by Ryan Clarke
SURPRISE, Ariz. — Beer. Baseball. Bourbon.
These are the three tenets of the 3-B Club, a group of baseball fans who make an annual trip to spring training in Arizona or Florida.
This spring, Andrew Oppmann, the leader of this boisterous bunch, is celebrating the club’s 25th year.
It all began in 1993 when Oppmann and his nephew Don Thacker went to their first game in Lakeland, Florida.
“We didn’t realize we’d be starting something that, for 25 years, we’d be doing it every year,” Oppmann said. “It started with me and my nephew, but it’s grown to fathers and sons, father-in-laws and son-in-laws.”
It’s hard to miss the 3-B Club when they roll in for a Cactus League ballgame. Clutching craft beers in one hand, they all wear matching grey polos that feature the club’s logo. And fellow fans probably hear them before seeing them. They constantly rib each other and yell the names of stragglers.
Passion for baseball, love of beer and camaraderie are central to this fun-loving group.
“Bourbon probably isn’t right to be one of the three B’s,” Oppmann said, laughing. “B.S. needs to be the next one.”
The third “B” originally stood for barbeque, but the club quickly discovered they were doing a lot more drinking than barbecuing, so the members switched it to bourbon. Thacker said this change gives people a better idea of their club’s favorite activities.
“We’ve been thrown out of some of the finest restaurants in Phoenix and Florida,” Thacker observed. “It’s been very special.”
(Video by Kaci Demarest/Cronkite News)
Despite their antics, the trip has survived a quarter century and brought together baseball fans from all over the country. Members range in age from their early 30s to early 70s. They all stay together wherever they go.
The club used to sleep on friends’ couches every spring. Now, as they’ve grown in size, they’re in a rented house in Scottsdale that features a heated pool.
As they prepared to end their spring training visit and return home, Thacker recalled the conversation in 1993 that sparked the annual trip.
“(Andrew and I) were sitting there talking about how great the weather was and how great it was to see spring training,” Thacker said. “This lady behind us said, ‘Everybody comes here for a different reason.’
“Our reason is we like beer and baseball.”
Whether they were watching Alex Rodriguez in his first spring training with the Texas Rangers, or standing in line for beer behind Harry Caray, beer and baseball have always been a bonding force for the 3-B Club.
They’ve even picked up an honorary member in Rangers bullpen coach Brad Holman, who met Oppmann in 2001. At the time, Oppmann was an executive editor at a newspaper in Appleton, Wisconsin, and Holman worked for the Single-A minor league team there when it was an affiliate of the Mariners.
Holman lived with a host family across the street from Oppmann — long before the former major league pitcher would return to the big leagues as a coach. The Rangers hired Holman in 2015.
The Mariners-Rangers spring training game on March 3 served as a full-circle moment for Holman. The 3-B Club was there with him every step of the way, and Holman bought the group tickets behind home plate last weekend.
“We have a great relationship. I get them some tickets and they get me some beers and food,” Holman said. “Every now and then they go to Florida and leave me hanging, but for the most part it’s been a blast. These guys are a great bunch.”
Oppmann and company presented Holman with his own gray polo after the Mariners-Rangers game.
“Show me another bullpen coach that has groupies,” Oppmann cracked.
Said Holman: “I’ve seen better looking groupies.”