I love baseball. I grew up watching the Yankees suffer through the misery of the '80s -- despite having Mattingly and Winfield and Guidry -- on WPIX Channel 11, listening to Phil Rizzuto exclaim, "Holy cow!" whenever a Yankee hit a home run. I remember watching Mookie Wilson's ground ball roll through the legs of the hobbled Bill Buckner and the twinge of being so happy with someone's failure. My dad has lost what was once a passionate interest, out of disgust with what he sees as the ascendance of greed as the motivating principle in professional athletics. But I still watch.
During my first months in San Diego, I lived at La Pensione hotel in Little Italy. My dinnertime ritual involved turning on a ball game, boiling water and cooking spaghetti in my electric skillet, heating one-half cup of Trader Joe's tomato-basil sauce in the microwave, and sitting down to eat in front of the tube. The game kept me company and kept me from talking to myself too much. I watch less now – enjoying baseball on television requires a meditative spirit, one that wife and child frequently impinge on, and rightly so – but I haven't lost interest.
So when my friend Ernie called and asked whether I wanted to go see Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, I said yes. I had just returned from out of town, and I knew my wife Deirdre wanted to spend some time with me, so I told Ernie to get a ticket for her, too. The cheapest seats ran $30 a pop, so those were what we got -- way up in the nosebleed section in deep right field, the seats that hang out over the parking lot, with nothing, but nothing beneath.
I got my first warning from the music -- chest-rattling rock 'n' roll that sought to generate head-banging, adrenaline-rush excitement before anything had happened. This here was a Party, and people were Getting Down and Getting Ready to Get It On. My son Fin loved it, shaking his head back and forth with wild abandon, grinning like a madman. On the big TV screen, the Swinging Friar -- this was a priest, mind you, the sort of person who reminds you to Keep the Faith -- was humping the air, pumping his pelvis in time with the music. Yeah, baby.
But hey, this was for the pennant, and people were feeling good. My real problem was with the guy sitting behind us, a guy I will affectionately refer to as Meathead. As soon as he sat down, a stream of fck, fckin', motherfcker, sht ("Fck that sht" -- an amazing notion) and so on began to drop from his mouth like manure from a horse's hinder.
If my Deirdre and Finian were not seated next to me, and right in front of him, I might not have minded so much. I try to avoid obscenity -- it betrays a lack of regard for others and vocabulary -- but I especially avoid it around women and children. Perhaps Meathead would regard this as an antiquated notion. Perhaps he would speak this way in the presence of his own wife and child -- I don't know. At the Clairemont Mesa In-N-Out, I once overheard a guy telling his buddies about taking his kid to Dirty Dan's Pure Platinum topless club, so I guess anything's possible.
When Meathead wasn't obscene, he was loud, the sort of loud that actually causes headaches. Over and over, without letup and without reason, he screamed, "Padres! Padres! Padres!" lingering on the a until you could hear his voice giving out, and beyond. I half expected to feel small chunks of his vocal cords raining down on my back. I'm not a prig. I'll whoop and cheer with the best of them, and I know that crowd noise can inspire a team, but the incessant quality of Meathead's enthusiasm made me wonder if it he wasn't getting psyched for the sake of getting psyched, taking the occasion of a baseball game to work himself into a frenzy.
Showman that he was, he saved the crowning moment for last. As we began the slow, defeated ant-march down the stairs and toward the exits, with Green Day serenading us on our way, hoping we had "the time of our lives," I wondered -- if I wasn't certain that Green Day was tickled pink with the green they received for letting the Padres use the song -- how they felt about their attempt at a poignant lamentation of the fleeting quality of life being used to make folks glad they just spent half a day getting to, watching, and getting home from a baseball game. Probably the same way the band Queen felt when their songs "We Will Rock You" and "We are the Champions" became the all-time anthems of macho jocks everywhere -- a scuffle broke out below us.
Each combatant bore the emblem of the team he loved, one Brave, one Padre. Upon noticing the altercation, Meathead screamed, with all the force his last unsnapped vocal cord could muster, "Kick his ass, Padres!" The Padres, of course, were in the locker room by this point. Our man had something grander in mind. It was as if the two fans were knights, bearing the colors of their kings, whose honor they were sworn to uphold in combat. "Kick his ass, Padres!" was akin to "Onward, England, for crown and country!" Less patriotic parties intervened, and the fight ended before it got started.
I still don't know if I should have said something. Meathead was a big guy and had some beers warming his belly. He seemed like the sort of person who might be prone to violence, something I would rather avoid under any circumstances but especially in the precariously steep environment of the Qualcomm nosebleed section. Besides, if a guy doesn't realize that you ought not to insert some form of "fuck" between every third word of your conversation when in the presence of a small boy and his mother, I question my ability to convince him of it. But it galled me, and still galls me, perhaps because I know my own dad would have said something, and probably would have gotten results.
I grew up in a college town, and over the years, several of the houses on my street were converted to student housing, much to my parents' dismay. Cortland State was once rated the number 11 party school in the nation by Playboy, and while that doesn't come close to SDSU, it's still good enough to ensure plenty of drunken hooting in the wee small hours. I don't know how many times Dad has put on a bathrobe and trudged down the street in his pajamas, so that he could talk to the hooters, remind them that this was a neighborhood, that people were trying to sleep. He didn't shout "SHUT UP!" from the window, he didn't go down there with attitude or threats -- he sought to make the partiers aware that they were not alone in the universe, even in the midst of their revelry.
Mom was never pleased with his forays -- Dad is not an especially big guy, and C-State gets a lot of phys-ed majors. But Dad has never gotten punched, and sometimes, his attempt to quiet things down without calling the cops has worked. Me, I just sat and stewed in my resentment, wanting to be angry with the boob behind me, knowing that anger wouldn't solve anything, and despairing of a more civil approach.
The standard reply to an objection to objectionable behavior is, "If you don't like it, don't look at/ listen to/ go near it." But it seems wrong to me that avoiding that kind of crude yahooism should mean avoiding taking my son to ball games.
When I was 11 or so, my Dad took me down to New York City to see the Yankees play, and while a bunch of guys in the next section were shouting and pouring beer on each other, I don't recall hearing anything like the carefree obscenity I heard this October, and I don't recall Yankee fans booing the opposition -- the better the player, the louder the boos. It's a little disconcerting to be able to look back on the good old days when you're only 25.