Wednesday, December 27, 2023

What it was like to go to a baseball game


Written in May 2021

The radar was green, yellow, and red across the eastern half of the US. I opened the radar app about every half hour throughout the day and watched as those color swirls advanced towards my city, the one with the baseball game scheduled to start at 7pm. I was pre-devastated. What had once been something of a ritual had been stolen from me - stolen from all of us. For the first time since October 2019, I had tickets to the one church that mattered to me, the Church of Baseball. But the rains came, as if the oceans of tears that have been by shed by the globe over the last year had broken a levee and were flooding everything.

Then, a rainbow. By 6:30, the rain had stopped completely. By 7pm, those two beautiful words "Play Ball!" were shouted to commence the ceremonial rite we know as Baseball.

I had to ask the bus driver if it were the right bus to the ballpark; what had been routine had become a disestablished novelty. He kind of laughed in recognition of our shared trauma.

When I was a kid growing up at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, there were three things I experienced that were akin to Christmas Eve. The first was stepping on the black squishy stuff (that actually was there to help concrete expansion during the blistering summer months.) The second was walking up the concrete ramps to what seemed like Heaven. The third was magic, that moment when you walked from the concourse through a kind of tunnel to get to your seats and you saw the field for the first time that day. The stadium is long gone now, but that green field beneath the ring of rainbow colored seats is embedded on my heart.

There have been some moments since then when baseball has made me feel that kind of magic. The first time I saw the field at Wrigley and Fenway. The World Series game I saw in San Francisco. Opening Day 2005 when baseball returned to our nation's capital after a three decade absence. Max's 20K game. And May 4, 2021.

I've probably done it 150 times before, walked through those centerfield gates to the glory of the baseball field at Nats Park. It's may be the best entrance gate in baseball. But the sight had never brought me to tears before Tuesday. And to be honest, if I hadn't needed the restroom immediately, I may have bawled like a newborn. LOL

It was a rebirth of sorts.

I sat just of the right of the foul pole in rightfield. I wore my 2019 World Series shirt with the shark holding the trophy. I drank shitty domestic beer and ate the best tasting hotdog I ever had because it tasted like liberation. I looked at every person with unconditional love and at everything in the stadium with a sense of awe. The World Series Champions banner. The four flag poles above the scoreboard that now have four pennants instead of three and an empty. The lightning rods atop the stadium. The yellow mustard colored foul pole. The neon clad vendors selling their intoxication libations. Every thing (except that stupid Natitude! sign  - it is still stupid) brought me joy.

The ballpark was filled to legal capacity with massive spacing between all of us, and masks were enforced. Being DC, where well-educated people respect expertise, no one threw the kind of fit you see in other places when told to put their masks on. I waited until two weeks after my second vaccine to go to a game, which I believe should be a requirement. 

This pandemic has changed me, because it has shown me how selfish and cowardly half of America is, that so many people are unwilling to lift a finger for their country and protect their fellow Americans. And for what? Freedom? You aren't free if you can't walk down the street without a controllable pandemic putting you and your loved ones at risk of death. If you're not willing to protect them, it isn't love. The opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference.

I hope the next magical baseball game is not a meaningless game in May played by a bad team, but something truly special for baseball reasons rather than societal ones. I fear we are facing dark times ahead, so I will try to enjoy the time we have while there is still some stability left in the country.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

What Was Stolen from Us

One perfect day forty-five years ago  - at least I assume it was perfect because it was San Diego - a young mother from Dayton, Ohio took her one year old daughter to a baseball game. She dressed the child in the visiting team's gear, passing on team fandom to a fifth generation.

The team was nearing the end of its most successful decade in its long history - indeed, in the history of baseball in its entirety - with one of the greatest lineups ever assembled largely intact. The girl was too young to appreciate them, of course, and she'd be too young to feel the sting when the team was decimated by the institution of free agency a couple of years later. She was even too young to remember the Hall of Fame catcher roaming the outfield on bum knees when she attended her first game in a space age stadium on the banks of a muddy river on the other side of the continent.

Over the years, that fandom became part of her identity. Christmases and birthdays saw team gear unwrapped with glee. Attending games was a special treat for the girl, her two sisters, and her single mother trying to make ends meet. The team gave tickets to straight A students in the region, which became an annual tradition. A family friend would occassionally give his coveted blue seats to them. If they were lucky, they'd get to three games in a season. One particularly special year, she managed to go to one game a month.

