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Jose Bautista via Instagram

Baseball's Golden Ticket: The MLB Lifetime Pass

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Jose Bautista via Instagram

The first man to ever receive a lifetime pass good for any Major League Baseball game in the country never once used it.

In acknowledgment of his status as the nation's leader, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) gave President Theodore Roosevelt a card granting him entry to any field he desired. The president, who was fond of combative sports like boxing and football, openly disliked the plodding game, and it’s unlikely he ever crossed a turnstile with the pass in hand.

Plenty of others have, though. Since Roosevelt was presented with a pass in 1907, hundreds of major league players, umpires, coaches, and staff have received a “golden ticket,” good for free admission to any of the MLB’s 30 stadiums—with a few asterisks.

“It’s a recognition program,” Phyllis Merhige, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of club relations, tells mental_floss. “It’s for anyone with eight years in uniform or 25 years in the front office.”

The pass—once paper and leather-bound, now a gold-covered alloy—entitles the recipient to enter any regular-season game of his or her choosing, along with one guest. Stadiums have instructions on recognizing the pass at their press or VIP windows. (You don’t need to call in advance.) Seating can be determined by each ball club, but it’s not likely you’ll be finding yourself behind home plate during a playoff game; the pass isn’t valid for postseason attendance.

Merhige and a colleague, Katy Feeney, handle distribution of the passes. At the start of each season, they both get a list of American and National League players who could become eligible during the year. Merhige tries to hand the passes to players as they come through MLB’s New York headquarters while in town for Yankee Stadium or Citi Field games; other times, they’ll be forwarded through a team’s public relations staff.

“Players will sometimes call the union office looking for them,” Merhige says. “A few think they’ve put in the eight years and think it’s gotten misplaced.” It usually hasn’t; they just happen to be a few days short of the minimum.

Vada Pinson Jr. via Facebook

While the pass may have been wasted on Roosevelt, it was a few decades before players were able to relish the opportunity. In 1935, Ford Frick, then-president of the National League, gave former Cincinnati Red Stockings shortstop George Wright a pass that was one part generosity and one part public relations: the gift made headlines.

He also gave one to Babe Ruth. Although Ruth played the majority of his career in the American League, the AL had no such pass, and it seemed absurd that the “Bambino” couldn’t walk into his own association’s games. That changed in 1936, when gold and silver passes began circulating for players with between 10 and 20 years of service in either league.

“There were about 400 passes by the end of 1936,” John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, says. “The perks were the same, but men with 20 years got the gold pass.”

Thorn isn’t sure when the tenure limit was lowered to eight years, though he suspects the leagues just “wanted to give out more passes rather than fewer.” And while it’s greatly appreciated—José Bautista recently Instagrammed his newly-acquired pass—Thorn believes many don’t use it since players have existing relationships that allow them to get into games regardless. “It’s more of an honor,” he says. “Most can afford to pay the $20 ticket. I would guess most put it in a drawer.”

Not every pass has been circulated among presidents or MLB alumni. The league has often recognized great accomplishments—Charles Lindbergh got one after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, while 24 astronauts got passes in 1965—and great hardship in global incidents.

“The first time we honored victims was in the Pueblo incident, which was a Naval ship that was impounded in North Korea,” Merhige says. The USS Pueblo crept into foreign waters in 1968 on an intelligence reconnaissance mission. After being captured, 82 crew members were imprisoned, and many were tortured. They were released after 335 days.

Granting the Pueblo crew some small token of appreciation led to MLB offering the pass as a symbol of gratitude to returning POWs in Vietnam and, most notably, the 52 Americans held during the Iranian hostage crisis: they had been held captive at a U.S. embassy in Tehran from 1979 to 1981. (Their rescue was dramatized in the film Argo.) Though not the exact pass given to players, it offers the same benefits—admission to any baseball stadium in the country.

Whether the ticket is given to a player or a national hero, there’s no transferring it. “I’ve had people telling me their grandfather had one and they just found it,” Merhige says. “They ask if they can use it. They can’t.”

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The First High Five Recorded in the History of Sports
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Denis Poroy/Getty Images

We don’t quite know who invented the high five—but we can pinpoint the moment it became inextricably linked with sports, which the short documentary The High Five explores below.

On October 2, 1977, Los Angeles Dodgers leftfielder Dusty Baker scored his 30th home run, making the team the first in history to have four players—Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Reggie Smith—with at least 30 homers under each of their belts. Fellow outfielder Glenn Burke was so overwhelmed with joy and pride, he raised his arm and slapped his flat palm against the victorious athlete’s own palm. The moment transformed Baker and Burke into legends.

