Some people say that baseball is no longer America’s game because it’s too slow for the twenty-first century.
Well, I’m here to celebrate it for that very reason – and how its occasionally glacial pace makes it a great game to watch in person. This may simply mean that I’m a dinosaur (I do have the hairline of a brontosaurus), but the other day I was watching the Mets at Citi Field, and I was surrounded by boys and girls who were having a great time. I have the noise-induced hearing loss to prove it.
Of course, it helps to be a Mets fan. The Mets this year are better than most years, but when I woke up on a Sunday morning in Manhattan with a day off between speeches, it was easy to get a ticket. I spent $37 for my last-minute seat (which was excellent), a few bucks on the subway, and $15 in food at the park. Altogether, it was a $57 afternoon.
And while $57 is not cheap, it’s a lot less expensive than a trip to the Meadowlands to watch the Giants or Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks. (In all fairness, I could probably watch curling for less.) Also, you get to see the world’s most disturbing mascot, Mr. Met, use a t-shirt cannon to launch clothes into the stands.
Just for the record, I think the animated Mr. Met is appealing in a retro, George Jetson sort of way. It’s the in-person dude with a massive baseball for a head who gives me nightmares. Sure, he’s smiling, but the baseball seams look like scars. Think Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
I was seated with families ahead of me and beside me. Behind me I had four guys who, like me, were diehard Mets fans. Unlike me, however, they attend lots of games and experience the agony of defeat far more acutely. Since the Mets lost that afternoon and managed but three hits and one run, they spent a lot of time reconfiguring the Mets roster and payroll. Also, drinking. They weren’t drunk, but I think the beer helped. The game for them was somewhere between a crossword puzzle they had to solve and punishment for past sins.
But I enjoyed talking to them, because they were knowledgeable about the sport. We could dissect the outfield shifts. We could debate whether to bunt. We could discuss the frequent flyer programs of the airlines that passed over the massive Citi Field sign as they lifted off from nearby LaGuardia Airport. The leisureliness of the sport – its pace – allows for that sort of conversation.
Meanwhile, the families were all in when it came to no-holds-barred enthusiasm. Every time the scoreboard implored us to “Make some noise!” they did. Especially the girls. The kids stood whenever there were balls hit to the warning track. They moaned when a Met stuck out. (And the Mets struck out a lot that day.) They had their gloves ready for foul balls.
Incidentally, I’ve never caught a foul ball at a game. One time, one bounced on the armrest of the seat beside me, but I was so busy studying the scorecard that I was oblivious to the actual game that moment. Not kidding. This was at Yankee Stadium in 1982, and I was there with my girlfriend (now my lovely bride). This was particularly humiliating because the ball was hit by the Twins catcher, Ray Smith. My wife had spotted Smith during batting practice and was following him that afternoon because she understood nothing of baseball. . .but she thought Smith was cute. Maybe he spotted her, too, and sent her that foul ball. In any case, it bounced off the armrest and landed – to paraphrase “Star Wars” – in a galaxy far, far away.
Next month, the Vermont Lake Monsters return to Centennial Field. I’ll take in a game or two there, too. Sure, it’s not the big leagues, but the caliber of play is terrific, the seats are excellent, and the mascot – even if he is a monster – won’t give me bad dreams.
Baseball might not be as fast as basketball or as gladiatorial as football, but the old sport still has plenty of life left in it.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on May 4. Chris’s new novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” arrives on July 8. You can watch a video preview here.)