13 July 2008

On One Thing, At Least, Being Universal

Nothing else has reinforced how different this place is on the scale of the baseball game I attended last night. It was surreal. When you are really familiar and comfortable with something like a sport, something that you have spent a goodly part of your life spectating, and then see it turned inside out, it is quite shocking. I kept saying to Clayton: "I feel like I am a parallel universe."

Not even the field looked familiar. The infield dirt was black. It wasn't unpleasing to the eye, it just looked weird. My high school gym used to have a basketball court covered in orange carpet. One of the Division I football stadiums has blue astroturf. It is disconcerting. The pattern tells the brain that something else is expected. The park itself was a bowl tipped up so a large proportion of the seats were behind the plate. Smallish, maybe 30,000 seats. Packed. General admission. No sky boxes. If you want a good seat or care to sit in the loony section above the cheerleader deck (located about halfway up the bowl behind the home dugout, you needed to get there very early. I got there very early, but that Korean teacher with the tickets got there right before the game and I sat behind the left field foul pole in what would have been $50 tickets at Busch. Ours, everyone's in fact, were 7000 won ($7). You know, everything else considered, it really was delightful to go to a ballgame and not have to take $200. I bought everything I saw that I wanted (except a Giants hat), left full and pleasantly buzzed, and spent about 40000 won. Nice.

The crowd was enthusiastic, drummed up (literally) by a crew of professional cheerleaders, the chief of whom was an odd fellow in a Giants uniform complemented by knee-high white zipper boots. He jumped and gesticulated and fist pumped and did the Elvis pelvis and the electric slide, all with an Asian chic that made you think he was the love child of a samurai warrior and Richard Simmons. He was assisted by four young cheerleader types (whose attendance was apparently underwritten by Gatorade) and a set of drummers who pounded huge base drums nearly the entire time. There was both a song for each home player's at bat and a set of syncopated cheers for every situation (including a failed pick off throw by the opposing pitcher ["Ha!Ha!Hahahahaha!"], slugger up with man on second ["Oh home! Drive me hooooome!" (apropos on multiple levels)], and, quite astutely, the suspected balk). This went on pretty much the entire game.

The line-up. Fairly typical, but with one culturally induced problem. In the Korean league, each team is allowed two foreign players. In the case of the Giants, they have a fat white American pitcher and a Mexican named Ramirez. Ramirez is easily the best hitter on the team. He bats eighth. The obese and utterly talentless Korean third baseman (who couldn't even cover a relatively stiff bunt late in the game and struck out with men on base four times) bats fourth. This is a Korean thing. Their league, their guy bats fourth. The Mexican bats eighth. This third baseman, whose song is sung the loudest and with the most heartbreaking enthusiasm, is so crappy that they actually attempted to steal third with one out while he was up. They failed. He whiffed. Inning over. (There is a slight possibility that this was a hit and run, I know. But given this guy's utter inability to make contact, that would seem an even stupider call.)

The food: No peanuts. No hot dogs. No cracker jacks. You could take your own beer in but it didn't cost any more to buy it from a vendor if you didn't. The fare included the ubiquitous boxes of fried chicken (a little spicy, but not bad) that they serve at the beach and every other place where crowds gather, smoked ham hocks sliced on the bone (I made friends with a group of men in front of me and we traded liquor [I had brought along some 112 proof Chinese corn likker I had bought at breakfast and poured them some...they thought they were getting 42 proof soju...OMG! the look on that guy's face...it brings tears to my eyes {btw: sorry for all the embedded parentheticals}] and they fed me some of this from their own chopsticks god love 'em...it was tasty, too), and the various preparations of squid (both dried [think cat food jerky], grilled whole, and pan fried whole. There were also "ices": bowls shaved ice topped with red bean paste and fruit. I didn't try those. We had brought a generous supply of our own liquor and bought more (I got 10 beers for what I would have got two at Busch stadium. And I know what you're thinking but don't worry, I didn't drink them all. I only drank eight).

The game went into the ninth tied at zero. The crowd was, by this point, pretty well rubbed up. The home starter got into a jam in the top of the inning and was pulled after throwing a mere 169 pitches. The pitcher that came in gave up the go-ahead run and the Giants came to bat needing at least one run to keep their hopes alive. Let me at this point paint a picture of the assembled onlookers. Every man, woman and child in the park (including me and excluding Clayton, who is a Canadian and a hockey fan and thus has what he termed "dignity") had an orange plastic grocery bag inflated, tied shut, and lodged firmly atop their heads, the loops of the handles secured beneath the ears. This is apparently the Korean version of the rally cap. The bags had been sent out during the eighth and passed row by row to all the reaches of the stadium and hurriedly affixed to all heads alike in the manner heretofore explained. (They are handed out in the eighth of every game, no matter the score. The spectators use them to clean the stadium before they leave. Did I tell you I love this place?)

The throng, a bobbing sea of orange screaming in unison a cheer of unknown wording to the tune of "We're not gonna take it" by Twisted Sister, stood to watch the proceedings. The Giants got a runner and an out and a couple more runners and another out and if Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon were in attendance, which thank God he wasn't, he would have said "Old Abner has done it again," (see note) because it is his oft pronounced observation that the likelihood that the home team's slugger will come up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs and one run down is disproportionately large. And that is exactly what happened.

The crowd was in a state of delirium at this point. Most of them were obliterated anyway and the combination of grocery bag blowing and cheer screaming had reduced their condition only further. This was not improved by Ramirez running the count full. And as he stepped to the plate for the final time I recalled the words to the most famous of all baseball poems, "Casey at the Bat," and thought to myself, "No, please God, no. Not this time." Because the other statistical anomaly of baseball is that if the home team's slugger comes up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded and the home team is one run down and the count is full then that slugger will strike out. And that is exactly what happened.

Note: Abner Doubleday is the mythic inventor of baseball, which he did in a Cooperstown, NY cow pasture in 1839 despite being in attendance at West Point at the time. Mike Shannon, a rare metaphysical determinist and an idiot, believes that Abner somehow had the forethought to...never mind.