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.

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