Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baseball in Seattle: Give us a hug

I'll preface these comments by noting that some may be offended by my cynicism.

One activity exists in our great, vast land which has become widely accepted as America's pastime. Its tradition is as rich a meandering family tree, and its heritage spans two-thirds of our nation's history. I'm speaking of baseball.

I love the game. I love its pastoral setting, its relaxed pace, its appeal to young and old, male and female. I grew up playing the game, staining my jeans on the outfield grass, grinding the infield dust between my molars, getting drilled in the elbow by an eleven-year-old's errant pitch. Baseball is a kids' game.

Which is why Major League Baseball, an assembly of the world's elite players, play the game with the same exuberance and joy that they did as children. Certainly, they've developed their bodies to gargantuan proportions and traded in their Double Bubble for massive wads of Beechnut or Red Man. When they win, they roll around on the ground in a muscly mass; when they're mad, they throw tantrums and helmets and dirt.

They're constantly expectorating. At the end of every game, each side's dugout has the appearance of a daycare around four o'clock, after the kids have had all the Gatorade and sunflower seeds they can consume. The floor is a slick mixture of tobacco juice, seed shells and paper cups.

The players never seem comfortable. They're constantly adjusting their hats, their lucky neck chains, their jerseys, and of course, their protective cups. Those things seem to slide around so much that these guys must be constantly checking to make sure their naughty bits haven't just shriveled up and fallen off from all that human growth hormone. But, hey that's baseball. We take the good with the illegal.

I live in Seattle. We have our own Major League team here, the Mariners, but things are different. Since the franchise's inception in 1977 (back when the players didn't need to check their cups because their pants were tighter than Batman's), I've maintained a steady loyalty. Nobody around these parts cared much about the team, especially since they played the summertime games inside a gloomy dome.

Everything changed in 1995, when the Mariners, against all odds, defeated the New York Yankees to reach the American League Championship Series. A new breed of Seattle baseball fan was born during that season, a fan who didn't care as much about the team winning as they did feeling good about the guys who played. Over the ensuing years, and with the construction of a sparkling new ballpark, these folks seemed more concerned with having every Ichiro bobblehead given away at the gate. Once inside, they cheered louder for the dancing grounds crew or the digital hydroplane races on the big screen than for an inning-ending double play.

Here in Seattle, its all about feeling good. Rather than adopting slogans like "Go to Hell, Angels," they go with "You've gotta love these guys." A few years ago, a large group of fans attempted to enter the park with "Yankees Suck" signs. They were politely confiscated by smiling ushers. Few fans heckle opposing players at Safeco Field; it just wouldn't be polite. Since I work in the fashion industry, I thought it might be witty to shout, "Hey, A-Rod, that black lace camisole shows through your pinstripes!" I'll be taking that one off my list.

Seattle's a great place to live, with lots of entertainment options, and I'm tired of attending hug fests. I want a World Series.

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