Monday, April 1, 1996
Opening Day just the ticket for what ails ya

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bill Gallop should not be working today.

But, when you get a kick out of calling yourself ''the world's oldest ticket seller,'' there's no way you're going to oversleep, call in sick or say you just don't feel like coming in.

Not on Opening Day.

Opening Day used to be a sacred holiday in Cincinnati. The Reds were starting a new season. For anyone who said, ''wait'll next year,'' this was it.

Grown-ups were entitled to play hooky from work. If they had the chance, they took it just to feel like a kid again, at least for one spring afternoon.

They had plenty of company. The stadium was always packed.

Not any more.

Opening Day 1996 is not sold out. So, Bill Gallop, union man, president of ticket sellers local 754, must go to work at Riverfront.

He'll haul his old bones - ''They'll be 74 on April 9, every one of them'' - to the stadium's west ticket pod. He'll stand for hours in that ugly concrete blockhouse. Make change. Sell tickets. Make friends. If he's lucky, he'll tell a joke or hear a good one.

At odd moments, when he sees a familiar face or sees a kid - big or little - just dying to get in to see the game, he'll remember how things were.

Bill Gallop started selling Reds tickets at Crosley Field in 1947. It was a so-so year for the team. They lost eight more games than they won, finishing fifth in an eight-team race, 12,000 games behind the first-place Brooklyn Dodgers.

But, for Bill Gallop, fresh from the Army, it was a great rookie season. He still remembers the thrill of a weekend doubleheader. Before the games, all he'd see from the window of his wooden ticket booth would be, first, a rush of hands shoving money through the slot and, then, a parade of open palms demanding tickets.

Selling tickets wasn't his first position in baseball. He had worked his way up from the minor leagues of stadium jobs, hawking concessions in the stands.

In 1936, at the age of 14, he started working the crowd. He even remembers his spiel: ''Coca-Cola, lemon-lime and orange! Cigars, cigarettes, chewin' and squirtin' tobacco!''

It took him awhile, but by 1947 he was in the big leagues, selling tickets to the bleachers. They were cheap seats: 60 cents a pop. But, back then, all the seats were cheap.

''General admission was $1.10. Box seats were $1.50,'' Bill says without a moment's hesitation. ''Peanuts were 10 cents a bag. Hot dogs were 20.''

He has a good mind for figures. Always has. It served him well in his real job as a buyer for Kroger.

''That was my vocation,'' he says of his grocery-store job.

''Ticket-selling has been my avocation.''

Work for fun

To Bill Gallop, it's a fun job.

''If a pretty girl comes up, I'll say, 'You're sitting in section 124. I'll save the seat next to you.' ''

He doesn't worry about sounding politically incorrect.

''Heck, I can do that,'' he says. ''I'm almost 74.'' And happily married to Paula, his wife of 52 years.

Having fun is almost an alien notion at the old ballgame. Baseball has turned into a mad sport.

The fans are angry with the millionaire players over striking for even higher wages. Fans and players, alike, get mad at Marge for being Marge.

The players are just plain surly. On a good day, two out of the starting nine might crack a smile.

The smile factor is low in the stands, too. Take it from Bill Gallop.

''People used to come to the park for fun. To them, it was a special occasion.''

It wasn't just one stop of many. It was the place to be.

The time has come for fans, owners and players to work together to make it that way again.

Before a new stadium is built, before Riverfront is wrecked, drop what you're doing and just go to the ballpark for fun.

Stop by Bill Gallop's window. He'll be happy to sell you a ticket.

Cliff Radel's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.