Baseball is a sort of slow game and following it diligently is a somewhat meditative process that becomes more rewarding as one’s knowledge increases, and in its final form endows one with a certain reverence for history. However, if one were ever to seriously doubt the American-ness of the sport, it would take only a very brief time at the ballpark to see that baseball is not our national pastime without cause.
The ballpark is like America. To sit in the warm summer air with several more hours of baseball ahead of you is delightful. The smell of the hotdogs and grease is delicious. The green of the field is beautiful. The feeling of unity, of shared hopes and fears with the teaming mass of fans is wonderful. There is something whimsical and mechanical about the grounds crews, like the figures on an elaborate coo coo clock. The seats all face inwards, towards one central project, yet one frequently looses the game to the antics of the fans, and the distractions and exultations to make noise that emanate from the big, neon screens. The seats are arranged in tiers, that are in fact clear demarcations of class, as the tiers correspond directly to changes in price; yet it would be somewhat uncouth (and, indeed, misleading) to form an opinion of one’s fellow fans based on how much they paid for their seats. You can’t spit without hitting someone trying to overcharge you for something that will make you fat.
The following observations are presented in approximately chronological order:
I showed up very early for the game, and paid five dollars for a wad of glossy advertising that happened to contain a score-card and the rosters. The score-keeping process was badly explained, in a poorly written, smarmy piece that uses (of all things) game 6 of the 1986 NLCS as an example. My efforts at keeping the score card ended after the third inning, when I decided that I found keeping it distracting and couldn’t find the symbol for “wandered off the bag and got caught in a run-down like a chump” which is what happened to Valentine in the first.
In many ways the high-point of the evening was watching Reyes and Carlos Gomez warm up before the game started. The energy and excitement of both young players, even as they did something as mundane as stretch out, was visible in the stands.
There were only a handful of players on the field during the national anthem, and they all stood for it, but with differing levels of attention. David Wright looked like he had wandered away from basic training. Paul Lo Duca also looked military but more like an embittered Clint Eastwood character, whose life is the army, because his wife left him, because she realized that his life was the army. Reyes and Gomez were fidgeting, and I think Delgado was talking to the trainer standing next to him out of the side of his mouth.
Lo Duca, perhaps because of his all-star election campaign and perhaps because of his recent ejection and impending suspension, was the only player whose name was regularly used as a chant (Paul—Lo—Duca, clap clap, clap clap), aside from the “ole/Jose” song.
Alcohol at the ballpark is primarily available in the form of domestic beers (Budweiser and Miller) sold in plastic bottles, that are specially designed so that the effects of getting hit with one will be minimal; one of these will set you back $7.50. I didn’t have one. In retrospect, I wish I had, if only so I could have gotten a first hand-look at the process by which they were distributed: I saw bottles in the hands of two men sitting several rows in front of me, who looked and acted very much underage—I would have imagined, however, that the carding process would be rigorous. Perhaps they had really good fakes? Back in the day, I would never have tested my fake ID in a place as well-lighted, organized and corporate as a ballpark.
Conversely, I never saw the four young men sitting in front of me with beer-bottles, but from overhearing their conversations I gathered the impression that they had been drinking. They liked to sing along with the jumbotrons, and one of them made a comment about how a sound clip of them slurring the words to “Enter the Sandman” should be put in an advertisement against teenage drinking; the fact that the guy thought that they would make “a million dollars” on that advertisement could probably be included in the commercial as well.
The primary interest of these four young fans was Billy Wagner, and they salivated whenever they posted his pitch speeds. On this night that made sense, as Wagner worked a scoreless ninth and tenth. Personally, I felt like Wags owed me that, since the last time I went to the park Reyes hit for the cycle and Wagner blew the save.
Prior to a Delgado at bat late in the games, they blasted the song “Mr. Roboto” and flashed the words “MISTER DELGADO” on the screen, along with clips of him doing impressive things. What the hell?
The picture of Keith Hernandez advertising “Just for Men” hair color that they show whenever a new pitcher is brought on (“stay in the game with Just for Men”) is one of the most atrocious pictorial representations of any human being ever. It makes him look like a combination of a used car salsmen and a terrifying, aging lounge-lizard-- which would, I guess, be a men’s hair-dye salesman.
Shawn Greene won the game with a walk-off homerun in the eleventh. The Mets piled onto the field behind home-plate and I exchanged high-fives with the four Wagner fans in front of me. The jubilation of the moment rendered irrelevant all the tawdry commercialism surrounding the ball-park. The yells of fans as we exited the stadium were louder, more vibrant, more real, than five dollar score cards and seven dollar beer.