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World Series 2001
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11/03/2001 10:38 PM ET
Help! AZ flies in extra bartenders
By Troy E. Renck
MLB.com
Left Field PHOENIX -- Riiiing!! Riiiing!!

Nate Azark's phone is screaming again. Given his outgoing personality, the hum of electronics is constant. But this buzz is different -- not because of the caller, but the message.

"It was my boss," Azark recalls, "and he was asking if I wanted to go to Phoenix."

After a few blinks the news sunk in. Azark, 23, was being called up. A bartender at Hi Tops in Chicago, his contract had been purchased by the establishment's desert branch located outside of Bank One Ballpark.

The BOB doesn't have Wrigley's charm. Few stadiums do. Yet as former Cubs first baseman Mark Grace explained, "as great as Wrigley is, it shuts down every October."

By hopping a flight out of Midway Airport, Azark was doing something he honestly thought would never happen in his lifetime -- work a World Series.

"It didn't take long to say yes, if that's what you're asking," says Azark as Queen's "We Are The Champions" blares through the fan-swollen beer garden. "A free trip is hard to pass up. But this one was special. In Chicago, you don't sit around (planning) for a (Cubs) championship."

Over the last three weeks, a mixture of 14 bartenders and waitresses have provided reinforcements as Hi Tops has shifted from low gear. Ordinarily, the bar breathes in and out slowly with the success of the Arizona Diamondbacks and, to a lesser degree, Phoenix Suns. But with Arizona's feel-good story slowly captivating the valley's imagination, Tops was over-run with thirsty patrons.

You could almost smell the beer burps in the Midwest.

"My friends think it's pretty cool that I am getting paid to travel," says Michelle Romer, a spunky waitress on loan from the North Sheffield digs. "It could be a long time before I get this chance back (home). Would I have gray hair? It might be longer than that."

Accepting the road trip was the easy part. Now, Azark and Romer have to learn how to act. Being from the Windy City, they don't have a breadth of postseason success to fall back on. And complicating matters are the bipolar characteristics of the Chicago and Phoenix crowds.

Before arguably the biggest baseball game in the state's history, the Diamondback worshippers are, for the most part, calmer than a kindergarten teacher, easing into the sun-bleached afternoon with something less than Spring Break ferocity.

"The people here are very polite," says Azark. "They aren't as rowdy."

In other words, they aren't taking Jell-O shots in daylight or slurping up Hurricanes. When the purple-clad boosters showed up at noon on Saturday they seemed more interested in soaking in some college football than exceeding their calorie cap with a few brews.

"Now, that's different," says Azark, who figures to make around $300 a day when he receives his cut of the tips. "In Chicago we open our doors at 10 a.m. for day games and we've got people throwing down Bloody Marys by 10:30. They head to Wrigley ready to party. It gets pretty crazy sometimes."

Adds Romer, "You have to be aggressive and force your way through the crowd to survive. But the faster they drink, the better they tip."

As first pitch creeps closer, Azark and Romer become comfortably busy. Azark, a freelance web designer by trade, plays the role of Craig Counsell. He's a utility guy capable of bartending or backing a bar, which is liquor lingo for keeping the beer tubs full and the refreshments cold.

That he has the physique of a cross country runner doesn't matter. In fact, it's a source of humor.

"People have this image of a bartender looking like Tom Cruise in "Cocktail." That we are all spinning bottles and wearing our collars up," says Azark, who admits that he's tried juggling a few after his shifts are over. "That takes too long. I want to keep serving the patrons. It's still a lot of fun. I am getting paid to watch baseball. It's hard to do much better than that."

Particularly when you are painfully aware of the alternative.

"I am not sure fans in Chicago would know what to do with themselves if the Cubs weren't losing," Romer says. "I remember in my economics class (at Loyola) after the first exam when everyone did pretty well, the professor told us not to pull a Cubs by starting fast then fading away. So yeah, it's nice to have this opportunity."

Troy E. Renck is a reporter for MLB.com.