Monday, April 19, 2010

Passing Time with America’s Pastime

The Major League Baseball season is more than half way through it’s first month, and The Good Guy is here to say that, regardless of your team’s standing, if you haven’t been to a game yet, you are running late.

Baseball, more than any other sport, is a truly American pastime – in fact, it’s nicknamed America’s Pastime, and named right up there on the list of all things American with hot dogs, apple pie and the hulking shell of a once proud symbol of American industrial might. But I digest…

Regardless of your thoughts on the game and it’s players and politics, you owe it to yourself to catch at least a few ball games this season. And if you’re among the uneducated many who claim that baseball is boring, and right alongside golf and grass-growing as one of the least exciting ways to spend and spring or summer evening, let me enlighten you with a few tips guaranteed to make the game go a little faster and draw a little nearer to your heart.

Celebrate The Details
It’s the nuances of the game that make it great, and the more aware of them you are, the more you’ll enjoy the game. Paying attention to things like first pitch strikes, overall pitch count, the history of certain pitcher/batter match-ups, who’s likely to steal and when – those are the tiny tidbits that can and will make the game riveting (OK, at times) to anyone with previously even a passing interest. Don’t have the time or desire to devour enough Sports Center or Baseball America to cram enough of these inane facts into your noggin – not to worry – they pay people to do it for you. And while a casual glance at the jumbotron should give you at least something to gab to your buddies about each at bat, the real pros have so much more to offer. Slip in an ear bud and tune your transistor to your local AM sports coverage for all you’d ever hope to know, and get (typically) top notch stats and color commentary throughout the game. Then, impress those around you with your startling knowledge of the second year utility infielder’s surprisingly high average against left-handed pitchers with men in scoring position after the 7th inning. (Or laugh to yourself hysterically at Milo’s inexplicable verbal listing of a dozen or so fruits he enjoys.)

Really want to delve into the details and get a true old-school understanding and appreciation of the game – keep a scorecard. Don’t know how – check out for instructions and downloadable, printable scorecards.

Change Your Seat to Change Your Perspective

Explore your stadium for new vantage points – and companionship – which may make the game more interesting and enjoyable. If you’re always in the good (read pricey) seats, check out the bleachers one sunny afternoon. A few innings of raucous beer swilling and hot dog scarfing with face-painted and shirtless masses may be just what the doctor ordered. Already a part of the afore mentioned tribe? Splurge for a top-dollar seat right behind the dugout or home plate, close enough to smell the grass and argue balls and strikes so that the ump can actually hear you. Just be aware that certain sections may have time-honored traditions that won’t be changed, and attempts to do so may not be appreciated – go with the flow.

Good Company Makes for a Great Game
While purists may enjoy whiling away an hour or three just enjoying the sights and sounds of the game, The Good Guy knows a little companionship and conversation almost always makes for a more enjoyable experience. The ballpark makes for a great date – though probably not a great first date. If nothing else, it’s a great way to find out who you’re dealing with - a gamer who’s up for anything once, or a diva who demands to be the object of attention at all times. Not into mixing girls into your guy stuff – we hear you. Spending time at the ballpark with your kid, your Dad, or Grandad is one of the greatest traditions of the game, and will give you unparalleled opportunities to gain and share life knowledge. Still not your idea of a great time? Grab 3 buddies and go. When all is said and done, going to a game is just like going to a sports bar, except the action is live.

Baseball on a Budget

Truth be told, attending a baseball is not cheap. With 24-year-old college degree-less kids earning upwards of $10 million a year, (for 6 months work no less) how could it be? However, compared to the same amount of entertainment in another venue, it can still be quite a value. For 2010, the average single ticket price is just under $27. The average cost to take a family of four (parking, 4 tickets, 4 sodas, 4 hot dogs, 2 beers and miscellaneous souvenirs) is estimated to be $195. And while that’s not necessarily chump change, it’s less than the cost of taking that same prototypical family to dinner and a movie, and unequivocally more valuable. Switch the occasion to a date, assume the alcohol consumptions goes up drastically, and it’s still a welcome change of pace from the typical dinner and a movie the current norm – at least for the single set - dinner and drinks, and you still have, if not a bargain, at least not a bad deal. With a group of 4 friends, splurge for the first round, which will probably set you back around $38 with tip, and as long as protocol is followed, you shouldn’t have to buy another round until at least the fifth inning. For the penny pinchers out there, but the third round, and it probably won’t make it back to you until after you leave the park and arrive at your next destination, at which price the average price of beer is typically cut in half. On top of all that, in today’s economy, teams are constantly announcing specials and promotions – subscribe to your teams website to be notified regularly. (Oh yeah, and be glad you’re not a part of The Red Sox nation, whose constituency typically pays closer to $335 for that family 4-pack.)

Games Within the Game

One of my favorite quotes, typically attributed to Ben Hogan, is something along the lines of “There is no activity that could not be made more interesting with the addition of a friendly wager.” My favorite way to spice up a group outing the ballpark is what my friends and family refer to as “The Doubles Game.” At the top of each inning, each participant puts a dollar into a hat or cup, and the pot is passed on every at bat. Whoever is holding the pot when a double is hit, wins it. This can put the holder in the unenviable position of cheering on the opposing team. It can also find you screaming for your guy to hold at second when it’s clear an elusive triple is in the offing. Change it up to drop in a new dollar at every half-inning, or award the pot only if the player recently arrived at second is wearing your home uniform – even punish the pot-holder if the opposing team hits a double while on his watch by having him match the pot! Other groups I’ve joined at times wagered on weather the ball, when thrown back to the mound at the end of an inning, will stay on the mound or roll back to the grass. There are doubtless many more ballpark bets. If you’ve got one, let’s hear it.

Regardless of who you go to the game with, where you sit or what you spend, make a point to do it once a year. If not for yourself, for America.

I’ll leave you with a few random ballpark Do’s and Don’ts.

• Wear a ball cap or a t-shirt with your home team’s logo - especially to an out of town game
• Wear comfortable shoes
• Get a bag of peanuts – from a vendor in the stands, not the concession stand, and have him throw it to you from at least a few rows away.
• Strike up a (friendly) conversation with another fan (of your team or the opponent)
• Stand up for the wave
• Cheer (Charge!)
• Let the ump know when he’s wrong (Boo!)
• Kiss your girl when the “KissCam” is on you

• Wear a ball cap backwards, or any way but forwards (unless of the rally variety)
• Wear a jersey with your name on it - who are you trying to fool?
• Wear a jersey with an actual player’s name on it - who are you trying to fool?
• Wear flip flops
• Be an obnoxious out of town fan
• Bring your glove to the game
• Boo your own team (unless they REALLY deserve it, and maybe not even then)
• Propose to your girlfriend on the jumbotron

For the record, The Good Guy is a die-hard, life-long Astros fan, and makes an effort to go to as many games as possible, but is happy as long as he makes Opening Day and the last home game of the season. As always, the opinions and information above are open to debate and interpretation, so if you disagree within anything said, let’s play ball!