don’t, we’ll find someone to hang out with.”

The scoreboard reflected the evening’s bittersweet reality by the fourth inning, as the Iowa Cubs led the Baby Snakes 10-5. But as the innings rolled by, fans found new reasons to cheer.

Loudspeakers announced a fourth-inning decree that beer vendors would pour clear until game’s end, rather than the usual 9 p.m. cutoff.

That suited Bob Bertagnoli and Xavier Baca just fine.

Standing in a line that ended near two young Miller gals, Baca, 31, said he’s missed only one Thirsty Thursday in six years. The pair — two in a gang of Southern Arizona prep football officials who sat near first base — razzed the ump regardless of his call.

The refs adopted Thursdays during 2002, when they were first taken with torturing an umpire named “Jeff,” since bestowing the moniker to whoever worked that night.

“It’s easier to give the ump a harder time when there’s no one here. Tonight, nobody can hear you,” Bertagnoli, 63, said.

The dollar-beer deal started as a 25-cent promotion — with little cups that guaranteed drinkers an evening spent in lines at Hi Corbett Field, when Tucson Triple-A ball still wore the red-and-white “Toros” jersey.

Mike Pursley, 46, sported the nostalgic attire on Thursday, noting many locals still view the low-buck brew night as a Toros affair.

Melancholy as he was to see the Pacific Coast League franchise raise its heels, Pursley couldn’t fault Sidewinders ownership for moving the team to Nevada.

“If they can’t make money, they’ve got to go where they can. So I understand,” Pursley said.

Roused fans grew louder toward the final innings, as the Sidewinders leaned toward a 15-7 loss. Though rumors circulated that Thirsty Thursday was being pulled a month early over alcohol-induced political heat, Pima County Sheriff Sgt. Scott Lowing disagreed.

“We make minimal arrests here,” Lowing said of his Thursday night post. “I don’t mind (being here) at all.”

As Tucson Electric Park’s stands hit 80 percent capacity, fans shared memories of the farm team franchise, including Hi Corbett’s home plate marriages and mascot brawls.

But the fact that Triple-A ball would slip away with little of the attention afforded to spring training surprised Pursley and was met with dismay from former franchise GM Mike Feder.

“It’s one more good thing that’s leaving Tucson. It’s just sad,” Feder said.

During his run with the Toros, Feder raised the gimmick’s beer price from a quarter to a buck, while boosting cup sizes.

Feder’s current duties with the Pima County Sports Authority center on keeping spring ball in town. But he’s not likely to forget Tucson’s balmy Thursday nights, buoyed on cheap brew.

“It’s history, and history’s just that,” Feder said. “But it’s still special to a lot of people.”

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