03 May 2011

A Day at the Ball Yard

I've recently come to the conclusion that I'm getting old. I turned 44 years old in March and am starting to see the symptoms that I am basically at the mid point of my life- creaking knees in the morning, an ever expanding waist line and, most surprisingly, a new affinity for baseball.

When I was kid growing up I occasionally went to a Pirates game with my dad and was usually bored silly by the second inning. While my dad would watch games on television, and listen to them on the radio while working in the garage or the back yard, my attention span was limited to asking what the score was and then moving on to something more interesting. Even during the glory days of the 1970's when the Pirates won two World Series, my commitment to the team never went beyond collecting the occasional baseball card. I just couldn't see the fun in watching a game on a sunny day when you could be playing baseball or run-down with your buddies in the neighborhood.

Over the past couple of years, a strange thing started to happen. It began gradually as I tuned in to watch entire games on the television and listen to them on the radio in the car. While I usually went to only one or two Pirate games a year, my attendance suddenly skyrocketed to three or four games despite the fact that the team was working hard on an 18 year losing streak of record proportions. I concluded something had indeed gone horribly wrong as I caught myself checking game box scores on a daily basis and worrying about the performance of individual players.

My first game this year was a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. I took this picture from my seats (I invested in a 5 game package this year) looking down the first base line. No, this picture was not taken long before or after the game, it was taken in the sixth inning. Note the preponderance of empty seats vs. the scattered attendees (there were around 4,000 people at the game so the stadium was about 10 % full.) The game was against the Washington Nationals (we lost, of course) and in all fairness to the Pirates it was Easter Sunday so that could have affected attendance a bit.

Despite the loss, it was a nice afternoon out and it occurred to me that I really have never had a bad experience at a Pirates game. The fans were mostly comprised of families, nobody was drunk and out of control and the Nationals fans in attendance were at worst politely ignored. Contrasting this to the "Mad Max" atmosphere at Steelers games and the beer fueled youth at Penguins games only made me appreciate it more. A teenager caught a foul popped into our section and then promptly walked down the steps to hand it to a little kid sitting with his parents. Along with the 6 or so other people in my part of the stadium, we gave him a polite round of applause for a very classy move.

Perhaps this was the key to my new found love of baseball- I am simply getting old and crotchety and completely intolerant of the drunken escapades witnessed at other sporting events. Sitting in PNC Park watching the Pirates lose on a Spring afternoon was far more appealing to me than freezing my ass off in Heinz Field and watching the Steelers win. I closed my eyes for a moment of Buddhist mindfulness and enjoyed the moment- the birds singing, the crack of the bat and braying of the men selling beer and popcorn. I think I've found a home for the next 40 years.

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