Too many people are staying away from the ballpark these days. They claim that the games are boring, they move too slowly, and that making the trek out to a stadium just isn’t worth it when you can stay home and watch the game on TV for free. To those people I say, You get what you pay for. Which brings us to the most memorable night I’ve ever had at any baseball game.
As of July 29, 2004, I had been to more major league baseball games than I could count, but I had never had really, really good seats. I was in town a day early before attending Friday’s Rangers-Athletics game with my family, and I decided to go to Thursday’s game and pony up for the best seat I could get. In this case, the best seat was directly behind home plate, twenty-three rows back. I arrived in town from Austin, searched unsuccessfully for a cheap hotel room, bought my ticket, and entered Ameriquest Field an hour and a half before game time.
Tonight’s ballpark giveaway was a poster commemorating the 10th anniversary of Kenny Rogers’s perfect game. The first 20,000 through the turnstiles were treated to a 12” x 20” cardstock picture with a blue matte around the perimeter, complete with several scenes from the game as well as a picture of the scorecard. I half-heartedly took mine and tucked it under my arm as I looked for a scorecard of my own.
I like to keep score at the games I attend—I’ve even created my own scorecard in Excel that I prefer to use. But my printer had recently broken, so I was in the unenviable position of having to use one of those ridiculously expensive and totally inadequate ballpark scorecards. Still, I had to have one, so I found a stand that sold programs and asked if I could get just a scorecard. Turns out that they didn’t sell just a scorecard and that a program with a scorecard inside it was $5. So I passed.
Now, I’m not a huge Kenny Rogers fan, and I don’t have room among my Cardinals and Aggies posters for a relic of some event that has zero pull on my sports sensibilities, so I don’t mind admitting that I was kind of proud when I made the decision to keep score on the back of Kenny’s perfect game. Who knows, maybe my using his perfecto as a canvas would somehow inspire a virtuoso performance from Kirk Saarloos or R.A. Dickey.
The game started, and right away I could tell it was going to be a good one. Okay, so it turns out that it takes more than writing on the back of a perfect game to inspire another one. By the end of the first inning, the Athletics and the Rangers had each hit two home runs, and the score was already 5-3 in favor of the Rangers after two.
In the five innings that followed, only two runs were scored, and from such “boring” circumstances are born things like The Wave. For me, the wave ranks up there with inflatable mascots and cowbells as sports phenomena that just need to go away. Tonight it was started by a group of about twenty fans in left field, and as always happens it took a couple tries to make it all the way around the stadium. And just like clockwork, the fans who started it, upon seeing their creation make it back to them, celebrated like they had just scaled Mt. Everest.
Sitting close at a baseball game always brings with it the added hope of catching a foul ball. And on this night I had two balls come within fifteen feet of me. One landed harmlessly in the arms of a man two rows behind me, but the other one did its fair share of damage. Now, many people like to bring their gloves to the game to help them catch foul balls. Mostly they’re kids, but you will see the occasional adult donning a glove. What you don’t often see is a man wearing a glove and being treated by the stadium’s medical staff because the man failed to catch the ball and instead allowed it to bounce off his nose. The attendants successfully treated the thirtysomething’s wounded nose, but who’s going to piece together his shattered dreams of playing in the major leagues, or for that matter, getting off the bench of his rec league softball team?
When you keep score at a baseball game, you sometimes have the opportunity to gain an insight into the game that might pass other spectators by. Which is just as well, because they’re the kind of insights that nobody else would care about. In this game, I discovered that the second basemen were getting a lot of action. Second basemen had twelve putouts or assists, while shortstops were in on only four plays. Michael Young, the Rangers’ shortstop, saw only one ground ball all evening.
As the season ticket holders in front of me started to leave, I played the move-up game. Little did I know that I was participating in some sort of criminal activity: the problem of fans moving into the sections behind home plate has apparently become so severe that the team has appointed several ushers to stand in the way of would-be violators in between innings. It struck me that devoting paid employees to safeguarding empty seats is a tremendous waste, and I’ve decided to do something about it. If I get my way, the Texas Rangers Baseball Club will be the first organization to offer late inning seating options, which will be premiums added to the price of a regular ticket that will allow fans the option of moving to better seats after six or eight innings. The empty seats close to the field obviously have a value, so why not capture that value and allow those poor ushers something productive to do?
Over the course of about an inning and a half, starting in the middle of the fifth, I moved up ten rows to the 13th row. At that point I called my friend Adam to see if I was on TV. “Not yet,” he said. “You’ve got to get way up there to be on TV. I’m only seeing the first two rows.” The first couple rows were completely full, so I put those thoughts to rest and watched the game. My desire to sit close to the action came with an implicit wish to make it on camera, but I had no idea how far I would really have to go. After all, those guys who are in the first row waving and talking on their cell phones are always such stupid jackasses—if they could do it, I could, right?