Take me out to the ball game
There couldn’t be a starker mood contrast between a baseball game and a soccer match.
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: