A day at the ball park

As a kid I was nothing but strikeouts at bat and errors in right field, but I've always enjoyed baseball. Been to hundreds of major and minor league games, everywhere I've lived, and now that's over.

I explained it to my family a few months ago, and explained it here, too. In short (before going long) I still like baseball, but going to the games isn't nearly as fun as it used to be. 

My brothers are big on baseball, so when I told them I was done with it, I expected some shock and awe. Weirdly, neither of them said anything, except Clay asked if I'd still be going to the game in September. And whoops, I'd forgotten that we'd already bought tickets to a late-season game against the champs, the Atlanta Braves.

I wanted to see that game, so I said, sure, I'll go. That'll be my last baseball game.

It was Sunday. Braves vs Mariners, at a big building named after a giant corporation. Cheap seats, with my brothers Clay and Dick, and my friend Leon, and my head was throbbing before any of us had even stepped into the stadium.

♦ ♦ ♦

Our plan was to meet before the gates opened, because going early has always been part of the fun for me. You're there before the stadium gets too crowded, for batting practice and infield practice, people-watching as the place fills with fans, and maybe you buy a hot dog before the lines get too long.

Right on time, Leon and I found each other outside the stadium, but Clay and Dick weren't there, and we needed Clay to get in. I needed him because I'd packed some Tootsie Pops and a few other necessities in an ordinary paper bag — big no-no, but Clay had said he'd bring a big plastic bag, and I could dump the contents of my paper bag into his plastic bag, because the dumb rule is, all bags must be transparent. The guards always have to see whether there's a gun and I'm a crazed madman.

Leon needed Clay, too, because tickets nowadays aren't tickets, they're QR-codes — electronic images of jigsaw puzzles on your cell phone. I don't carry a cell, so I'd printed and brought a picture of my ticket, but somehow Leon had deleted his. He scrolled and scrolled but the ticket wasn't on his phone, so he called Clay, who'd made the original purchase, and asked if Clay still had a copy of the ticket — and he did, hooray.

Clay said he'd send it to Leon's phone, but Leon said something snippy because Clay and Dick should've been there already, so Clay and Leon argued, and Leon hung up, and Clay called back just to hang up on Leon, and then this and then that. We're all friends, but we've been like this since we were kids.

♦ ♦ ♦

By the time Clay and Dick had arrived — half an hour late — and me and Leon had found them in the swelling crowd outside the stadium, it was almost game time, with long lines at the gates. And my headache was underway.

Passing through security, Dick and I threw our wallets and keys into the same plastic basket, and I noticed that our wallets were both basic black. As we walked through the metal detector, I joked to Dick, "Be careful that we don't get our wallets mixed up."

On the other side of security, claiming our stuff, we got the right wallets, but our keys got confused. Each chain had a similar car fob, roughly the same number and weight of keys, nothing unique or colorful attached, so neither of us noticed as I slipped Dick's keys into my pocket, and he walked away with my keys.

This will factor into the day's events.

♦ ♦ ♦

Walking to our cheap seats, way, way in the outfield bleachers, should've taken five minutes, but the walkways were jammed with people, and Dick ran into an old friend so we waited while they talked, and then Leon needed to pee so we all stepped into the men's room, and then Clay wanted a hot dog so we all stood in line at a concession stand.

During the national anthem, all stadium workers are required to stand with hands over hearts, so we waited until the star-spangled banner yet waved. The line and anthem took ten minutes or so, the prices were stratospheric, and the woman taking my order was rude. She charged me for the three hot dogs I'd ordered but she only brought two, then acted like it was oppression when I asked for my third dog. I put my plastic into their device, and its default setting was to add a 10% tip, but I overrode that, and added a generous nada instead. That's something I never do, but it felt like a special occasion.

By the time we'd found an usher to nudge other people out of our seats, the Mariners were ahead 1-0, in the second inning.

♦ ♦ ♦

It was frustrating to be so late, missing batting practice and all. The park was loud, the seats were narrow, my hips were mashed up against a stranger's, and my headache was getting worse.

Anywhere but at the ball park, I would've taken a few aspirin, because I'd have my go-anywhere bag. It has 10 pounds of everything I occasionally need, like a spare face mask, paper towels for blowing my nose, a rain bonnet, sunglasses, extra pens, water, and empty grocery bag, a big sack of peanuts, whatever book I'm reading, my spare keys, etc — and a small bottle of aspirin. The only thing that's not in my go-anywhere bag is a condom, because I'm old and widowed and no longer a daydream believer.

My go-anywhere bag isn't allowed at the stadium, though, since it's not see-through, and stupidly I hadn't planned on having a headache, so I'd brought no aspirin. Instead I started rubbing my palms into my temples, which alleviates most of the pain for a while.

The ball park was packed, of course, and it wasn't quiet at any point in the afternoon. More than the noise of the people, my headache fed on the noise of the amplified bad music and electronic cheerleading — "Come on, make some noise!" is a favorite through the loudspeakers.

