Monday, August 10, 2009

Take me out to the ball game

When I travel, I like to immerse myself in the culture of the country I'm in. Especially if it involves yummy food and drink*, or sport. So, when I found myself in the States with my family in 1994, I was extremely enthusiastic when my Uncle suggested that we go to a baseball game. The home-town team was the Columbus Clippers and, it being the summer of the major league strike, we even got to see (gasp!) the famous chicken, who was touring the minor league ball parks. It goes without saying that the famous chicken is not exactly famous in the UK, and most other aspects of the experience were equally foreign to us pasty Brits. It's just a little bit different to the atmosphere of a premiership football game, let me tell ya! We payed very little attention to the actual game, but enjoyed the spectacle immensely.

I went back to Columbus in 1997, and my cousin again took me to see the Clippers. This time I had a better grasp of the rules, and even knew the words to the Clippers' song. On the same trip we made my Auntie take us to see the Blue Jays play the Yankees, in Toronto on the 4th of July. It was the most boring few hours I've ever spent in a sporting arena; it ended 1-0, and we missed the one run of the game when we went to get beer. But hey, I was 20 at the time, had been legally drinking in the UK for two years but subjected to the draconian US licensing laws for three months, and getting beer was an end in itself.

In 2003 I joined my department's slow-pitch softball team. My PI was in charge of the rag-tag bunch of Brits, Aussies, and the occasional Canadian who actually knew the rules and how to hold the bat (hint: not with one hand, like in rounders, and not like a cricket bat), and could actually catch in the glove (the rest of us reverted back to bare hands, the way we'd been taught). She'd grown up in Nebraska, where "there's nothing to do except play baseball", and was far too good for most of the rest of us. This bred some frustration for her, but the rest of us enjoyed ourselves immensely. I got a few RBIs for the team, and to everyone's surprise made a crucial catch at home plate (it was either catch the ball or lose my teeth, and my self-preservation instincts kicked in).

So, my experience with baseball has been a mixed bag. Kinda fun to play, or to watch live with a beer in your hand on a sunny day, but I would never choose to sit down and watch it on TV.

For the last three years, though, I've cycled to and from work past the Nat Bailey stadium, a cute little arena that is home to the Vancouver Canadians. The summer crowds always looked like they were enjoying themselves, but that wasn't quite enough of a draw to overcome my ambivalence and tempt me in.

Until last week...

The Foundation that supports the research done at my institute had been given a bunch of tickets by the Canadians, and were selling them at $11 a pop with all proceeds going to the charity. I'm proud to tell you that of the ~40 tickets sold, I was responsible for six, with members of my PI's lab accounting for at least another eight. Jolly good show, chaps!

It was a beautiful night at the tail-end of the heat wave. The stadium was small, but adorable:

The view from our fourth row seats was great:

The between-innings entertainment was surprisingly amusing:

And we all had a good time, despite the beer costing the same as at a Canucks game! Oh well, at least they bring it to your seat. And my hot dog and pretzel were surprisingly tasty.

The game had its moments too. At one point in the seventh inning we were batting with the bases loaded, two outs, two strikes, and three balls, and it got genuinely exciting. But it really started to drag towards the end of the ninth; I understand the basics of the game, but don't know anything like enough about it to appreciate the subtleties of the stalling tactics the two teams were using. Regulation time ended at 2-2, and we groaned a little bit as the tenth inning began. As that inning finally ended with no score, everyone around us got up and started heading to the exits, so we assumed the game had ended with a tie (hey, for hockey, rugby and football (i.e. soccer) fans, this makes perfect sense!). We only found out two days later that the Canadians lost in the twelth (twelth!!!) inning. Oh well, we weren't really there for the game after all.

We've now added baseball to the list of things that are fun to do every year or two, but no more frequently than that. (Bowling and horse racing are on the same list). Our tenant's seven-year old son disagreed, and wants season tickets. But the youngest Canadians fan definitely seemed unimpressed:

Morgan says "Baseball? Meh. When does the hockey season start?"


*Italy was heaven. Pizza + wine + gelato= "I'm having a cultural experience."


  1. I most certainly agree about baseball being something you do once every 2-3 years. I've also found that, since I turned 21, that the game has drastically improved :-)

  2. Rounders? Catch in the glove? RBIs*?

    Baseball is America's sport, and when I say America, I mean that in the most elitist way possible ... The UNITED STATES of America. It's our sport! We don't expect you non-Americans to understand it, care about it, pay attention to it, play it**. For that fact, Toronto is apparently a aberration (or maybe secretly part of the USA). The experiment failed in Montreal after all.

    *RBI stands for "Runs Batted In" so to say RBIs would mean "Runs Batted Ins" which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! The outrage!