Sadly, the latter player faced hard times ahead: Burke was gay, and it’s believed that his sexuality prompted team officials to trade him to the Oakland A's the following year. In Oakland, Burke clashed with team manager Billy Martin, then retired early from baseball. Today, Burke is remembered for his charisma and talent—and for transforming a simple gesture into a universal symbol. “To think his energy and personality was the origin of that, that’s a pretty good legacy,” sportswriter Lyle Spencer says in the film.

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11 Outrageous Ballpark Foods
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iStock

Major League ballpark food has gone way beyond peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and the all-American hot dog. Now you can enjoy full meals, international cuisine, and eye-popping, gut-busting specialty dishes concocted for maximum publicity. Let's sample some of the outrageous dishes available at baseball games this year.

1. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES // TRIPLE TRIPLE BURGER

Wayback Burger has the ultimate meat-lover's burger at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Watch the Phillies while eating a Triple Triple Burger with nine beef patties and nine slices of cheese. And some veggies, if you can find them.

2. NEW YORK METS // BACON S'MORES ON A STICK

First seen in 2015, Pig Guy still offers S‘mores Bacon on a Stick at Citi Field. That's a slice of thick bacon dipped in marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker crumbs …on a stick. If you so choose, there are other toppings available for your bacon on a stick, like Sriracha maple glaze or salted caramel.

3. SEATTLE MARINERS // OAXACAN CHAPULINES

Served by Edgar's Cantina, the authentic Oaxacan chapulines debuting this year at Safeco Field in Seattle are "toasted grasshoppers with chile-lime salt seasoning." [PDF] They sold out on opening day, and the ballpark moved more grasshoppers in three games than Edgar's home restaurant Poquitos serves in a year!

4. SEATTLE MARINERS // MADE-TO-ORDER ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

Not in the mood for toasted grasshoppers? There are plenty of sweet treats available at Safeco Field in Seattle, including the made-to-order deluxe frozen custard cookie sandwiches from Frozen Rope Sandwich Company. As you can see, they come with extras.

5. COLORADO ROCKIES // ROCKY MOUNTAIN OYSTERS

In case you don't know what Rocky Mountain oysters are, they're bull testicles that are sliced and deep-fried. Not only are they a huge hit throughout Colorado, they've been a staple at Rockies games for 20 years.

6. TEXAS RANGERS // TEXAS SNOWBALL

New for 2017, you'll be able to try the Texas Snowballs at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. It's made of chopped brisket and barbecue sauce rolled into a ball and covered with funnel cake batter. It is then deep-fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Is it an entree or a dessert? That's your decision.

7. TEXAS RANGERS // CHOOMONGOUS

Choomongous is both a sandwich and a description. This staple at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, is a 24-inch Korean beef sandwich that was crafted in 2014 in honor of Texas Ranger outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. The sandwich is stuffed with Korean-spiced beef, spicy slaw, and Sriracha-infused mayo. Your best advice is to split it with a friend or two.

8. HOUSTON ASTROS // CHICKEN AND WAFFLE CONE

Watch baseball at Minute Maid Park and use only one hand to eat a full dinner. The Chicken and Waffle Cone puts fried chicken fingers and mashed potatoes inside a large waffle cone with honey-mustard sauce on top. The fan favorite is in its third year of satisfying hungry Astros fans.

9. MILWAUKEE BREWERS // INSIDE THE PARK NACHOS

Miller Park in Milwaukee is the home of Inside the Park Nachos, which is basically taco meat on a stick that is rolled in crushed Doritos, fried, and served with cheese sauce, sour cream, and salsa.

10. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS // CHURRO DOG 2.0

Chase Field in Phoenix first served the Churro Dog in 2015. This is not the ballpark hot dog you're used to, but an 1100-calorie dessert. The "dog" is a cinnamon churro, the "bun" is a split Long John donut, and the toppings are frozen yogurt, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, and whipped cream. For 2017, the Churro Dog 2.0 comes dressed up in Oreos! The churro is rolled in crushed Oreo cookies, strawberry topping replaces the caramel, and then a generous helping of more Oreo crumbs is sprinkled on top.

11. MINNESOTA TWINS // TRIPLE SAUSAGE BLOODY MARY

Target Field is offering a new Bloody Mary during Twins games. Hrbek's Pub supplies the new Triple Sausage Bloody Mary, a Bloody Mary with deluxe garnishes including three varieties of sausage (brat, Polish, and andouille), in addition to cheese cubes, peppers, and various fruits and vegetables. You can get a variation with a hamburger garnish if you like!

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