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Ken Aven

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By Ken Aven
Monday, July 21, 2008

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Two consumer icons catch the fancy of a New York preteen

    They say we are in a consumer society. In particular, it is vitally important for merchandisers to hook young people to become lifelong purchasers of their products. More money is probably spent on marketing than on any other aspect of our culture. TV commercials, internet banners, sponsorship of events, the right design of the actual product, and the correct placement in a store all work together to inundate the young mind with the coolness and necessity of the product in question. Never mind that the item might not be something that a preteen or adolescent might be able to use for five to ten years down the road; the key is to trigger a positive psychological reaction when that time comes.
    Let us not be so carried away with the marriage of young people with consumerism in today’s high paced world. The concept has been around for quite awhile. For young families in the 1960’s, the only way to “see the USA” was in a Chevy. Kelloggs Corn Flakes were prominently displayed around the Clampett family in the closing credits of the decade’s most popular show - The Beverly Hillbillies. Men knew that Schaffer was a beer for the athletic types as the brewery sponsored its popular “Circle of Sports.”
    For a young Mets fan, there were certain products that became associated with the popular team. Most were aimed squarely at dads who had the money to purchase the advertised commodity. Some were directed towards all viewers and meant that young whippersnappers like myself could take our allowance and make our own business decisions.
    I have now lived in the Los Angeles media market for almost thirty-five years. Before the advent of cable TV, very few Dodgers games were on the home screen. Walter O’Malley did not want to give folks a view of his team’s games away for free. Contests against the Giants were almost always televised as were some selected home games. But all in all, to enjoy Dodger baseball without setting foot in Dodger Stadium, one had to sit back and listen to the nuanced tones of Vin Scully on the old fashioned radio.
    Things were not the same in New York. Almost all the Mets games were televised on WOR-Channel 9. The hated Yankees were on Channel 11. During the baseball season, there was almost never a day in New York, where a baseball game was not on in someone’s home. The Mets, in particular, proved that putting one’s games on TV did not have an adverse effect upon attendance. In fact, getting fans to watch on a daily basis seemed to feed a hunger for more intimacy with the club. As the Mets developed as a team, culminating with the “miracle” championship year of 1969, both television ratings and in-stadium attendance skyrocketed.
    The Mets number one commercial sponsor was Rheingold Beer. Rheingold was a regional beer that had become famous in New York for its Miss Rheingold contests. As a well below drinking age Met fan, I should not have cared one hoot about what beer company sponsored the team. I did not and could not go out and buy the beer but watching the Rheingold commercials which were shown on every telecast and seeing their logo prominently displayed on the huge Shea scoreboard, made me a big fan.
    Almost any casual Mets observer (or just about anyone living in New York in the sixties that had a TV) would be familiar with the Rheingold  jingle, “My beer is Rheingold the dry beer. Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer...”. Now two things come to mind when I look back at Rheingold. What the hell is a dry beer? And why would any Jewish kid living just two decades after World War Two, be partisan for anything that smacks of the Rhine land?
    But being a true fan of a baseball team, one comes to accept all the trappings that surround that team. Thus, in some weird way, we cheered on the superrich Whitney/Payson family that owned the club, saw WOR as the greatest channel God has deemed upon man, loved our brand new (but lousily placed) stadium, and wanted everyone who drank beer to pour out a Rheingold.
    My own dad was not much of a baseball fan and not much of a drinker. However, when he did buy some brew, he was probably a bit ahead of his time. Somewhere he had discovered a foreign import that very few New Yorkers knew about - Heineken. I would try to cover up this unmanly attempt to buy a beer by telling my friends that dad drank Rheingold. Of course, time has shown that dad was right as the original Rheingold folded in the 1970’s and Heineken is now the beer of choice for so many.
    In lying about my dad’s drinking choices, I was also trying to fight for the integrity of my beloved Mets. Obviously, only the best beer would advertise with the “Amazins”. This led to bitter arguments with Yankee followers who had their own beer to support - Ballantine. “Baseball and Ballantine” claimed  Mel Allen, the voice of the Yanks. Well you know where most of us Mets fans wished him to stick a bottle of that cheap beer....
    A second product that appealed to the younger crowd, was the Mets’ soft drink sponsor - RC Cola. In the long run of things, Coke and Pepsi pretty much have the cola area sewn up. But I would almost bet that for awhile there in the late sixties and early seventies, that RC gave the two behemoths a good run for their money in the New York metro area.
    RC came in this beautiful sky blue cans with the letters RC inside a white space that from just a bit away looked like a baseball. Not only was RC a key advertiser but it was the only cola served at Shea during those heady years.
    Today, we take it for granted that any drink purchased at a fast food restaurant, will come with a perfectly sized plastic lid that tops the cup and  allows a straw to seamlessly slide right down the middle of the lid and allow the customer to imbibe the sugary delight.
    But back in 1968 and 1969, that plastic lid cover had not yet been invented. So when we purchased our RCs at Shea, the vending company (the venerable Harry M. Stevens) had concocted a plastic “Saran” type wrap that magically slipped on the top of the cup. You could not really use a straw, so one would lift the front edge of the plastic wrap, take a long sip, and then place the wrap back over the cup. Only being able to afford one soda at a game, that wrap kept out any swirling dirt or spit coming unintentionally from a friend or someone sitting nearby. Thus a soda could last three or four innings if one was so inclined.
    Rheingold and RC. I wonder if I have ever downed more than three or four of the Mets’ favorite beer in my entire life. I do know that I probably drank up hundreds of RC in cans, bottles, and cups but I do not drink much soda these days and can’t remember the last time I had that sweet cola. Yet the placement of those two products front and center on television and at Shea Stadium’s menus, have had a profound effect upon me. I know the names of many of the more prominent and perhaps lesser known players of that bygone era, but as my memory clicks in, I can almost envision Rheingold batting fourth after Cleon Jones, and RC catching a Tom Seaver slider.

       Web Site: Growing Up Shea

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