The Baseball Desert

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Baseball Experience

The A's in actionTrue aficionados in the audience will have recognised the Coliseum, home of the Oakland A’s, and scene of pretty much my only brush with top-flight baseball. This was May 2002, fact-fans, and just a few weeks before the A’s kicked into that memorable 20-game winning streak of theirs. The game was against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and from what I remember, the A’s cruised effortlessly to a workmanlike victory. That Friday night, I was set to sample the sights, the sounds, the smells, of the whole Baseball Experience. And I got that. But I got more, a lot more. Such as:

- The sheer scale of everything that goes on around the game. I don’t know how many people are involved in keeping the whole show on the road, but there were so many stewards, caterers, souvenir stall holders and other unidentified people (such as the guy who told me to stop walking and stand still during the national anthem: I was so engrossed in finding my seat that I hadn’t even noticed the band had struck up) that it truly is a bustling little microcosm in there.

- The concourse: one of the greatest inventions ever. If that’s what it’s called. Food court? Shopping mall? The choice of tasteful delicacies on offer was almost limitless, and after toying with the idea of trying something exotic, I’m afraid I resorted to an old classic: greasy potato wedges with some kind of fried chicken, complete with colourful sauce that will remain with me forever (if only because I have yet to get the stains out of my souvenir cap*). And yes, something that baseball fans probably take for granted is the seat-incrusted beverage receptacle holder. No uncomfortable (and highly risky) drink balancing acts, which is part and parcel of going to a sporting event this side of the Atlantic!

- Your seat is base camp. And once you’ve claimed your seat you can get up, wander about the place, view the game from other vantage points, head off to buy a drink… the catch being that wherever you are in the ballpark, you can see what’s going on! And then you head back to your seat and pick up where you left off. That was a real eye-opener, coming from a culture where you dare not leave your seat until a half-time break or the end of the game, i.e. at the same time as several thousand other people (cue bottlenecks as everyone rushes for the nearest sandwich bar or “restroom”).

Night-time in Oakland- The way the mood changes just as daylight turns to moonlight and floodlight. And through it all things are just soooo laid back. Yep, people do chill out, sit back, only to occasionally get very excited about something that has never happened before possibly being about to happen (except that it usually doesn’t, apart from the times it does).

- And all those funny little guys on the pitch. You know, the ones with the uniforms on. My favourites though were definitely the umpires, whose finely-choreographed moves are a joy to behold. They made me think of 50s doo-wop vocalists.

- Oh, and there was one of the most impressive firework displays I think I’ve ever seen. Does that happen at all baseball games, or is it only when the Devil Rays are in town? It did however get a touch, er, patriotic at times (we were just a few months into the post 9/11 world). It may have been just one God Bless America too many for this particular spectator, but perhaps that's just a cultural thing.

I could go on, but I won’t. It wasn’t quite a Road to Damascus experience, but no doubt it could have been, if for us Europeans baseball weren’t such an unsociable delight. It takes a lot of willpower, energy, caffeine and a pint or two of Keith Richards’ blood pumping through one’s veins to keep tabs on what’s going on in Major League Land! But you can be sure that the next time I’m in the Bay Area, with nothing to do on a Friday night, I’ll be checking out the baseball schedules!

*I just made that bit up.