Take Me Out to the Bar Mitzvah…


Roger Owens has been pitching with the Dodgers for 50 years, ever since the team moved from Brooklyn. His accuracy is uncanny, and he remains a crowd favorite. He throws under the leg, behind the back and even two at a time, sometimes more than 30 rows back.

Owens, also known as the “Peanut Man,” started tossing peanut bags at Dodger games when the team began playing at the Coliseum in 1958. And Owens, who knows more than his fair share of nutty jokes, also makes a good side income making guest appearances at various bar and (sometimes) bat mitzvah celebrations.

“Everyone wants to do something different,” he said. “They want to reward their son for all the hard work, studies and learning about his Jewish heritage and his grades at school.”

With baseball’s season opener less than a month away, it doesn’t take much to organize a grand-slam celebration that reflects your child’s love of the game.

The idea of a blockbuster bar mitzvah celebration at Dodger Stadium was played for laughs in the 2006 film comedy, “Keeping Up With the Steins,” complete with Neil Diamond booked to sing the national anthem. But there are ways to put on a baseball theme that won’t break parents, which can include a day at the stadium, complete with hot dogs, ticket booths, an organ playing “Charge!” and appearances by former baseball greats.

Locations

Renting space at either Dodger Stadium or Angel Stadium is not as expensive as one might expect. The Stadium Club or Dugout Club at Chavez Ravine can be had for just $650, said Jill DeStefano, partnership management executive with the Dodgers. However, costs for food or beverages are separate, and prices can range from $35 to $100 per person.

Renting out the field is also an option, albeit a much more expensive one, she added.

Angel Stadium’s Diamond Club, Knothole Club, Homeplate Club and Music Garden in Anaheim cost nothing to rent, according to Ron Lee, division manager of premium services. Once again, the cost comes from food and beverages, plus security. Aramark, the professional services company in charge at Angel Stadium, also allows clients to rent the field at a minimum of $25,000.

Still, the teams are accommodating — as long as the celebration isn’t on a scheduled home game or in October (“It’s empty because we want to be in the World Series,” DeStefano said). May and November are popular months at Dodger Stadium, but the baseball season is tricky, because the team doesn’t know its playing schedule until the year before.

Julia Erling, an Aramark catering sales specialist, said November through March work best at Angel Stadium, but annual Motocross events eliminate renting the outfield in January and February.

But if everything works out and the stadiums are available, “The sky’s the limit,” DeStefano and Lee said.

In Los Angeles, one can pay for batting practice, either on the field or in the indoor batting cage, or pitch in the bullpen, complete with radar gun. Both parks can have videos playing on the giant outfield screens and have DJs hook up their equipment to the stadium sound systems.

Food

Andrew Atwell, Aramark’s West Coast senior executive chef, said all options are available: plated food, buffet or “action stations,” in which the cooks interact with the guests. “It’s all in the presentation,” he said.

Action stations could be anything, Atwell said: fish, salad, a carving station or dessert featuring crème brulee. To keep with the theme, hamburgers could become sliders, complete with condiment bar with different cheeses, lettuces and grilled onions. Hot dogs could have onions, sauerkraut, horseradish, cheese, peppers or salsa.

If guests specifically wanted kosher food brought to Angel Stadium, Atwell said Aramark would contract with kosher caterers and have the food brought.

Levy Restaurants, which provides catering at Dodger Stadium, has used Kosher on Wheels for its kosher catering needs.

Special Guests

After he’s introduced as a surprise guest during the celebration, Owens, the Peanut Man, walks out wearing his own uniform, carrying a box filled with plenty of bagged peanuts to toss. He then makes a two- or three-minute speech during which he tells the guests about how great it is to be at the party, recites what school the honoree attends and areas in which he or she excels (baseball, usually) and how proud the parents must be. He’ll crack some peanut jokes, then stick around and sign autographs.

DeStefano said former Dodgers, such as Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and “Sweet Lou” Johnson, have made appearances, “but they’re more for the adults.” Getting current Dodgers (Russell Martin is a popular request) is more difficult, because the team might be on the road or the player might not live in Los Angeles during the off-season.

Erling said stadium tours are offered, and former Angels pitcher Clyde Wright (1966-73) might be the tour guide. Player appearances are subject to availability, but expect to pay at least $5,000 for a current player and $1,500 for a former player.

Theme Touches

If a stadium party is out of reach, event planners suggest leaving details for a baseball-themed party up to the imagination. Ticket booths, seating assignments that resemble ballpark tickets, table centerpieces that look like baseballs or include team names and logos are common.

Paula Gild of Gilded Events suggests costumed performers dressed as concessionaires bringing out the hot dogs, popcorn, Cracker Jacks and other stadium-type foods.

For more information, visit:
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Roger Owens

Proud to Have Guilt


Once Mireille Silcoff had been hired to edit a new quarterly Jewish magazine for young people, she needed to give it a name.

“At one point I just started asking people, ‘What are the first things you think of when you think about your Jewishness?'” Silcoff recalled. “You can’t imagine how many times ‘guilt’ came up. And ‘pleasure’ came up enough to be interesting.”

Guilt & Pleasure — “A magazine for Jews and the people who love them” — hit newsstands across North America last month, offering readers content ranging from long-form essays and memoirs to fiction, comics, photography and archival material.

The magazine aims not only to inform and entertain, its creators say, but to get Jews talking about issues they think ought to be more fully explored.

Each issue of Guilt & Pleasure will revolve around a theme. The first, called “Home & Away,” will examine issues of “place and identity and the nexus between them,” publisher Roger Bennett said. It includes original contributions from novelists Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar and Etgar Keret as well as graphic artist Ben Katchor. The second issue will look at fights and battles; the third will be about magic.

Each edition will be connected to interactive Web-based discussion guides.

As a “strong proponent” of secular Jewish culture, Shteyngart — who wrote the best-selling “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook” — says typical Jewish newspapers, emanating from a “very organized community basis,” don’t speak to him. Guilt & Pleasure, which he called a Jewish Paris Review, does.

“For as long as there have been Jews in America, there have been Jewish secular cultural enterprises,” he said.

Still, he sometimes wonders what, if anything, binds non-religious Jews.

“What among secular Jews makes us a community? Are we a community? I don’t have an answer for that,” he said.

But he’s hoping Guilt & Pleasure will spur some discussion on the topic.

For more information, visit

Still Got ‘Game’


Like Budd Schulberg’s “What Makes Sammy Run?” Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” and other milestones of Jewish American literature, Will Eisner’s “Name of the Game” explores the depths of Jewish self-loathing and assimilation. But what separates “Name” — a tale chronicling two immigrant families that merge through marriage for social advancement and then suffer destructive consequences — from the others, is that Eisner’s work is a comic book.

Make that a “graphic novel” — the term attributed to ambitious comics with mature themes and a traditional bound format. Graphic novels have become a multimillion-dollar cash cow. Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” revolutionized comics in 1986 with its brooding, cynical interpretation of Batman. Art Spiegelman’s nonfiction Holocaust opus, “Maus,” won the Pulitzer Prize.

“I was frankly enthused when Spiegelman got the Pulitzer,” Eisner told The Journal from his Florida studio, “because it gave the medium the credit it deserves.”

Eisner’s latest is a 160-page saga in which the destinies of two social-climbing immigrant families collide. It’s a stunning study of disconnect, in which characters choose money over love, practice infidelity in the bedroom and in the boardroom, and embrace assimilation over identity. “Name” comments on the American Dream, and the lengths some will go to deny themselves in their quest to obtain and maintain it. It was inspired by folk tales, as channeled through the prism of Eisner’s Jewish American experience.

“Jewish and Russian folk literature, they had a similar thread to all of them,” said Eisner, married to wife Ann for 52 years. “Everybody succeeded in elevating themselves, and that’s through marriage — certainly in Yiddish folklore. Nobody succeeds in fairy tales unless they marry the prince or the princess.”

Eisner, who has been writing and drawing graphic novels since the 1970s, actually created this genre. The first graphic novel, his landmark “A Contract with God,” was originally published by Baronet Books in 1978. The Jewish-themed, Bronx-set story depicted protagonist Frimmer Hirsh’s relationship with his Maker.

Eisner also authored a seminal textbook, “Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling,” and taught popular cartoonists such as Drew Friedman and Pat McDonnnell at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Since 1988, the Eisner Awards, named in his honor and held annually in San Diego, have become the industry’s Academy Awards.

However, his major contribution to his industry is his classic strip “The Spirit.”

Conceived in 1939 for a newspaper comics supplement, “The Spirit” told the tale of Denny Colt, a policeman reborn as a Stetson-wearing masked detective superhero. Eisner used the strip to redefine the medium by employing cinematic compositions and pacing, noir design sensibilities and a cartoon realism unseen in comics back then. His storytelling style reflected the moviemaking of his day — Fritz Lang, Jacques Tourneur, bringing to comics what Orson Welles brought to movies with “Citizen Kane”: sophistication.

Both “The Spirit” and its creator were a product of what is now called the Golden Age of Comics — a time when New York Jews ruled an industry that was beneath most non-Jews; the same era explored in 2000 by Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” for which Eisner was a consultant.

Since 1978, Eisner has explored his most personal art through his graphic novel format, works that capture facets of his upbringing as the son of Jewish immigrants in 1920s-30s New York. “The Heart of the Storm,” for example, tells his parents’ story — his father was a fine artist from Vienna; his mother of Czech descent.

The Jewishness of Eisner’s tale was never an issue for his publisher.

“They were very supportive and never attempted to make editorial content,” Eisner said, singling out his longtime DC editor Dave Shriner.

Unlike DC’s flagship characters “Superman” and “Batman,” “The Spirit” never materialized in Hollywood, save for an unaired 1984 TV pilot produced by DC’s parent company, Warner Bros. Eisner doesn’t believe “The Spirit” translates to other mediums.

Nor does he even want to return to his iconic character in his own medium. His list of upcoming project ideas has grown too long for him to look back.

“There would only be two reasons I would revisit ‘The Spirit,'” Eisner said. “To prove that I could still run a quarter mile and to make money. I don’t need either.”

Learn more about Will Eisner at www.willeisner.com.