Wednesday, April 24, 2013

America's Pastime: Why We Love Baseball

Since the start of the NBA playoffs has already been covered in depth by my co-writers (and the fact that I’ve missed every game because a move to a new house took away my TV, internet, and running water), I thought I’d dedicate today’s column to America’s pastime. My apologies for completely neglecting Opening Day – I’m going to make it up to you by sharing the top 5 (extremely objective, of course) traditions that make baseball great. And if you're lucky, I might throw in some of my experiences from Orioles games for good measure.

5. The First Pitch

This mainly applies to your team's home opener, even if it's not the first game of the season. You might have been there for such a game - the team runs out to the roar of the crowd, the pitcher tosses a couple more just for good measure, and the crowd turns from an excited chatter to a low murmur of excitement. There's a buzz, a feeling of electricity in the ballpark, and that goes double if you have an ace pitcher on your staff. The other team's leadoff batter is almost NEVER swinging at the first pitch of the season, so your pitcher has no excuse but to zip one down the middle. STEEEEEE-RIIIIIIIIIIKEEEEEEE. Awesome. After the fact, it feels a little anticlimactic, but the buildup to the first pitch is truly great. Here's an example:

Oh wait, that was John Wall throwing out the worst first pitch ever. Here's what I mean:

Shit, that's Carly Jae Jepsen throwing out the first pitch for the O's! And somehow she was better than Wall! One more try:

Ok so that wasn't his first pitch of the season, but you get the idea - the home crowd loves it.

4. The Heckling

This varies a great deal from park to park. In my experience the level of heckling ranges anywhere from "nonstop but respectful" (Washington Nationals), to "nonstop and consistently over the line" (Baltimore Orioles), to "the only player I know is Andrew McCutchen" (Pittsburgh Pirates), to "crickets chirping" (former Florida Marlins). Nonetheless it is generally hilarious and prime entertainment. The best is when the heckling is clever enough to be PG for the young children there, yet intimidating enough to actually affect the other team's performance. A quick story from an O's game -

I'm sitting in the third row behind home plate (thanks friend from Baltimore) and there's this meathead Marine looking guy in the first row. It's like 7th or 8th inning, and he's absolutely housed at this point. Like "scream at the cotton candy guy and throw money at him" hammered. It's a fairly close game but not many people are there since it's a day game on a weekday. Thus, probably half the stadium could hear this dude. 

Everyone's favorite journeyman Lyle Overbay comes to bat, who is already 0/2 with 2 strikeouts on the day. Prime material for my boy in the front row: "Overbay strikeout!" he yells. Overbay looks back quickly before shrugging it off. Pitcher zips one down the middle for strike one. "OVERBAY STRIKOUT!!", a little louder this time. Overbay stares back at the guy for a full 3 seconds before re-entering the batters box. Pitcher throws one high and Overbay fouls it off for strike two. 


he is deliriously jumping up and down and shaking the foul ball net at this point. Overbay can't even look back at this point. You can probably guess what happens next: pitcher throws one way outside and Overbay swings and misses by about 7 feet. Our section erupts in laughter at this hammered dude that just completely mindfucked Lyle Overbay. Heckling is the best.

3. The Ballpark Traditions

By the "ballpark traditions", I'm talking about the little quirks that make every stadium experience different from one another. Like Wrigley Field singing "Take me out to the ballgame" at the 7th inning stretch. Or Fenway singing "Sweet Caroline". Or the Miller Park sausage race at Brewers games. 

The Orioles play "Cotton Eye Joe" and "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" at the 7th inning stretch, and it's hilarious to watch everyone try and sing along when no one actually knows the words. This is worth your time:

My personal favorite tradition is the "home run beer shower" that happens at Ole Miss games after a home run. Ok yeah that's a college team and I'm cheating; don't care. This needs to be witnessed:

2. The Pregame

Let's be honest, the best part about baseball games is the drinking. It's not like football where every game affect your playoff chances dramatically and you can hardly enjoy yourself, or basketball that isn't outdoors and isn't really a drinking sport. In baseball the summer games hardly matter and you can drink to your heart's content outdoors, in beautiful weather. And nothing beats the pregame. 

Maybe it's at a bar across the street, maybe a tailgate in the parking lot outside the stadium, or maybe you're passing around a water bottle of Captain Morgan on the light rail to the stadium. I'll let you guess which one is me. You're right, it was #3! In this case I blacked out on the light rail and when I came to, it was the fourth inning, we were down 11-0 to the Red Sox, and I was smoking a cigarette in the right field bleachers. If that isn't a microcosm of an Orioles season, I don't know what is. 

1. The Walk-Off

God, there is NOTHING like the sound of a walk off home run, one of those that you know is gone as soon as you hear the crack of the bat. Nothing puts an exclamation point on your day like going to a game and having your team win on a walk off. Hey, Matt Wieters, a curtain call please?

And that is what makes baseball great. Now if only Charlotte can work on getting a team...hey, they couldn't be worse than the Bobcats and Panthers, right?

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