Baseballhead:
How to See a Ballgame, Part III

Michael Cox

Hello, folk! Damn, it's been a dull, dull, dull week in Major League Baseball. No fights, no arrests, no jostled cameramen ­ the only thing to distinguish the past week in baseball has been the Mariners' car-wreck of a losing streak. It's almost as if the Tigers passed on their losing disease when the two teams met recently. Watch out, White Sox ­ the M's are now carriers!

Therefore, it's time to drag out the third installment in your favorite ongoing reality series, where the whiners are voted out, and the winner gets an enriching baseball experience without maxing out the Discover card. In the first chapter we covered getting to the game, and in Part II we arrived at our seats without being soaked at the concessions. It's time now to think about actually watching the game.

Unlike Joe Morgan, we're going to presume you're intelligent and know a bit about the game of baseball, so this chapter will not isolate the pitcher-batter duel, describe the theory behind defensive shifts, or tell you why the shortstop puts his glove over his face just before the pitcher throws the ball. Instead, we're going to cover the ways you can make the game better for yourself and those around you.

Duh
Pay attention to the game. I will readily admit to carrying on in-depth conversations during a game, on topics ranging from the dropped-third-strike rule to the family tree of my cat, but the game comes first. If you're turning to look at your companion over half the time, and any of the time while plays are taking place, you should consider either going to a sportsbar or getting a room, depending on how you feel about your companion. If you ever have to ask "what happened," you need to focus.

But really, I just wanted to title a section "Duh."

This Ain't a Library
Do you know why all over MLB teams are using their video screens to urge you to "Crank it Up"? It's because the new "family-oriented" game attracts thousands of familial units, all of whom apparently used up their talk time at the movie theater. This has not gone unnoticed by the media, who employ an endless variety of second-string pitchers to tell you it's a shame how these modern fans sometimes yell unflattering things at opposing players.

This must not stand. If you don't exercise your heckling rights now, before long the "Stadium A-Z" guide will declare it off limits to shout unless the message board tells you to ("for the comfort of your fellow fans," of course).

So when something good happens, cheer. When something bad happens, boo. When Jose Canseco comes up to bat, loudly ask him "where's Madonna?" Congratulate Al Martin for leading the league in wives. As long as you don't use profanity ("ass" no longer counts) or recount Old Testament tortures (yes, this has actually happened) no jury in the world can convict you.

In fact, with the sappy new kid-safe baseball experience taking hold, it's clear that to keep their most hardcore fans MLB must someday create "drinkin' and swearin'" sections. A throwback to the days when bad umpires feared for their lives and visiting teams' fans dared not wear their team colors, these sections would encourage free speech and a reasonable amount of spilled beer. Not to mention that TV cameras in search of shirtless fat guys will have an easy time finding them.

But contrary to what Yankee fans will have you believe, a string of words that start with "F" is not heckling. Instead, take a trip to the Wrigley Field bleachers, where decades of losing has resulted in a hardy breed of fans, who seem to spend their off hours thinking up new ways to distract the opposition. In fact, the Chicagoland taunts work so well that outfielder after outfielder has muffed between-innings practice tosses. Hey, they got Chad Kreuter suspended, didn't they?

The Wave ­ A Schedule I Drug?
You've been sitting, watching the game for about five innings, and it's been a great pitchers' duel between both teams' aces. The score is tight, and not many runners are getting on base. Then, in the top of the sixth, you hear it ­ a barely audible single voice in the distance, followed by a group of 20-100 people shouting "AAAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!" You hear it again. And again.

In fact, for the next ten solid minutes the same sound resonates over and over, sometimes punctuated by booing when others fail to join in. This can only mean one thing: some half-drunk ex-fratboy is trying to start The Wave, cementing his immortality through inciting the most idiotic crowd participation ceremony this side of Limp Bizkit at Woodstock '99. Come to think of it, he was probably at Woodstock '99.

Unfortunately for you, but fortunately for the balding Wave-starter, MLB's new family orientation means lots of youngsters who can't sit still, eventually reaching critical mass and sending The Wave around the ballpark. This invariably happens during the opposition's at-bat despite the fact that The Wave clearly distracts the pitcher. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The Wave is always started out of boredom, and when the home team is on defense there's no exciting hitting going on;
  2. The Wave is always started by someone who is primarily a football fan.

Do not participate. Shun those around you who do. Unfortunately, there will always be enough college-educated-yet-stupid guys (always guys) to start The Wave, and enough bored tykes to get it going, but that doesn't mean you can't treat them like they just admitted to watching Full House reruns. And they probably do.

Take the Long Way Home
Ah, the game is over, you've avoided the $10 hamburgers and told Bobby Valentine he looked better with the mustache. Now it's time to leave...or is it?

Take a look around you. Everyone is leaving, at exactly the same time (or if you're on the West coast, they started leaving in the seventh). They're not getting anywhere fast, and neither will you. Sit back. Breathe in (unless you're at Yankee Stadium, where you're better off taking your chances with the crowd). Watch the grounds crew prep the field for tomorrow's workouts.

In the days when Busch Stadium was Astroturfed, they used to make a big deal out of unrolling the tarp onto the infield. At the BOB and Safeco Field, they perform a ceremonial closing of the roof. Take it in. Relax. Then, when you can at least get up the steps to the concourse, head out.

Walk around the neighborhood. (Of course, this is not recommended outside Yankee Stadium, impossible outside Dodger Stadium due to a lack of neighborhood, and sleep-inducing outside Edison Field, but if it's an afternoon game at the Ballpark in Arlington, hey, there's a Wild Waves!) Watch the gridlock and laugh at the drivers. Hit a sportsbar if you're at Fenway or Coors or Wrigley. In fact, this is the best thing about the new breed of urban parks ­ not much parking, but a lot of places to wind down.

In short, relax and make it easier on yourself. You're not gonna get home a hell of a lot earlier by queuing in the Kauffman Stadium parking lot for the privilege of having a traffic cop wave you into an unmoving line of cars hoping to one day make it to I-80. Break out your leftover sodas and snacks and wait it out.

about the author

Next time you're at the ballgame, look for Michael Cox -- he'll be the guy scaring little children in the hopes that they'll never, ever, try to start the wave again. If you think he'd be better off trying to get anti-wave education going in the public school system, let him know at mc@strikethree.com.
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