There was a time when all of America followed major league baseball avidly. Your average person watched the games, discussed the players, bemoaned the injuries, railed against trades, and knew the intricacies of the infield-fly rule. It was a simpler time, an era when baseball was our national pastime.
That time was 1910, and it’s because there was nothing else to do. Today, people think baseball is boring, steroids and other scandals have reduced the players from heroes to criminals, and the only time the nation at large takes interest is when the Red Sox win the World Series, or the reanimated corpse of Lou Gehrig performs an unassisted triple play, or whatever.
But as I have mentioned in this column before, I grew up with Dodgers baseball on the TV, the folksy voice of announcer Vin Scully calling the plays as my dad and brothers watched their champions perform day after day through the spring and summer. A fondness for baseball is ingrained in me, regardless of how rarely I actually watch a game. I like the IDEA of baseball. The fact that it continues to exist, despite receiving no outward support from me whatsoever, makes me happy. It’s like ballet in that regard.
But on Memorial Day, my entire family went to a Dodgers game in Los Angeles. (The Dodgers actually play in Los Angeles, unlike the “Los Angeles” Angels, who play in Anaheim, except they don’t want to admit they live in Anaheim, which you wouldn’t either, if you lived in Anaheim.) All of us were there: my parents, my three brothers, my two sisters, my one brother’s wife and their little baby, my one sister’s boyfriend, and my aunt who was visiting from out of town — 11 of us in all, plus the baby. (I guess that makes 12. I don’t know why I wouldn’t count the baby as a person.) It was only the second time in my life that I’d been to Dodger Stadium, and the first time in several years that the entire family had all gone anywhere together. We’re together often enough for holidays and such, but to actually GO somewhere? Like, as an activity? It never happens. Too many people and schedules to consider, not to mention the cost, not to mention the unlikelihood of finding an activity we can all agree on. Mostly we prefer to sit around the living room and make fun of people we know, and even that has to be scheduled carefully.
The idea to attend a Dodgers game came from my brother Jeff, the most ardent baseball-lover in the family. He wanted to go very badly, and with a highly persuasive marketing campaign, he convinced the rest of us that we wanted to go, too.
In fact, even the great baseball fans in the family, including my dad and my brother Chris, were mostly indifferent about it. At various times leading up to the excursion, nearly everyone tried to back out. But all would-be deserters were reminded that the ENTIRE family was going. If even one didn’t make it, it would ruin the experience. So we all went, understanding that if it wasn’t a particularly thrilling thing to do, it would be a nice thing to have done. We wouldn’t like going, but we would like having gone.
It was a perfect day for a ball game, sunny and warm but not too hot. It began with an operatic mishandling of the national anthem, after which, since it was Memorial Day, some very loud planes flew overhead. (Fighter jets, fireworks, marching bands: Why is patriotism so loud?)
We were playing the Chicago Cubs that day, and of course by “we” I mean “people other than myself.” Things did not get off to a good start. The first Cubs batter, on the second pitch of the game, hit a home run.
But no matter. We were at the ball game! We bought peanuts and Crackerjack, both of which required a home equity loan, and we didn’t care if we never got back, whatever that means. (I mean, why wouldn’t you ever get back? Are you expecting to meet your death there at the ball game? Will the game go into an infinity of extra innings? Kind of a dismal song, really.) We were in the cheap seats, too, amid the rabble, the drunks and the rowdies. There were many Cubs fans around us, openly taunting Dodgers fans. To be a Cubs fan is sad enough, but to go to other people’s stadiums just to harass them? There are some deep psychological issues at play there. At one point the Cubs fans were dancing around in front of the Dodgers fans, which caused some Dodgers fans to throw objects at the Cubs fans, which caused the Dodgers fans to be ejected from their own stadium. That was rude, but awesome. We needed a good laugh, considering that on the field — there was a game going on, I occasionally noticed — the Cubs were beating the pants off us, though only figuratively so far. This just made the Dodgers fans angrier. I suspect that if an actual bear cub had wandered into the stands, the Dodgers fans would have torn it limb from limb, especially if the cub had been from Chicago.
One popular thing to do when the game is boring is to inflate a beach ball and toss it around in the stands. This is prohibited, however, and the ushers and security guards will confiscate the balls if they can get their hands on them. See, The Man doesn’t want you doing anything to amuse yourself. You watch the game, or you DO NOTHING! Do not seek entertainment elsewhere.
I discovered two things about baseball over the course of the game. First, I could not name a single current player for the Dodgers. Not one. All I could think of were Dodgers from the 1980s, like Mike Scioscia and Fernando Valenzuela, none of whom are still on the team. Some of them are not even still alive.
Second, I learned that people no longer yell, “Hey batter batter, hey batter batter batter batter, swing!,” and that perhaps they never did.
The high point of the game came when a man leapt from the stands and ran across the outfield, eventually planting a little flag in center field before being tackled by security guards. They take their security very seriously at the ballpark. As soon as the guy’s feet touched the grass, about a dozen trained professionals were in pursuit of him. Several more guards took stations at the field entrances to seal off the crime scene. Vin Scully was hustled by Secret Service agents down to his underground bunker.
The Dodgers lost that day, and the game was slow-moving and mostly uneventful. But we still had a fine time, we Sniders, because we were there together, every last one of us. Well, except for the last couple innings, when Jeff and his wife weren’t there anymore because they had taken their fussy baby home. Me, I didn’t care if we never got back, which we almost didn’t, what with the traffic getting out of the stadium parking lot.
You're thinking I made a mistake saying people in 1910 knew the intricacies of the infield-fly rule because the infield-fly rule was not instituted until sometime later. But you're wrong: It was put on the books in 1895. I looked it up, I swear.
This is the sort of column I haven't done much of recently, where I talk about a specific event or excursion that I took part in, using my specific experiences as a jumping-off point to discuss generalities. It used to be the norm, particularly when I was writing "Snide Remarks" twice a week and didn't always have enough interesting news or cultural topics to talk about. Nowadays, it's rare that I ever actually do anything.