Growing up outside Chicago, I watched the White Sox as a kid but this was the pre-digital era when we had fully developed attention spans. Back then, we read books and spent summer afternoons climbing trees and wandering the neighborhood. Now, in this age of Twitter and iPhones, who has the patience for America’s past-time?
I’m probably the last person in Washington who hasn’t seen the Nationals. So, when my friend Jenny invited me to a game, I went.
Nationals Park is a beautiful stadium and easily accessible by car, Metro and even bike – bike valet is available. We parked a few blocks over and walked in the scorching heat.
We had great seats just yards from the field. One problem: the seats had been heated by the sun to a temperature that would fry an egg – or your bare skin. I poured water over my seat to cool it off.
Washington is in the midst of a heat wave now. At 1:30 PM, when the game started (opponent: San Diego), it was in the 90s with a heat index over 100. We prayed for clouds while the Nationals got out to an early lead.
No one in my section wanted beer. Instead, it was requests for bottles of water, ice cream and ice chips to put under caps. By the third inning, we needed a break from the sun. The concourse was lined with vendors of all kinds – Goose Island, Ben’s Chili Bowl, Peet’s Coffee. You could get a salad. You could get a mixed drink. It felt like Vegas.
The air-conditioning at the Front Porch, the bar in center field, was a blissful relief. The bartender gave us chilled paper towels to put around our necks while we drank $10 beer. (Is there no limit to what people in DC will pay for beer? Nope.)
We returned to our seats for the last couple innings. By that point, attendance at the stadium had shrunk in half. Everyone clustered in the shady sections, avoiding the punishing sun. Papelbon blew a lead while a sun-baked fanatic vigorously heckled him. Passionate – or crazy? Or maybe heat stroke.
Bull Durham was on cable a couple of weeks ago. It’s one of those movies that you can’t turn off once it comes on. It’s a movie about baseball that can be enjoyed by people who have never seen the game. And it’s filled with great bits of Zen-like wisdom:
This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
Football is far more popular than baseball these days. With its brief moments of violence interrupted by litigation and commercials, the game is an accurate representation of America in 2016. It’s what we are, a representation of our bloodlust, stupidity and greed.
Baseball is what we aspire to be – simple, fair and timeless. That’s why it retains its appeal, even among people like me who rarely see a game. Let’s hope it stays that way.