Tonight’s game starts at 7:05, at which point Biz Markie, the “clown prince of hip-hop,” most famous for his hit sing-songy single “Just a Friend,” off the 1989 album The Biz Never Sleeps, will be throwing out the first pitch against the Houston Astros.
This particular game, the evening of July 23, also falls on the A’s 15th annual Root Beer Float Day, a beloved tradition that raises money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation by having A’s players, coaches, announcers, the staffs of several radio stations, and celebs of various stature (Real World cast members) scoop and serve root beer floats at $2 each for two hours before the first pitch.
As for how it came to be that a diabetes-related charity event revolves around a soda and ice cream-based dessert — surely there’s an explanation. Resolve to look into this later.
This annual dessert appreciation is normally scheduled for a day game and takes place outside. Tonight’s, by contrast, is held in a long, balloon-strewn indoor corridor, and by 6pm, navigating the packed, echoing concrete space has become difficult, especially near the most coveted root beer float stations: Jose Canseco and Biz Markie.
Biz Markie is here in an official capacity as a spokesperson for Zevia, a “zero-calorie soda” made with stevia, which explains why he’s posing for photos and signing autographs in front of a Zevia banner, while staffers (plus A’s pitcher Jeff Samardzija) scoop ice cream and pour cans of Zevia, in addition to root beer, behind him. Zevia has joined A&W as an official soda donor for the evening. A small sampling of Zevia flavors: Cream Soda, Mountain Zevia, Dr. Zevia.
— Oakland Athletics (@Athletics) July 24, 2014
Biz Markie, dressed in a personalized A’s jersey and A’s cap with a heavy-looking gold chain around his neck that reads “Biz,” seems a little overwhelmed by it all. He turned 50 in April. He’s been on his feet all day; there was some promotional KPIX event in the city before this. The line to pose with him — made up of everyone from small children who know Biz Markie from his stints on the feverishly popular Nickelodeon show Yo Gabba Gabba! (he toured with the live stage version in 2013) to dudes who are also in their 50s — snakes around a metal barrier, with no end in sight. The decision is made that the line should be cut off at some point. You were supposed to grab him for 10 minutes during this portion of the evening, but instead suggest that maybe it would be better if you met up during the game, after this is over and he can relax a little?
At 6:30, the entire event has run out of cups. Plenty of ice cream and root beer left on almost all the tables, but the pseudo-celeb scoopers can’t give you any unless you bring your own receptacle. Witness one man scooping ice cream carefully into a plastic water bottle.
At 7:05 Biz Markie takes the mound for the first pitch. It is not good. It’s not 50 Cent-bad — the ball makes it to the plate — but it’s not good either, veering upward, slowly, in a high arc. At the view reserve-level bar inside the stadium, there’s a low, wincing “oooh,” from several patrons.
Sometime during the third inning, one of the Zevia people, who have flown up from LA to manage Biz’s appearances and who are all unfailingly fresh-faced and friendly, texts you that it’d be a good time to come to the suite. Two innings and one and a half beers later, you make it there. The suite is filled with Zevia people and their kids and wives, plus Biz and his cousin, the producer and DJ Cool-V, who co-produced several of Biz’s albums. There’s pizza and popcorn and beer and Zevia. You are encouraged to sit down next to Biz. He has just finished eating.
“Do we have those toothpicks?” he asks Cool-V. “Nah, we left them back at the hotel,” Cool-V replies. Biz starts going at his teeth with a silver-colored plastic fork. Someone comes by to check his wireless mic; he’ll be singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch. Biz checks his phone and has an email about his flight to San Diego tomorrow.
You: What’s happening in San Diego?
Biz: Comic Con. I have a song in the movie The Book of Life. So I’m singing “Just a Friend.” With Channing Tatum.
You: You’re singing “Just a Friend” with Channing Tatum?
You: Is it funny to you that there’s this age gap, where little kids know you from being on children’s television, and people over a certain age know you from being, you know, you?
Biz: (Laughs.) I mean…I’ve always liked to do stuff with kids, play with little kids. Not in the Michael Jackson way, though. The normal way.
The way he met up with the Zevia people is as follows: He was on the Yo Gabba Gabba! set and got thirsty and didn’t want a regular soda, nor a diet soda. His co-star DJ Lance Rock handed him a Zevia, and he liked it. So he hooked up with them as a spokesperson. He’s been trying to live a healthier lifestyle in general; he’s lost more than 100 pounds since 2011.
You: So you actually really like it?
Biz: Oh yeah. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it. I don’t do anything I don’t like.
You: Who’s your baseball team, normally? You’re from Long Island, yeah?
Biz: Yankees. A’s, Cincinnati Reds.
Zevia person: Could you wear that [A’s jersey] in New York?
Biz, suddenly animated: I wear whatever I want in New York. I can walk down the street wearing a dress and a wig in New York, if I want.
Cool-V: He did! He did an album cover with a dress and a wig.
Biz: I did. Like Madea, only I did that before Madea.
You: So you should get royalties from Tyler Perry, basically?
A few minutes pass.
Biz, to no one in particular, gesturing at the glass panel through which we are viewing the game: Do you think I would hurt myself if I jumped from here?
Several people in the room: Yes.
It has come time for the 7th inning stretch. You are suddenly part of an entourage following Biz down to field level, where everyone waits while these terrifying new acid-trippy A’s All-Star “big head” mascots do their thing. “Is he leaving after this?” one of the Zevia people asks. “Yeah, he is,” confirms another Zevia person, also maybe confirming why Biz looks so amped for this part of the evening to take place.
You are going to be annoying now, but there’s no choice. He has three minutes of standing here left to kill and he’s not talking to anyone. In three minutes they’ll start blasting “Just a Friend” — which came out 25 years ago this October, and peaked at #9 on the Billboard charts — over the PA, as his entrance music, for the second time this evening. What must it be like, you wonder, to be a working entertainer, on the road half the time for 30 years, but still be introduced, always, with one kinda-jokey thing you did 25 years ago? Weird Al, whose career began in the early ’80s and who’s a regular on the county fair circuit, had an album hit #1 on the Billboard charts this week for the first time. How are their lives similar? How are they different? You realize you still haven’t tried any Zevia.
“So,” you say. “Do you have anything planned for the 25th anniversary of —”
“Of The Biz Never Sleeps?” he says, eyes on the field, then darting quickly over to you for half a second, then back to the field. “Yeah. I can’t say what it is. But you wait and see.”
Then he’s off to sing. He leaves, quickly, out a side door, after that — hopefully, contrary to his hit album title, to get some sleep.
But, as per his instructions, you’ll be waiting. We’ll be waiting, Biz. We will wait and see.