    **Actually, we'd like to keep Justin Morneau if you don't mind.

  3. I chuckled at the part where you assumed that the game ended in a tie after the 9th inning - no offense meant, it would be a logical conclusion if you don't know about extra innings.

    It's probably my American (or USAian) prejudice, but having games end in ties still seems weird to me. Some people actually suggest that the lower popularity of football/soccer in the USA is connected to the fact that games end in ties, and that this just seems wrong to many people in the US.

  4. Amanda, it's all about the beer, really, isn't it? See also: 5 day cricket matches.

    Thomas, I'll cut you a deal: all non-USAians will cease and desist all baseball-related activities, IF (and only if) you guys a) stop using the word "soccer", b) learn how to make tea properly, and c) let a Canadian team win the Stanley Cup. Possibly by giving us all our best players back.

    Oh, and 1 run batted in is an RBI, right? So 2 would be abbreviated to RsBI? That seems weird...

    RPS, to be fair, it was at the end of the 10th. The scoreboard only went up that far, and people around us all started to leave... I know what you mean about ties, but I guess it depends what you're used to. To me, there's something weird about forcing an outright result when a tie would be a fair reflection on both teams' performance! I've seen some fantastic 0-0 football games, where both keepers made amazing save after amazing save, and both teams deserved to get something from the game (1 point each, as opposed to 3 points for a win).

  5. Watch baseball on might as well watch someone mow a lawn on TV. (I feel the same way about golf) For me to enjoy baseball, I must attending the game, get a little drunk, eat a hot dog and/or pretzel and heckle the apposing team or my Dad's favorite player. Come to think of it, that's how I enjoy hockey...just add in a few more drinks.

  6. Cath, I feel very similarly to you when it comes to baseball (although I born and bred here in the States). I don't really follow all the intricacies of the game, though my husband has tried to explain them to me. But I like sitting out in the open air, eating hot dogs and popcorn. Minor league games are fun because there's often a lot of extra family-fun stuff going on--there's a playground at our local minor league stadium. The kids like it, but it's something we attend only once or twice a year (haven't even attended a single game this summer--something on our to-do list!)

  7. MXX, I quite like the background noise of golf (and cricket) on TV - it reminds me of reading a book or doing my homework while my Dad watched the British Open or a 5-day test match! But I don't actually watch it. I don't have the same connection to TV baseball.

    Hockey is a completely different story though! On a bleak November Tuesday in Vancouver, there's nothing quite like getting together with friends to watch the game on TV. I swear the local winter suicide rate would double if we lost the Canucks! I'd much rather go in person, but tickets are expensive and hard to find; I think the team's had something like four years of consecutive sell-outs.

    Bean-Mom, I'm glad that some Americans share my ambivalence! I have to say that I've enjoyed my three minor league games waaaaaaaay more than my one major league experience, and my friends with kids all say that their kids love it to. I hope you all get to a game this summer!

  8. I've been watching some baseball in the bars here in NY. I'm progressing: I sort-of undestand what's going on and (more importantly), I am starting to loath the Yankees.

    I might be dragged out to a Mets game this weekend, so I'll be able to report back.

  9. Ooh, please do! Awesome honeymoon by the way ;)

    I have no baseball affiliation other than maybe the Columbus Clippers. I suppose it would be nice if Toronto won the world series. I do understand though that it is traditional to root, root, root for the home team.

  10. I'm sorry. It is RBIs regardless of the meaning of the individual letters. RBI is a thing unto itself, and has been for many many many years. Check any dictionary.

    Baseball is best in person at a AAA (or good AA) game. The major leagues are too much in thrall to TV and the rhythm of the game has been destroyed. It's also really good on the radio, but TV announcers are terrified of silence and WILL keep blathering on about all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the game - like football, or what's on TV tomorrow... Plus, the cameras almost never show you the whole field, which means you can't understand what's going on.

  11. Wikipedia tells me that Vancouver are in the class short season-A, while Columbus are AAA. I guess that explains the difference in stadium size! I'm too much of a n00b to have noticed much difference in the level of play... I do know that Vancouver are affiliated with the Oakland As (my friend knows someone who used to pitch for the Canadians and went on to play for Oakland).

  12. In the minor leagues, as a rule, on a 25-man team, 2 are good enough to move up and the other 23 are there so those 2 have someone to play with. The caliber of a good AAA team can be quite close to the majors... Some of the best fun I've had as been at Appalachian League games (below even short-season A), but you couldn't say the *games* were that good...

  13. Well, as long as both teams are at more or less the same level, it should turn out OK. 10-0 drubbings are no fun in any sport.


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