The Preakness actually has two infields: the one where drunk guys take off their shirts and sprint over port-a-potties while their friends pelt them with beer, and the one where ladies in sun dresses and men in suits drink cocktails and listen to big band music while noshing on hors d'oerves. The two infields are right next to each other, separated by a fence. Most people stick to one side or the other.
Like, I asked Miss Preakness 2007, Harford County's Katie Meadowcroft, whether she'd be crossing over from "Preakness Village" to "Preakness Hellhole."
"I don't know if that's a good idea," she said. "I'll bet it's a lot of fun out there, but I don't know. I haven't been to that part of the infield."
Good thing, that. Me, though, I crossed over. In the Village, I spotted a man on a phone talking about waiting for Blair Thomas, so I figured I should wait for Blair Thomas too, Thomas being the former Penn State star running back. As I wrote in the paper, this was his first horse race. Despite his suit, he made sure to check out the real infield as well.
"You have to," he said. "This is what it's all about. This is my first time coming to a race and I want to make sure that I get the full experience, so I have to make sure that I get into the madness as well."
I asked him to compare the Preakness infield to a football tailgate; "there's more people getting kicked out over there than you'd see at a regular tailgate," he observed.
Anyhow, Thomas was meeting up with two other Penn State guys who are all partnering up on a chain of sports bars called KoKoMos, which makes me think of Koko B-Ware. Former Nittany Lion Kenny Jackson, a wide receiver who played a bunch of years in the NFL, is friends with the owners of Afleet Alex, which is how he came to be at one of the "Preakness Village" upper-crust parties with Thomas and Sean Barowski. But when Jackson spotted two NFL rookies from Penn State in the "Hellhole" part of the infield, he made them come over to the "Village."
"When I saw 'em coming up I said, 'C'mon, come with me, come here, I'm going to show you something," Jackson told me. "I wanted them to understand what it's like. I know the infield's nice, but they need to see what's on the other side of the fence....As a player you don't realize how important it is to network. You have spent so much time trying to be the best that you can be, you don't see the other side."
If there is a better metaphor for "seeing the other side of the fence" than the two Preakness infields, I don't know what it could be. One of the rookies, Ravens safety Donnie Johnson, was right there with me on this issue.
"There's grass over here; there ain't no grass over there," he said. "It's like a wildhouse over there, everybody getting tackled, dragged up out of there. It's scary over there. You've got to have protection." He kept calling the Preakness Village "lovely."
Johnson was with his college roommate, N.Y. Giants' third-round draft pick Jay Alford, who came down for the weekend to hang out. They went to the race on a lark. Alford was wearing jeans, sneakers, a bit of bling and a t-shirt.
"That makes it more attractive," Jackson, the mentor, said of the rookies' casual attire. "People look at them and understand that they're learning. Two years from now, they'll be in suits and ties."
Anyhow, I asked Donnie Johnson for his Preakness picks, but he declined.
"I don't even know who's racing," he said. "I just showed up."