That stadium by the river was a playground. The thrill of seeing it rise from the concrete and asphalt as their car rounded the highway bend remains in memories four decades later. So, too, does the feel of the black squishy stuff one walked on to get to the gates. And that first view of the verdant field as you walked from the concourse to the rainbow colored seats? Was it Heaven? No, it was Ohio. But it damn well could have been the Pearly Gates.

Then came the best possible outcome, the wish of every human being who has ever felt a passion for baseball. Her team won the World Series. They had been in first place the entire season, but they hadn't been expected to claim the trophy. She was in 8th grade.

Who could have expected that thirty-two years would pass with barely a sniff of a pennant? Who could have expected that baseball would change so much that rich guys who owned teams would lose on purpose, that indeed, it became ingrained in the culture, and that her own beloved team, the oldest in the game, would be one of those losers? Who would have thought that the racist old lady with the Nazi gear would be the last owner who cared to win?

Who could have expected that a fruit heir's son, a spoiled rich kid with no concept of what it means to work for a living, would berate the fans on the holiest day of the year - Opening Day in Cincinnati - and do it again in a luncheon for the biggest diehards of all? 

In the time since their last League Championship Series appearance, fans have been told time and time again to have patience, that rebuilding would finally return a trophy to the Queen City. Only once did they assemble a roster that could have gone somewhere, but the Fruit Heir refused to pay to fill the glaring holes, and that window shut after two failed division series and a wild card loss. A DECADE later, the wealthhoarding owner once again refused to fill the holes on a decent roster with a very good pitching staff, crying poverty and opting for another rebuild.

The team is exciting now. Call me skeptical. Maybe they'll contend this year, and they may next, but what always happens is the fruit guy cries poverty when it doesn't work out and it comes time to pay the young guys, so they're traded for prospects and the cycle starts all over again. The talking heads seem to think the Reds are legit contenders this year, because the central divisions of both leagues are full of greedy owners who pretend that because they live in the Midwest, they have a right to claim poverty. Only three teams are over .500 out of ten, and the Reds aren't one of them.

None of those owners is worse than the silver spoon born wealthhoarder in Oakland. The youngest son of the founders of GAP, this recluse isn't content with the $2.2 billion he's worth. No, he insists on a massive redistribution of wealth from the common folk to him in the form of a $380 million dollar taxpayer funded stadium. Oakland wouldn't give it to him, so he threw a richy fit and is moving the team to Sin City. That's $380 million that doesn't go to roads, police departments, libraries, social services, or any of the other things that are necessary in a modern society.

What Oakland fans did last night was nothing short of astounding, staging a "reverse boycott" and showing up in droves to cheer on their team. They've been blamed for not showing up. But why should they? Trust fund babies who never had to work for their wealth can't grasp that most people have to make choices in what they buy, and anyone with a modecum of sense doesn't waste money on things that make them feel bad. The owners think they are entitled to own a Major League Baseball team because that is what wealthhoarders do - they hoard wealth - and they think those baseball teams are theirs to destroy.

But sports teams are public institutions. Baseball is so hallowed in this country that it has a special trust exemption granted by Congress. Was so hallowed. Now that greed has become the way of life in this country, nothing but money seems to be hallowed.

I'm excited about the Reds again, but it will never be the same. Those fruit family assholes have stolen that from me. The wealthhoarders have stolen it from all of us. They are thieves.

But that is what America (and the world) has become. You see it in the record profits made by food and gas companies as corporate execs took advantage of a pandemic. You see it in the cost of housing which has exploded the homeless population and put another significant percentage of the population on the brink of it. You see it in the go fund me campaigns begging for donations to have life-saving medical procedures. You see it in the commercial train accidents, trucks blowing up highways, the neo-slavery in our factories. You see it in the wildfires, the devastating storms, and the flooding caused by corporate greed. The economy isn't bad. The wealthhoarders and the politicians who protect them are.

The top 1% of Americans took $50 TRILLION from the bottom 90% during the pandemic. That is the single greatest redistribution of wealth in history. It is THEFT. So is stealing a public institution from a city.

Until Americans stand up against the wealthy and take back what is rightfully ours, they will continue to steal from us. That's gonna take more than showing up to a baseball game in protest. 

But it was one heckuva start.