Take me out to the ball game

There couldn’t be a starker mood con­trast be­tween a base­ball game and a soc­cer match.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By­brend­abene­dict

SO I’VE now ex­pe­ri­enced one of the most Amer­i­can of tra­di­tions, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. Maybe it’s be­cause we at­tended my first ever base­ball game right af­ter watch­ing a nail-bit­ing, hairtear­ing World Cup Group of Death match be­tween a slug­gish Ger­many and a spir­ited Ghana.

Half deaf­ened by my hus­band’s rant­ing at his Na­tionalelf (na­tional eleven), we rushed to catch the train that would take us to the Na­tion­als Park to watch the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als (or the “Nats”) play the At­lanta Braves.

We didn’t need to con­sult our Metro app this time. We merely fol­lowed the throng donned in base­ball caps em­bossed with the sig­na­ture “W” and shirts bear­ing team play­ers’ names: “Zim­mer­mann”, a com­mon Ger­man sur­name, seemed a pop­u­lar choice. I would later find out that this re­ferred to Ryan Zim­mer­mann, a Nats in­fielder.

Hon­estly, I at­tended the game at my hus­band’s urg­ing. He played base­ball when he lived in the United States as a high school ex­change stu­dent, so his love for the game has not waned, com­ing sec­ond only to soc­cer.

My scanty knowl­edge of base­ball, how­ever, is tied to my fuzzy rec­ol­lec­tions of play­ing soft­ball back in school – pitcher, bat­ter, catcher, bases, mitts. And a ball that can be a real pain if you lack dex­ter­ity as an out­fielder, which was of­ten my po­si­tion.

In fact, that was my main con­cern when my hus­band raved about the “great seats we have”. “What if a ball hits my head?!” I fret­ted. “Then we’ll get to keep it!” he sim­ply sur­mised.

We fi­nally ex­ited the train and strolled to­wards the ball­park. We still had an hour be­fore play, so we joined the scores of people milling around in a makeshift fair­ground, drink­ing, eat­ing and play­ing base­ball-re­lated games. We got our­selves a hot dog and a drink each and slowly made our way to the Nats sou­venir shop, which was brim­ming with fans of all ages scrab­bling to get as­sorted me­mora­bilia.

Fi­nally, we reached the ball­park, only to be as­saulted by the sight and scents of end­less rows of food stalls sell­ing ev­ery­thing from peanuts to snow cones to steaks. I had read

our colum­nist at­tended the Wash­ing­ton na­tion­als-at­lanta Braves game – her first ever taste of base­ball – last weekend and found it an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence. — aFP some­where be­fore that base­ball games are a gorge fest. I can now con­firm it.

We even­tu­ally made our way to our seats, and true enough, we had a prime view. As I took in the crowd, I had to ask my hus­band, “Are there ‘base­ball hooli­gans’?”

“Oh no. Base­ball does not in­volve much phys­i­cal con­tact. It’s way more re­laxed than soc­cer,” he re­as­sured me.

And he was right. From the get-go, it felt more like a fam­ily fes­ti­val than a tense league match. As pro­fes­sional base­ball can be lengthy with its nine in­nings (or rounds, if you will), I guess there has to be enough ac­tiv­i­ties on the side to keep spec­ta­tors en­ter­tained. At times though, it seemed as if the game was sec­ondary to all the other ac­tion. At least, that is how I felt.

It all started with the amus­ing ball­park eti­quette video that was played on the large screen shortly be­fore the game be­gan.

It was a re­worded ver­sion of the Rick Ast­ley hit Never Gonna Give You Up, com­plete with a video that fea­tured the team’s mas­cot Screech the Ea­gle. I gig­gled at the cho­rus: Never gonna be ob­scene, Never gonna thro-ow things, Never gonna use im­proper lang-uage. Never in­ter­rupt a ball in play, Never fight – no horse­play, Or else you’ll be-ee-ee ejected. There was also the live or­gan (yes, played by a real or­gan­ist!) that pipes up at given in­ter­vals of an in­ning, prompt­ing people to clap along or cheer.

Even dur­ing the game, there was much hoopla ev­ery time a Nats player came up to bat.

Turns out that in base­ball, each player has his pre­ferred “walk-up mu­sic” that is blasted be­fore his turn to bat. This was com­ple­mented by a short video in­tro­duc­ing the player of­ten sport­ing a “don’t mess with me” ex­pres­sion.

Ev­ery in­ning was fol­lowed by a short pause dur­ing which there was some ac­tiv­ity in­volv- ing the au­di­ence like a T-shirt toss or singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game. This song is tra­di­tion­ally sung dur­ing the mid­dle of the sev­enth in­ning. Ev­ery­one got up and sang along with gusto.

My high­light, how­ever, was the Pres­i­dents Race. This pro­mo­tional event is held at ev­ery Nats home game dur­ing the fourth in­ning and fea­tures people in­side gi­ant Spit­ting Image­like foam pup­pets of for­mer US Pres­i­dents. This group ini­tially con­sisted of the four men whose faces are carved on Mount Rush­more, namely Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton (Ge­orge), Abra­ham Lin­coln (Abe), Thomas Jef­fer­son (Tom) and Theodore Roo­sevelt (Teddy). Wil­liam Howard Taft (Bill) joined the group in 2013.

In fact, I had al­ready taken pic­tures with “Ge­orge” and “Abe” prior to the game and so, see­ing them lim­ber up for a race along with other for­mer “lead­ers of the Free World” was amus­ing.

The fans gamely cheered the con­tes­tants on. Abe had a head start but even­tu­ally took a tum­ble while Teddy and Bill were neck and neck if it hadn’t been for some­one – in what looked like a lob­ster suit – who tack­led Teddy.

The race com­men­ta­tor iden­ti­fied the said char­ac­ter as “Crab Na­chos Li­bre”. So, Bill won the race. I was dou­bled over in laugh­ter!

And this is what I mean when I say that I’m not quite sure what to make of the en­tire event.

Save for the two very en­thu­si­as­tic fans be­side us, ev­ery­one else seemed pretty laid­back about the game. There was no singing of songs or chant­ing of slo­gans, no rais­ing of ban­ners or club scarves or bay­ing for the um­pire’s blood. One could even call it con­vivial.

The game it­self was what I had ex­pected of base­ball. The at­mos­phere, how­ever, was worlds apart from a soc­cer match.

So, will I at­tend an­other base­ball game again? I re­ally don’t know, but it sure was an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence.

Brenda Bene­dict is a Malaysian liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton, DC. She has, how­ever, dis­cov­ered base­ball eye candy in the form of Nats pitcher Doug Fis­ter.

Steal­ing sec­ond base:

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