I kept rubbing my temples with my palms, and it helped, but the headache always came back, and started getting worse. Soon enough, Leon was teasing me for doing the head-rub every five or ten minutes.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

From our cheap seats in the outfield bleachers, the big-screen scoreboard was behind us, so we had to twist like long-neck geese to see any replays.

There are a few barely-legible-from-a-distance electronic boards stretching the length of the second deck, and that's where we'd look to check balls and strikes and outs and the score and such.

Money being money, though, you can only see those smaller scoreboards sometimes; the score and stats and batter's name are often replaced by ads, or explosive cheerleading graphics.

It's a ball game, so I expected to be sharing three hours of clichés with Clay, Dick, and Leon. Guys rarely talk about serious stuff, so it would be baseball clichés and old jokes retold, maybe some memories of when we were young and alive. The stadium was so loud, though, that we couldn't even hear each others' clichés unless they were shouted, so it was 3½ hours of shouted clichés, many of them followed by, "What?" This did not shake away my headache.

The game itself was pretty good, with the home team ahead most of the way, but the noise was nonstop 99 decibels. Pumped up rock'n'roll paused only briefly, when each batter stepped to the plate. Amplified drumbeats — boom boom BOOM boom boom BOOM — to juice up the crowd. Ads and announcements and more ads were read over the PA, and this new stadium has an excellent sound system. No escaping it. This isn't the tinny, echoing-in-the-distance public address from the old ball park. It's seriously loud, all woofers and tweeters but mostly woofers. It's like riding in a car with dumbass teenagers playing bad music full blast and heavy bass, for hours. Picture me rubbing my temples.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

At the 7th inning stretch, with the Mariners ahead 6-1, the crowd was instructed to stand as someone sang "God Bless America," loud and slow. Singing the national anthem before the game isn't enough phony enforced patriotism; we needed more. I remained seated, but stood and stretched for "Take Me Out to The Ball Game," which came next.

Usually I'd let it go, but with my headache, even the part about "peanuts and Cracker Jack" annoyed me. Cracker Jack has peanuts in it, ya dummy, so nobody needs peanuts and Cracker Jack.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Braves' shortstop is Dansby Swanson. On the tiny scoreboard, the only scoreboard we could see, he was simply Swanson.

The Mariners have a pitcher named Erik Swanson, who came on in relief in the eighth inning. On the tiny scoreboard, he was also simply Swanson.

The concept of two Swansons either confused Dick greatly, or he was playing it for laughs that never came. He was thoroughly baffled, thinking that the other team's shortstop was now pitching for the M's — "Was there a trade? I don't understand." He asked about it, and we explained it several times, until even the stranger I was rubbing hips with jumped into the argument.

"They're different Swansons!" he shouted.

"It's a very common last name," Clay shout-explained.

"So he's going to be the Braves' shortstop again in the bottom of the inning?" Dick shout-asked.

The guy sitting next to me regretted saying anything, and turned back to the game, shaking his head. His girlfriend giggled, but you know, I don't believe Dick was even trying to be funny. His jokes are always quick to the punchline, but this lasted longer than an SNL sketch. I rubbed my temples so hard there was hair in my fingers.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Braves scored a run, and after eight innings it was M's 6, Braves 2, and then it started raining. Which was perfect — watching the roof slowly close was fascinating. It took eight minutes, and our cheap seats were close to the train-like mechanism that pulls the roof along on tracks, and it was all very steampunk cool. 

While as the roof slowly covered us, though, the visiting Braves kept getting hits and scoring runs. They won the World Series, they're the champs, and they're unstoppable. They pushed five across the plate, to take the lead, 7-6 in the ninth inning.

It felt like old times but bad times. All four of us, and probably most of the grayhairs in the crowd, had seen lots of games at the old Kingdome in the 1970s and '80s. Back then the Mariners sucked relentlessly, and could always find new ways to lose a ball game.

These Mariners are not those Mariners, though. Julio Rodriguez is probably the Rookie of the Year, and he hit a home run — his second of the game — to tie the score. Then Eugenio Suárez hit a home run — his second of the game — to win it, 8-7. The stadium got the loudest it had been all day, and it was the only time I didn't mind.

We turned around and watched the homer again, on the giant replay screen behind us, and it was "Goodbye, baseball!" That's the local play-by-plan man's tag-line when a ball gets tagged. This being my last ball game, guess it was appropriate.

♦ ♦ ♦

As the crowd dwindled, the four of us walked outside. The rain had stopped, and we all laughed and traded baseball clichés we could finally hear, and hyperbolically agreed that we'd just seen the greatest game in the history of baseball. My brothers joined Leon in mimicking my perpetual temple-rub, and I gotta admit it was funny.

After a few minutes the rain started again, and we all said good night. They walked toward the rail station, and I walked a block to wait for my bus to West Seattle, still rubbing my head.

