Play ball!

The BirdcageHow many thousands of people have written about the experience of being at a baseball game? It’s a tired subject, sure, but it’s an important one all the same. And we’re not talking about just the game itself. We’re talking about the the auxiliary sounds, smells and events. It’s an amazing paradox – a sport that, at times, is less exciting than the experience.

But that’s what makes it fun – especially minor league baseball. Very few take it truly seriously. The atmosphere is loose, the egos are contained. No one is preening in front of a multi-million dollar check – they’re all fighting to move up or fighting to stay in the game.

So going to a minor league baseball game – we have the Sioux Falls Canaries – is an experience in the national pastime as it’s supposed to be played. It’s kids running for balls, people talking over beers, the sickly smell of onions on a bratwurst, of beer breath and fresh air and the darkening sky as the stadium lights turn on. It’s nothing but pure life, boiled down into a 5,000 seat area, with a baseball game to distract us when life gets too dull.

Baseball has grown on me. A friend of mind mentioned how baseball isn’t an instant pick-up. You can’t just suddenly “like” baseball. You have to grow into it by slowly learning every nuance. A strike and a ball mean so much more in so many situations. There’s a hidden strategy that makes the game unbearable for the new fan but incredibly rewarding for those who discover it. Baseball isn’t a sport – it’s a board game, it’s Risk, it’s numbers meeting physics, the ultimate clash of two long-learned sciences.

I had a blast tonight, just Kerrie and me, sometimes watching the game and often focusing on the people around us. We got cupcakes (thanks, Chamber of Commerce!) and watched several odd yet strangely exciting fan-participation games. We sang “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” and talked like we were people-watching at a bar. We sat outside and enjoyed the breeze. And we watched the Canaries lose 9-4, but not before a very late “rally” sparked our attention near the end.

I know professional baseball’s been going on for a few months. But for me, it’s as if the season just started.

Could you pass the peanuts and Cracker Jacks, please?

This was lovingly handwritten on June 26th, 2007