Saturday, August 01, 2009

Take Me Out The Ballgame

Another first last night. I tagged along with a bunch of interns and went to watch the Phillies play the Giants at AT&T park. It was not only my first ballgame, but also my first sports game.

Back in middle school, I used to be a big sports fan and remember avidly following the Giants in the early 2000s, those blissfully innocent pre-steroid scandal years. Those were the seasons Barry Bonds hit home runs 500, 71, and 73; Rob Nenn was a star closer with an unhittable slider; Eric Gagne was the Dodger's pitcher I most loved to revile; A-Rod was not an overpaid Yankee, but a Texas Ranger; Livan Hernandez and Jeff Kent were Giants; Randy Johnson was not (he was, and always will be, the DBacks Ace); and, oh, there was a little thing called the World Series that we got within 7 outs of winning before blowing it (to the Angels of Anaheim, not Los Angeles).

But going into yesterday's game, I honestly couldn't name a single player on the Giants roster. (Though I am shocked to learn that the Big Unit plays for SFO now!) I didn't know any of the fan favorites (who's "Kung Fu Panda"?) and had very little knowledge of the standings.

And while I don't remember too much about the game (Giants lost 5-1 and didn't play too well), it was still a very interesting experience. What I do remember instead are the sights, smells, shivers, and surprises.

The hustlers on the corner of King and 3rd Street peddling tickets as we walked up to the entrance of the ballpark. The long winding ramp leading up to the bleachers. The view out to the bay from behind right field. The tickling sea mist. The shock that the players looked much closer than I'd imagined from watching games on TV. The pungent smell of the garlic fries. The absurdly expensive diet coke. Feeling really thirsty after having some especially salty popcorn. The really silly games they would play on the big Jumbo-Tron ("Is Barry Zito's jersey number higher or lower than 42?"). The infamous seventh inning stretch. And more that I can't remember now...

We were sitting out in left field just below the big catcher's mitt and the prominent Coca-Cola bottle. I could just make out home plate from there, but as nothing really happened for most of the game, I didn't really pay much attention to the plate. Instead, I chatted up some of the people sitting around me. I met some old friends and some new ones. A couple people behind me didn't really know the rules of baseball, so I had fun translating some of the game's events.

"It's a full-count. That means there's 3 balls and 2 strikes. Another ball and it's a walk. And another strike and he's out." I hope the rules didn't seem too arcane to them. At the very least, I never had to explain what a balk was. Most unfortunately, I can't say the same about my first experience with watching a baseball game on TV. Randy Johnson was pitching and kept throwing back to first base to check the runner there. This happened for at least five minutes while the commentators talked about whether Johnson was balking and explained the concept. It's a miracle that I kept watching... I imagine I must have been quite bored.

After the seventh inning stretch, I began to realize there was little chance the Giants would come back to win. Several of us pulled out our iPhones and consulted the Caltrain schedules. After some debating over whether we could make the next train that would leave in 10-15 minutes, we decided to make a run for it.

Ten minutes till the train leaves. Down the stairs to the ballpark's exit. Now rounding the corner around the ballpark's exterior, the bay to the left. Seven minutes. Leaping past the statue of Willie Mays at the front of the park as we arrived at the intersection. A quick sprint, two blocks down. Wind in my hair, pure exhilaration. Four minutes. Another block across. Three minutes. Hurry into the station, fumbling with my wallet, quickly purchase a ticket from the kiosk. One minute. Flash my ticket at the conductor. And yes, aboard the train with seconds to spare.

And we're speeding away, back home, back to Hogwarts... No wait, I mean the South Bay, sigh... T'was a fun night.


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