Recently, I went to a major league baseball game by myself. I used to do this once in a while, mostly in the eighties when I spent a summer in Toronto and could bike to the game and buy a six dollar ticket. It was nineteen eighty-seven, the year the Jays blew a three and a half game lead to the Detroit Tigers in the last week of the season. It was a collapse that was painful to watch. I wasn’t all that invested in the Jays but I felt for the die-hards because it reminded me of the Expos just missing out over and over again just a few years earlier.
I’ve gone to games by myself a few times since but it’s been a few years. And as much as I like shooting the bull and all the musings associated with talking baseball with a pal, I think I prefer watching a game alone.
On this late summer night, it was my intention to buy a cheap ticket and just move around the park, wherever and whenever I wanted to. It’s September in a losing season so empty seats aren’t hard to find. But I found a $120 ticket for thirty bucks online twenty-five minutes before the game and I couldn’t resist.
I was fourteen rows up from third base. My sightline was perpendicular to the pitch path. I could see curves, sliders, change-ups, high and low… the only thing I couldn’t see was the in and out on the plate. I found myself starting to call the game with the catcher. Throw the curve. Slider now on the 1-2. Make em show you he can hit the fastball. The only way to learn is to do it.
Some leather-lunged fan (that’s what they used to call hecklers who could be heard all though a ballpark when ballparks were much smaller) was giving it pretty hard to the visiting third base coach. It was so random. Who heckles a third base coach? It was funny and embarrassing all at the same time. Part of the experience at the park you miss when watching a game on TV or listening on the radio (my favourite).
I went to the bleachers next. The left field bleachers. A kid and his dad were taking pictures with the Sportsnet TV people. I sat beside a row of eight year old boys. They looked to be from the same school or maybe it was a birthday party. They had chants. They had songs. It was pure. It made me laugh and it made me smile. I wished I was eight years old again for the first time in about a month.
I don’t sit in the bleachers very often but it’s only from this perspective that one can understand how far a homer travels. How big the outfield is. How good the athleticism is. And how lonesome the life of an outfielder is. With spring training and perhaps the playoffs, an outfielder stands alone a football field’s distance from any team mate for 200 games a year. Alone with his thoughts. An hour and a half every day to make three or four catches. Maybe sixty seconds of action. An hour of anticipation for a minute of the most critical game-changing performance. And if you make a mistake once a week, you’re a bum. And you have all that time to think about your last strike out. It’s a position for philosophers.
I talked to a cop. I asked him how he got the gig, curious if he was a baseball fan. He was, but it was work, he said. Union lists and sign up sheets etc. He said he rarely works Fridays. I asked why. He said because country concerts are the worst. I assumed it was because he hated the music but it was because country music fans are the worst drunks. The Rogers Centre ejected 200 Luke Bryan fans. And I had no idea that a stadium can lose its liquor licence. But it can. And it once did.
In about the seventh inning, I sat right behind home plate. Twenty rows up. I picked a row that was empty and a few minutes later, some twenty year old kid, with his dad and his brother, rudely and loudly stated that I was in their seats. I was polite and moved over. But I wanted to tell him he was being unnecessarily obnoxious. But I didn’t. Be nice. I’ll move. It’s September for a 90 loss team. Lighten up.
I finished the game in the third row, right behind the dugout. I could practically smell the pine tar. I sat beside a couple all decked out in Cleveland Indians stuff. I asked them if they came to Toronto often for games. He said, I’m from Toronto. I said, How the hell did a thirty year old kid from Toronto become an Indians fan? He said, the first time he saw the movie Major League he was hooked. I laughed and let it go. Jesus, that’s stupid. But I admired his dedication.
The Jays won. In the bottom of the eleventh. I left a few minutes before the walk-off homer because I’d been there for four hours and that was enough. I wasn’t there for the score. I never once cared about the score. I cared about the dimensions of the field. I cared about kids having fun. I cared about the 90 feet from home to first that still makes close plays in the same way it did a hundred and fifty years ago. I cared about bleacher creatures. I cared about ushers and cops. I cared about the folks selling me a hot dog. I cared about how hard it is to be a big league ball player. I cared about everything that doesn’t go into the baseball encyclopedia.
Seven seats in eleven innings. Perspectives.
When I took the train home, after the game, I felt like I was the only one to have seen what I had seen.
It was a privilege. It was my secret. I saw a game no one else saw. A meaningless game near the end of a lost season was my field of dreams.