Orange and BlackPosted: Jul 26, 2005 2:14:26 AM
This weekend I tried on yet another American tradition: the great ball game. No, not American football, I'm talking baseball. We prepared for this experience by stopping off at a kid's funpark (Scandia, if you've heard of it) so I could appreciate the game by trying out the batting cages. Well, I put on the little hat, entered the cage that spat balls out at 60 miles per hour, and managed to score a hugely impressive average of .125 (i.e. five balls hit out of forty, and I'm fairly sure that most of them were fouls). That's only a little better than my achievements in the multi-storey driving range in Hong Kong (see this report for details) - at least I didn't lose the heavy object I was swinging this time. Siobhan had much more success: she now holds the all-time high score for Ms. Pacman at Scandia, and that after only two attempts! Humbled by both my own lack of sporting ability and the clear superiority of my fiancee, it was time to head off to the big ball game and watch some professionals try their own luck.
The big game was at the SBC Park in San Francisco, home of the San Francisco Giants. It used to be called the Pacific Bell Park, but corporate sponsorship has changed the name. Everyone still calls it the Pac Bell Park, thus sticking it to the Man. The outside of the stadium is surrounded by a barricade of scalpers, presumably also sticking it to the Man as many signs in the area indicate that scalping is illegal. It can't be too illegal, though, because there were plenty of cops keeping the peace and they didn't seem to care about the scalpers at all.
The interior of the park was like a very specialised shopping centre: at each of the levels (and there were many many levels) there were dozens of shops, stalls, and stands, but all of them were selling one of two things: food, or souvenirs. We, wanting to follow the baseball traditions as closely as possible, purchased both. We had the completely traditional ballpark hot dogs and ballpark beer, and they were surprisingly good. Considering what is supposed to go into the hot dogs. We bought each other San Francisco Giants hats to protect ourselves from the harsh ballpark sun: they're a distinctive shade of orange with black highlights, and since I've been wearing it afterwards I've been getting a few odd looks. Although those were mostly from Oakland A's fans.
The stadium proper was fantastic: vertiginous (you try stacking tens of thousands of sports fans) but we had a very good view. The crowd inside was mostly good natured and friendly - one drunk guy was trying to chat up a couple of girls some rows down by making fun of Europeans, but another guy (possibly also drunk, although on what I couldn't say) was blowing bubbles throughout the stadium and I think that makes up for it. People selling pretty much everything were wandering around and calling out too: lemonade, ice cream, cotton candy on long metal poles, and something called a churro (it looked delicious).
The game was fun too. The Giants were playing the Florida Marlins, and for my first baseball game I got to see a little of everything: home runs, double plays, a stolen base, bunts, base-sliding, daring catches, and poor batters that got caught between bases and were chased around by fielders like kids playing tag. The crowd was responsive, too. Every time a ball flew into the stands everyone lunged for it - my understanding is that if they catch it they keep it. Once a Giants fan, however, caught a Marlins home run ball, and threw it back into the field as a sign of dedication to the team. I managed to annoy Siobhan throughout by constantly asking about the rules and referring to everyone using cricket terminology (e.g. bowlers instead of pitchers, batsmen instead of batters). Hee - such a kiwi, me.
The final score was 4-1. We lost. Dang. It was all decided by the eighth inning, but we stuck around until the end anyway. Not true of everyone: officially the game was sold out, with attendance put at 42,019, but at least a sixth of the seats were empty at any one time. I attribute this at least in part to the fact that people were constantly moving: some didn't arrive until the second inning, or the fourth, and when the game looked to be wrapped up a lot of people left early. I'm presuming they did this to avoid the crush of the post-game exiting, which brought to mind an Escher picture, but somehow I think that leaving before the game is over is a little cynical. The remainder entertained themselves in the ninth by trying to start up a Mexican wave. Once, twice, three times we saw the wave get started up and then peter out at a particular obdurate block of grumps before it finally washed over them and took three circuits around the stadium. I joined in. Of course.
Once we got home we realised that the sun had been harsher than we had hoped: we both now look like we've been sorting grapes in a vat up to our armpits, and it stings like crazy. Nevertheless, I'm pleased. Orange is the colour of the Giants, after all.
A postscript: as per many requests, a close-up of the ring. My preciousssss.
This report has been archived - for new reports go here.