Baseball 'loudmouths' take heckling seriously

by Tim Spellman | 5/10/04 5:00am

Saturday's double-header at Red Rolfe Field proved a trial for the boys in green. The baseball team had a rough day, too. The Loudmouth Brigade, a band of self-described "professional hecklers" composed largely of Dartmouth seniors, had been preparing all week, and in fact all season, for Saturday's match-up against the Princeton Tigers.

"If that [foul ball] is the best you can do, touch your helmet," screamed Ben Converse '04 at a Princeton batter with a habit of touching his helmet before every pitch. "If you're not paying attention to me, touch your helmet," Converse continued.

The opposing players' routines and idiosyncrasies provided much of the heckling fodder. When some in the crowd noticed that Princeton's pitcher was adjusting his jock strap before each pitch, they berated him with cries of "Pee-Wee Herman" and "Please stop that!" for the remainder of the game.

The Brigade came prepared. Brigade members had spent the previous week making T-shirts and arming themselves with detailed information on the Princeton players' hometowns, families, romantic attachments, nicknames and personal anecdotes.

"I worked harder on this than I do at most classes," said Brian Orce '04. The hecklers obtained some of their information from friends at Princeton and from the Internet, but much of it came from Princeton's number 39, Ross Ohlendorf.

"Daddy would have hit it," the Brigade chanted in unison at one Princeton batter whose father, they had learned, had played major league ball.

"Maybe you should build a robot that can hit a pitch," Brigade members shouted at another Princeton batter who, it was learned, had built a robot for the Comedy Central show "Battlebots."

Some hecklers use baseball spectatorship as an opportunity to vent anger. "Heckling is a form of self-expression," said Grant Rafter '04. "For a few moments every season, I get to say what I really feel about Princeton."

Most hecklers use heckling as a way to involve themselves in the game while watching from the bleachers.

"The whole point is to just go out there, have some fun, root on some of your close friends,and do anything you can to help them win," said heckler Drew Dinkmeyer '04. "If that's creating a rowdy environment in hopes of giving off more energy to the team, or attempting to inhibit another player's performance by distracting their focus, we do whatever we can do to help out our friends."

Dartmouth players expressed appreciation for the support. "The guys definitely appreciate it," said senior pitcher Tim Grant, who started the first game of Saturday's double-header.

"We're really the only team in the league that has any kind of home field advantage in terms of having a tough crowd to play in front of," Grant said. "For instance, when Yale came here to play, we got out to an early lead, and when our crowd got on top of them the game really opened up because their players were so on-edge."

Players from other schools have agreed with Grant's assessment. University of Pennsylvania pitcher Remington Chin wrote of one game at Red Rolfe field this season, "It was the worst game ever ... [the hecklers] were really good at making up material. We need fans like that to get into other people's heads."

On Saturday, and throughout the season, security was tight around the section of the bleachers closest to the pitchers' mound, where most of the hecklers sat. The College began stationing two Safety and Security officers and a Hanover police officer near the bleachers during home games after receiving an angry letter regarding the hecklers from the Harvard athletic department last year.

"It's not baseball when you're talking about people's mothers out there," the Harvard Crimson wrote of the hecklers in May 2003. Ironically, it was this article that gave the hecklers a name: "The Loudmouth Brigade."

But in the end, the psychological warfare waged by the Loudmouth Brigade could not break the nerves of the Princeton players, as the Tigers bested Dartmouth in two consecutive games, ending the Big Green's successful season. Whether a new generation of hecklers inherits the tradition and carries it into next year's season remains to be seen.