Opening day is quickly approaching. April 4th and the 2012 season officially begins. So that means 162 games of too much talk of the Red Sox and Yankees, not enough talk about all the other great teams in the league, and a chance for the Pirates to break a losing streak of 19 consecutive seasons with a losing record. 1992 was the last time they had a winning season. Here is what the U.S. looked like in 1992:
-I was 6 years old.
-Here’s the songs that made it to #1 in the charts in ’92: Michael Jackson – Black or White, Color Me Badd – All 4 Love, George Michael and Elton John – Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy, Mr. Big – To Be With You, Vanessa Williams – Save the Best for Last, Kris Kross – Jump, Mariah Carey – I’ll Be There, Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back, Madonna – This Used to Be My Playground, Boyz II Men – End of the Road, Heights – How Do You Talk to an Angel, and Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
-Few movies that were #1 at the box office:
-Average price for a gallon of gas: $1.13
-Mike Tyson went to jail for 6 years after being convicted of rape.
-The Cowboys spanked the Bills in the Super Bowl.
-The Georgia Superdome is constructed.
You get the point. I’m not here to rip the Pirates. It think if the Pirates become relevant again, it’s good for baseball. They have a great stadium & they have some good pieces already in place. They just need to hold on to their good prospects and not trade for players like A.J. Burnett. Now moving on, with opening day almost here, my plan is to have plenty of baseball posts over the next few weeks. Today, we are going to look at a trip to the ballpark. What a great slice of heaven the ballpark has to offer. The fact that there are so many around the country and the experience at all of these parks have something special to offer just makes me smile thinking about it. But there are plenty of characteristics that are shared at any level. But for purposes of this post, we will focus on the professional level (independent league, minor league, and of course the big league).
Once you arrive at the gates of the ballpark, you are hit harder with the sounds and smells of the place. There is just a unique sound a baseball stadium has that you don’t get at any other sporting event. It’s almost like you can hear the smells of the place. The smell is what really makes the atmosphere so different. Mix hot dogs, beer, sweat, pretzels, popcorn, cheese fries, cotton candy, anything you could possibly grill and/or fry, sunflower seeds, and gum and you have a cocktail of smells that just strikes a chord with everyone’s inner child. But the smells change once you get to your seats. They now transform into grass, pine tar, dirt, rosin, maple and ash wood, leather, chalk, more beer and more sweat. You feel so much closer to the field than maybe your actual seat would indicate. Unfortunately, if you are watching at a dome, then you are missing out. Baseball needs to be played outside; no domes, no turf. I hate that crap. I don’t even wanna here it from the teams up north either. The Yankees, the Twins, and the Mariners all play outside. Why in the hell does Tampa Bay play in a dome??? Sorry, I’m getting side tracked.
Once you have got to your seats and the game has started, you can just sit back, soak up the sun, and relax. Baseball games are great for both the casual sports fan or the die-hard baseball fanatic. Those who aren’t big baseball fans can still enjoy the drinks and food. Speaking of food, baseball is one of those places where you expect to eat certain foods. Let’s face it; you think baseball, you think hot dogs (saving that topic for its own post). Because of this, those who aren’t huge baseball fans can still share in the experience of the game. But if you are a baseball fan, you can break down the situations developing, first hand, with every single pitch. While that happens, you can still interact with those who don’t quite see what the big deal is with each pitch. Nothing brings the group more together than $1 beer night (odds are, if you have an independent team and/or minor league team in your city, they have a $1 beer night). Then you get picked to do things like the dizzy bat race:
As the game progresses, you get other great experiences. They range from some sort of mascot race, kids putting on a uniform and racing around the infield, someone guessing a piece of trivia, kiss cam, marriage proposal, and random baseballs being thrown into the stands. Don’t forget about eating an entire hot dog after a batter strikes out before the next pitch is thrown, which in turn guarantees a home run by the next batter (this is a fact, I’m 2-2), foul balls, and “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” How can you not love the 7th inning stretch (of course if it’s a Rangers home game, you follow-up “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with “Deep in the Heart of Texas”)? Then you also have little kids dancing on the jumbo-tron in a way that if a grown man would dance like that, your first thought would be “How drunk is he?” You also get to hear the slow crescendo of sound when a Taylor-made double play ball gets put into play and executed perfectly in a 6-4-3 fashion to end the inning. Or a deep fly ball that finally crosses over the fence with an eruption of cheers. The same decrescendo happens when the home team gives up the home run, or hits into the double play. Mix in the crunch of cleats, the scrape of dirt that happens when a player slides into a base, the echoing crack of a finely pine-tared up baseball bat on a pearly white ball, a belly full of greasy food, a gallon of beer guzzled, and before you know it…it’s the ninth inning and the game is about to be over (I know, so sad). If you team is losing, another great tradition is unveiled throughout the ball park:
The Rally Cap. Oh the power of the rally cap. The basic idea of the cap is to “sacrifice” some of your own personal dignity and transferring that power to the team in order to mount a comeback victory. The exact origins of the rally cap are disputed, and there are multiple types of rally caps (my favorite can be seen above). These also extend to rally sunglasses, towels, monkeys, or any random thing that triggered a rally that will be carried on for all of eternity. Once you have experienced the power of the rally cap, you will never doubt it ever again. Especially when you see a walk-off home run. The crowd is in a frenzy for the duration of the trot around the bases with the entire team waiting at home plate with such anticipation of their teammate officially ending the game. Helmet flies, player leaps up in the air, lands safely on home plate, and the mobbing commences. All the while, in a drunken stupor, you are yelling to everyone around you “IT WAS MY RALLY CAP! I CALLED IT!” This is the only phrase you can utter for approximately the next 30 minutes.
Now, it would be awesome if every baseball game you went to turned out like this. But it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, the beauty of the game is you will never know how the game will play out. Pitchers duel, error fest, someone gets ejected, possible bench clearing, offensive explosion, extra innings, or a combination of them. The game is so unique; it’s one of the few sports where you will never have a good idea of what’s going to happen. Football and basketball, for the most part, have a certain “predictability” to them. Hockey does as well, but not as much as basketball and football. But baseball, with all it’s moving parts and specialties, gives it the ability more than the other major sports to deliver something unexpected.
Baseball is my all-time favorite sport, with football being an extremely close second. I spent my life growing up on a dirt diamond, and a lot of who I am today is a direct reflect on my time spent on a baseball field. I can spend hours upon hours on the field without realizing how much time has passed. Perfect example was when I was blessed to get the opportunity to coach at a high school baseball showcase camp in Virginia during the summer of 2010. I was given control of my own team, and we were on the field for roughly 10 hours a day. It wasn’t enough for me. I could have been out there sun up to sun down (longer if the lights stayed on), even if my hands looked like this after hundreds of ground balls hit:
Yes, my managerial job, as well as my job as an instructor, with my team was fantastic. We went 5-0 in all of the showcase games. I will argue until I’m blue in the face the baseball is still America’s national pastime. It is an awesome sport that just reminds you of what is good in the world (outside of the steroids issue, of course). The next couple of post will cover hot dogs, opening day (as a player and fan), hitting, fielding, pitching, umpiring, and baseball hats. It just needs to be said one more time before I end this. I…LOVE…BASEBALL!