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Bean Counters

A heartwarming glimpse of our national pasttime: unbridled capitalism.

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By Josh Noel

It's the top of the sixth inning when the girl, who's maybe ten, approaches the man behind me. "Excuse me," she says in her little voice. "Excuse me. Excuse me." Now he is looking. "Would you consider selling your Beanie Baby?" The Cubs are playing their final home game of the season, and to mark the occasion each of the devoted has received a purple bear Beanie Baby at the gate. The man seems surprised at the small, bespectacled girl who values the doll enough to overcome the nerves that have led her to jam her hand in her mouth while she speaks. He says he needs to think. First he considers aloud whether to just give her the Beanie Baby. But his people--his wife on one side and a friend on the other--are predicting a return as high as $15. The girl already has one Beanie Baby, and her mother across the aisle with two other children clearly is prepared to finance the transaction.

"OK," the man says as the Cubs come to bat in the bottom of the sixth. "Fifteen dollars." The girl confers quietly with her mother. "OK," says the mom. "With the card." Each fan also was given a small laminated card that somehow authenticates the toy. The man realizes immediately he has begun the bidding too low. He talks to his wife and friend. Make that 20 bucks, he says. In unison, the girl and her mother decline. The man regroups with his posse and reemerges with a new offer: "Thirty-five for two." The girl and her mom huddle, and while they do the Pittsburgh Pirates change pitchers, prompting the Wrigley Field noise crew to send out "Y.M.C.A." The girl and her mom interrupt their conference to participate in a dance that has become a common sight at Wrigley--contorting the arms into the letters during the chorus.

By the time baseball has resumed, they have formulated their counteroffer: 35 for two, with the cards and with two ticket stubs. Gary Gaetti grounds out to end the sixth. Before the guy can consider the merits of the offer, his friend has decided he doesn't want to part with his Beanie Baby after all, which means there is only one to be sold. "OK," he says, "one Beanie Baby, one card, and one ticket stub, $20." No, they say, 35 for two, but not one for 20. The friend changes his mind again and returns his Beanie Baby to the bidding. However he's realized he didn't get a laminated card at the gate. Therefore, say the men, two Beanie Babies, two stubs, and one card, $35. "No way," says mom. "Each Beanie Baby needs a card." Fine. Then one Beanie Baby and one card, $18. Fifteen says the girl. Eighteen says the guy. "No deal," says mom. "No deal," echoes the girl.

Ernie Banks is leaning out of the WGN booth, belting "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and not very well, but there's a lot of love there. Capitalism rests for a moment. And for another full inning. The guy next to me mentions that he saw people get their Beanie Babies at the gate then leave. They bought tickets just for the beanbags. During the stalemate, I ask the guy behind me why he'd sell for $18 but not $15. "It's the principle," he says. "We made counteroffers--they came back with nothing. I want to see some progress, some movement." I cross the aisle to ask the mom the same question. "It's the principle," she says. "We'd made a deal for 15."

During the bottom of the eighth, the guy restarts negotiations with an offer of one Beanie Baby, one card, and one ticket stub for $17. No, say the girl and her mom. Sixteen. Seventeen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Sixteen. The public address announcer says the Cubs have set an attendance record this season and praises "the greatest fans in the entire world of sports." It's now the bottom of the ninth, and the woman gathers her children. "Last chance," says the girl. "Yours too," replies the guy. The woman and her children leave without another word. The guy and his wife and friend follow a minute later. When I was a kid, I received as a Wrigley door prize a real wood baseball bat with the Cubs logo and the logo of a corporate sponsor. I pick it up and swing it occasionally. It's worth a dozen Beanie Babies.

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