At home, of course — you saw it coming, but I didn't — someone else's keys were in my pocket, and I couldn't get in. That's when I pieced together what had gone wrong at the admissions gate. I had Dick's keys, and he had my keys.

I pounded on the door until my flatmate Robert let me into the house, but I couldn't get into my room. My spare key is in my go-anywhere bag, which was locked in my room because the ball park doesn't allow bags you can't see through.

My phone was in my room, too, but Robert let me borrow his cell, and I called Dick, who was of course locked out of his house. He'd already left several messages on my phone, which I listened to and chuckled at later.

We live twenty miles from each other, and that's an hour in bus time, so I was hoping we could meet halfway. Dick has never taken a bus in his life, though, and it was soon 'Swanson-clear' that he wasn't going to understand how to ride, or where to meet. Instead I bused to Federal Way, and we met at the Jack-In-the-Crack near his house. We traded keys and laughed about it, and it took about two hours.

And that was my Sunday afternoon and evening, and the last baseball game I'll attend in person. We won, yay! 

I'd left home for the bus stop at 10:45 in the morning, and got home from Dick's house at about 8:00 that night. Long day. Big headache. It started fading on Monday night, and my Tuesday afternoon I'd stopped rubbing my temples.


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  1. Alright, I can relate as I'm also working on a sports story, though more of a year's compilation vs your play by play...I prefer to get really good seats but only go about once every ten or twenty years, if that--the last one was a Giants game about ten years ago and just happened to see the home towns' hero (SF's and Seattle's) Tim Lincecum pitch, an added and surprising treat...(Even took the ferry from Larkspur.) Paul M

    1. What was the surprising treat?

  2. Haven't been to a MLB game in decades. Easier and cheaper to watch on TV. The idea of walk-up music for each player is absurd to me. So naturally I decided I should have walk-in music when I see my therapist. Once she opens the door, I cue my phone to play Eye of the Tiger as I walk through the threshold and sit down. It made her laugh the first few times, so I stopped doing it. My absurdist point was made. -- Arden.

    1. Made me laugh, so give yourself two points and a cupcake.

      I don't mind the walk-up music in baseball, but the Mariners have a DH named Carlos Santana, and his walk-up isn't even a Santana song.

    2. I find walk-up music annoying. In minor league Tacoma in the 1960s, walk-up music was played by an in-stadium organ player who played little pieces of songs while the next batter was walking from the on-deck circle and adjusting his crotch. It wasn't always the same song snippet for the same player, and sometimes the organist would be taking a quick smoke break and there was no walk-up music.

      The only walk-up song I'd enjoy would be the mono album version of Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, and even that would sound better at a ballpark on a Hammond B-3 organ with a Leslie speaker.

      I continue to fail to understand why every player needs a goddamn walkup song. I suggest that he let his bat make the music.

      Yes, I'm a grouchy old man. Why do you ask?



    3. Love that song, and the video too. They hadn't even invented music videos yet, and it's still one of the very best music videos. Always wish the camera panned down to show the mess of papers Mr D left on the sidewalk.

      Letting the bat make the music... yeah, valid point. I do wish they'd turn at least the volume down, and wish more of the players picked better music, but walk-up music isn't in my top ten baseball annoyances.

    4. My own assessment is that when you're watching that video you're watching music videos being invented.

      Actually, the French were there first, and Bob was shooting this video partly for inclusion in a French device that used film to show three minute videos. It would be, however, appropriate for the first music video of the 60s to include Allen Ginsberg.

      If anyone wants to argue that the Beatles beat Dylan by ten months with A Hard Days Night I'm not going to dispute, but Dylan's barely-rehearsed performance with one camera and one take is a strong contender. Dylan made it up as he went and invented the 60s, just like Ginsberg invented the 50s.

      I overstate to make a small point. Give a brother a break.


    5. And, by coincidence, the Dylan video was shot in London. Dylan spent a little time with the Beatles on this tour. They owed him some weed.

      And Pennebaker was a hell of a videographer.


    6. The joy of modern technology means I can easily download Pennebaker's Don't Look Back (1967), and I am doing so now. Never even knew that video was snipped from a movie.

      It'll take ten minutes to finish downloading, then it might be a week before I watch it, but soon. I hope it tells me who did the lettering on the cards; not one of the great mysteries of life, but I've always wondered.

    7. Donovan Leitch, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth.


    8. It's been many years, but I'm pretty sure it's not revealed in the movie. It's just not a relevant plot point.


    9. Also not revealed in the movie: Shirley Noznisky hooked Pennebaker up with Dylan after changing her named to Sara. She ran Pennebaker's office. Then she married Dylan. None of this metadata is in the movie. Bananas spoil: I pass on titbits.


    10. Always love your bananas, Dr John. I knew none of this. If it was Jimmy Buffett I wouldn't care, but it's Dylan so I do.


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