$30,000 in beer? How cup snakes are bringing baseball fans back together

MLB

Above the garbage cans at CHS Field in St. Paul, Minnesota, signs communicated an unusual request: Don’t throw away your beer cups! Bring them to Section 118.

It was the evening of July 1, and the St. Paul Saints had set out to break a record. The Saints — known for eye-catching promotions such as hosting the world’s largest food fight in 2018, the world’s largest Twister game in 2017 and the world’s largest pillow fight in 2015 — wanted to set the North American record for the longest beer cup snake after noticing the trend pop up in baseball stadiums across the country as pandemic restrictions loosened and fans returned to their seats.

The Saints teamed with 10,000 Takes, a Minnesota sports media company and podcast led by Jake Bringgold, Jack Leverentz and Zane Wagner, which had previously attempted to create a beer cup snake at Target Field before being shut down by stadium security.

“Our goal is to make it a tradition up here,” Bringgold said. “This had never been a thing up [in Minnesota] until we did it at Target Field. I asked people of all generations who grew up in the Twin Cities, and they had never seen anything like that at any of the previous stadiums.”

An intern for the Saints — the Triple-A affiliate of the Twins — noticed the beer cup snake and reached out to Bringgold, Leverentz and Wagner, who accepted the opportunity to go for the beer cup snake record and promoted the proposed stunt to their podcast listeners.

“All we had to do, pretty much, was drink,” Leverentz said.

After the Saints cut off the beer taps in the seventh inning, the team brought its collected beer cups to the 10,000 Takes section and began assembling the beer cup snake, which slowly expanded toward the top of the section, over and above them, before expanding onto the concourse.

The team brought out a tape measure. It read 102 feet.

“We called it a North American record,” said St. Paul Saints vice president and director of broadcasting and media relations Sean Aronson. “The rest, as they say, is history.”

The enthusiasm for beer cup snakes represents a step in the return toward normalcy after a year of quarantine, when empty ballparks served as a constant reminder of the pandemic’s effect. But with the COVID-19 spike amid the spread of the delta variant, beer cup snakes could represent a remnant of a brief reprieve after the initial release of the vaccine and loosening of government restrictions.

The trend in baseball started in mid-June, when Chicago opened its restaurants, bars and baseball stadiums back up to full capacity. During the first game packed with fans at Wrigley Field, on June 14, Cubs fans created a beer snake — slowly stacking cup by cup by cup long enough to slither through multiple rows, spanning the entirety of the section from the barrier to the bleachers, requiring multiple fans to help lift as the crowd chanted “We want cups!” Some estimated the completed beer cup snake spanned more than 100 feet, totaling nearly 2,400 cups. With beer as high as $12 a cup, that could mean the Cubs fans’ creation cost nearly $30,000 to make.

As Cubs season-ticket holder Lauren Mroz watched from the stands while the cup snake slowly took over Wrigley Field, she couldn’t help but think of a family memento, an old copy of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1969 in the family basement.

The photo featured in the newspaper showed her grandfather, Gene, with a cigar in his mouth helping create a beer cup snake in the stands of Wrigley with his two sons, Pete and Mike, Lauren’s father.

The beer cup snake has made appearances at ballparks across the country this season, from the bleachers of Wrigley and stands at Target Field to the concourses of San Francisco’s Oracle Park, the Oakland Coliseum, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York — then the temporary home of the Blue Jays — and most recently, at the end of last month at Citi Field. With the trend sparking her curiosity, Mroz looked up the origins of the beer cup snake on Wikipedia.

“I looked up when the first recorded beer cup snake was, and it was 1997 — and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, was our family’s beer cup snake actually the first one?'” Mroz said. “This might actually be a thing, we might have proof that this was the first one ever created.”

The history of the beer cup snake is hazy, at best, but The Drinks Business — a publication covering the beer, wine and spirits industry — stated in 2013 that the longest beer cup snake was constructed that year at the Sydney Cricket Ground, reaching 175 meters, a little over 574 feet. The Sydney Morning Herald cites the first beer cup snake ever occurring at the WACA cricket ground in Perth, Australia, in January 1997. While Mroz’s family can stake an earlier claim, wherever the beer cup snake started, the popularity of the plastic animals has endured in the cricket world, also popping up at matches this summer.

“We really are back, and we’re moving forward,” Mroz said. “It’s so funny how it is the small things that don’t really matter that have the biggest impact on your mental outlook on things. It was a Cubs-Cardinals game, two fanbases that absolutely hate each other, and they were all working together to build this beer cup snake and were all working together to build this beer cup snake instead of getting into fights.”

The snakes have been far from universally well-received over the years, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League banning them for a time after debris injured fans. Even at Wrigley Field, some fans complain that the beer cup snakes block the views they pay substantial ticket prices for, while others speak out against leftover beer splashing on unsuspecting fans, and COVID concerns have added a new wrinkle.

Mike Mroz believes the beer cup snake simply creates memorable moments at the ballpark.

“I know a lot of teams discourage that kind of thing, but for me, it’s no harm, no foul,” Mroz said. “I don’t know why that is not readily allowed at the ballparks. It’s just people having fun, people having a good time, and that’s all we did back in [1969].”

The Mroz family kept the original copies of the Chicago Sun-Times in the basement, with Lauren digging up the paper to post the images on Twitter, which subsequently circulated around the online Cubs baseball community. The Mroz family never expected that old family memento to regain relevance more than 50 years later.

“It’s kind of funny because of what it is. It’s just a beer cup snake,” Mike Mroz said. “It’s nothing real serious. It brings back a lot of memories from that time. Got some notoriety from appearing in the paper and now it’s becoming more of a thing — here it is, 50 years later. We’re not looking for credit or anything, but I think my daughter is going to find a way to update Wikipedia to say that it wasn’t invented in 1997 by the Australians.”

When Lauren Mroz and her family returned to Cubs games this season, the roar of the crowd and the sight of her favorite team playing on the field at Wrigley restored a sense of normalcy. For her, the fact that people are so passionate about the game makes life resemble something closer to what it once was — even as the fight against the coronavirus continues.

“If you actually think about it, from a COVID standpoint, we were staying so far away from each other,” Mroz said. “Now people are touching cups that other people’s saliva is all over. We just went from 0 to 100 in a week, but it shows the resilience of human beings, and how sports really brings people together.”