Monday, August 24, 2009

The Greatest Game on Dirt

I went to a baseball game in Cleveland yesterday. Tragically, the Mariners lost (their play was very lackluster and we'll-gettum-next-year-esque even though they are technically still contenders this year). But it was baseball and thus a good day. And a couple of things happened that really entertained me on a student-of-human-nature front.

1. We showed up in time for batting practice. The visiting team usually takes BP second, so the Mariners were on the field and the Mariners bullpen was spread across the outfield catching fly balls and periodically flipping them into the stands. We went down onto the homerun porch in right where a couple dozen kids in Cleveland garb were clamoring to be given baseballs with constant shouts of "Over here!"

We watched Saturday's starter sprint across the outfield like he wanted to be Torii Hunter while his fellow pitchers stood in clusters chatting, occasionally picking up a baseball that rolled in their direction. We listened to the kids around us growing more desperate and more creative (and definitely louder) in their shouts as they were largely ignored by the pair of relief pitchers standing in right field. Then the bullpen coach, John Wetteland, trotted out.

He chatted with his pitchers, listened to the clamoring and then turned and wandered up to the fence with a couple of baseballs in his glove. He announced they were doing a sort of "case study". I couldn't really make out the rest of what he said because the kids were thrown into a frenzy of "Over here!"s by the proximity of the balls in his glove. After a few minutes wandering back and forth along the fence listening to the chaos, he seemed to get what he was looking for and flipped those two balls to a couple of kids right down front. A few minutes later he came back. This time, as the kids started their screaming, I heard him yell, "Yeah, we've established you're over there!" But the kids kept screaming it. Over and over and over. Finally, I shouted (had to in order to be heard) to the kid directly in front of me that he should say Please. He didn't hear me any more than he had heard the bullpen coach, but his mother did. She told him to say please. He did. And John Wetteland of the Seattle Mariners Coaching Staff tossed him a ball within five seconds of hearing that magic word. Shortly thereafter, the kids standing next to him caught on and there was a new shout, instead of "Over here!"

The sad thing? Not one of those kids thought of it themselves. And he had to wait a long time when he first wandered over to the fence to get that first please. Kudos, John Wetteland, on teaching manners and positive reinforcement, but what does it say about our society that instead of saying, "Please, sir, may I have a baseball?", a child's first inclination is to just scream "I'm over here!" as loud as they can and anticipate that whatever they want will be given to them. Is entitlement so rampant in our culture that they have forgotten the usefulness of the word please?

2. BP ended, the kids dispersed, we found our seats and the game began. The Indians are in the cellar so attendance was patchy and there were only two people in the entire row in front of us - a little girl with adorable blonde curls and her mother (grandmother? aunt?). My first awareness of this pair came in the middle of the first inning, when the little girl turned to her older-female-relative-type-person and asked what the score was. It was nil/nil. The Indians had yet to score their first run. But Mama (or whoever) didn't know that. She was gazing raptly at the game as if enthralled, but had no idea what the score was. I was puzzled.

Then Travis Hafner came up to bat and the little girl, who couldn't be more than ten but looked much younger than that, announced that he was hers. She was Mrs. Elizabeth Hafner. Her female-guardian-type-person then engaged in a mock argument over which of them got Hafner. This was a little creepy to me, partially due to the fact that Hafner is in his thirties and little Elizabeth is clearly not. I know kids like to pretend all sorts of things (hey, I like pretend myself. I'm all about fiction), but isn't she a little young to be throwing herself at ball players? Maybe she's a writer in training, and I'll someday read about her heroine's dramatic affair with a major leaguer, but something about the way she said it got my squick meter running high.

As the game progressed, Elizabeth would periodically turn to Mama (or whoever) and ask if the player at bat was cute. Not if he was a good player. Not if he ought to bunt or swing away, but whether he was cute. This sort of, "What do you think, Mommy? Is that one doable?" started to drive me nuts.

It bothered me in the exact same way a pair of women at a Mariners/White Sox game years ago bugged the hell out of me. They were so busy leaning over the rail trying to peer into the dugout to get a glimpse of Alex Rodriguez's ass, that they didn't even realize Edgar Martinez had just hit a three run homer to put the Mariners ahead. They didn't love the game. They loved the opportunity to ogle and objectify male athletes in snug pants. The female fan.

And I wonder why none of my male friends believe I know anything about the game when they first hear I'm a baseball junkie? Sheesh.

I love baseball. I could (and probably will at some point) wax poetic about all the things I love about baseball, but for the moment I'm going to leave it at the fact that it is a mental game. The odds are bad. You are batting against your own doubt, even more than the other team's relief pitcher with 98mph heat. Baseball is a sport, a superstition, and a bizarre alchemy of ability, teamwork, and magic. It's fear and arrogance. (<-Bonus for identifying the reference.)

I love this game, but I have never been (and hopefully never will be) the kind of girl who leans over railings to stare at asses. There are plenty of opportunities to appreciate the male form without acting like construction workers whistling at passersby. When did this reverse sexism become okay? When did objectifying the male ass become so damn popular? When did baseball players stop being heroes and become booties? And why? Is this the same reason romance covers feature the rippling abdomens of shirtless men? I don't buy my books based on eye-candy, but am I in the minority? I'd rather have a cover evoke a mood, a sense of heat or sultryness or humor or whatever is appropriate for the book than gaze at the hard packed six on some male model who looks nothing like the hero.

And somehow I've gotten from baseball to cover art. Mrg.

I'm feeling out of step. Kids who can't say please or are on the road to bending over railings to stare at asses... it's demoralizing to me. Is that the direction we're headed as a society? Am I the only one bothered by this?


Leah Braemel said...

I love baseball - I grab the program and fill in the scoresheet, keeping track of all the runs and hits. Love it!

The story of the little girl bothered me - I think the comment about "is that one doable" the scariest. What mother/parental unit discusses with her under ten year old that a guy is do-able? Definitely not a great role model there.

It seems we're going backward instead of progressing. :(

Vivi Andrews said...

Who's your team, Leah? I'm a Mariners junkie. :)