[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
"We never do things I want to do," Mike said the other day. He isn't entirely wrong, but that also doesn't make him right, primarily because he has never once said "I would like to do this that or the other thing, with you, right now." I heard him loud and clear though, so fast forward a few days and I found myself in a sea of people crowding into Angels Stadium. In an effort to meet the man halfway, I cleared my Tuesday evening and agreed to sit in a sticky plastic chair with a few thousand other disgusting, hungry, sweating humans and watch grown men play catch.
I don't watch sports. Not because I'm no fun, but because I'd rather do a thing than watch someone else do a thing. The game itself does not bore me, but I do detest the constant and asinine announcements, advertisements, schticky crowd promotions between innings, and general abundance of people. When we walked into the stadium, the game was already well underway. I spotted a large man standing near a concrete post eating nachos and holding a beer. He wore cargo short that may as well have been pants, and a crumpled white t-shirt beneath a tired Angels jersey. His eyes were vacant but almost deliriously happy. He looked as if he were eating without really realizing that he was eating, and I had an undeniable urge to hug him, you don't have to do this.
Baseball is America's pastime, a funny turn of phrase because it seems like so many of us don't have much time to pass. We're all harried and hurried and doing too many things at once. I wouldn't have been at the game in the first place, if not for a very real need to "make time for the things my partner wants to do." But as I sat in my sticky plastic chair with an aluminum wrapped hot dog in one hand and an $8 bottle of water in the other, I couldn't help but look around and think that many people in the stadium that night did have time to pass.
They had money to spend on Rally Monkeys and soft pretzels and Dippin' Dots. They had the freedom not to worry about how they would feel after the soft pretzels and Dippin' Dots. They had mustard on their shirts and sweat pooling in their collarbones and an early meeting tomorrow morning but they were here to enjoy themselves, dammit. They were here to sing take me out to the goddamned ball game. They were here to shout at the vendors running up and down stairs, another Modelo please, $13? sure yeah, why not, what's $13, not even three tanks of gas, that's what.
They came to boo when the pitcher in pajama pants threw to first base. They came to shout at the Yankee fans because we're better when we're winning but they're losing if the tables suddenly turn. They came to make good-natured small talk with the people sitting around them, whom they have never seen before and will never see again, but who they feel a kinship with because this is America, and baseball is America's pastime and we're all in this thing together, even if this thing is watching grown men play catch while a display of fake rocks shoots fire into the sky in the outfield, and kids grovel for the chance to catch a foul ball, and we all sit distractedly munching our artery-clogging snacks with thousands of other hot, hungry, hopeful Americans who just want to relax for once in their tired lives.
Mike occasionally interrupted my people watching to explain things about baseball. "Baseball is exciting because whatever happens next could change the entire game," he said. This is true, but whatever happens next literally changes whatever happens next in any scenario, anywhere, always. Life is like those choose-your-own-adventure books, but instead of flipping to page 37 and finding out that it was the cop who murdered the librarian, you get to decide what happens next. Most games, I decided, are inherently left at least somewhat to chance. Baseball might be a dance, but so is badminton as far as I'm concerned. I nodded along though, because even though I know that it takes three strikes to be out or four balls to walk, it's nice to let someone else do the thinking and talking. My hot dog was gone by now, so I took tiny sips from Mike's beer, which was in a can the size of my forearm.
Jackie Robinson said, "Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he's losing; nobody wants you to quit when you're ahead." Maybe nobody wants to quit in general, which is why folks lingered by the railings to see the final pitch and why kids tucked their helmet-shaped plastic ice cream dishes into their pockets for safe keeping; to remind them of this July night when the stadium was filled with people and voices and the hope that we would win again. Because winning isn't everything, but it sure does make us feel better. Baseball doesn't really matter, but this is America, and in America we sing the anthem and later, we sing for crackerjack. And this is baseball, a game as old as time itself. Somewhere, in some bleak apartment block across town, a little kid sits up late to see the end of the Angels game. He hasn't been to the stadium yet, but one day, his parents will splurge on nosebleed tickets. They'll buy him a Rally Monkey and his own plate of nachos and it will be the very best day of his life.