Rushin: The death of paper tickets and the stories they leave behind

From Steve Rushin at Sports Illustrated on September 13, 2019, with mention of SABR members Todd Radom and Fred Claire:

John Burns held season tickets to Xavier basketball games for more than 40 years, in three different Cincinnati arenas, his seats maturing along with him—from raucous baseline in youth, to second level near the beer stand in middle age, to wheelchair-accessible seats when his aging friends required them. They were like The Giving Tree, those tickets, which Burns shared with seven pals. “Eventually, Dad needed the disabled seats himself,” says his daughter, Mary Ann. “I can still see him sitting at the dining room table, dividing the tickets into envelopes. Dad was always The Guy in Charge of the Tickets.”

John Burns died at 78 on April 1, 2010, his spirit ascending skyward in the manner of his seat location. In his casket his family placed objects he esteemed: a thoroughbred racing form, a pencil to pick the winners and a can of Cincy’s own Hudepohl beer. “But the thing he loved most in life was Xavier basketball,” says Mary Ann. And so Burns wore his season tickets into eternity, tucked into his funeral blazer like a pocket square. They were fanned out for St. Peter, expediting him through heaven’s gate, a reminder that the cheap seats high up in English theaters and soccer stadiums are called “the gods.”

Like the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the letters of transit in Casablanca, tickets almost always provide passage to a better place. They are redeemable, like our souls; and like our souls they may be sold on the secondary market. As with the afterlife, tickets promise a better future. They don’t always deliver on that promise, but tickets—be they baseball or raffle or lottery—provide hope before the reckoning.

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Originally published: September 16, 2019. Last Updated: September 16, 2019.