In the decade or so since I started keeping an eye on professional baseball, America's pastime and I haven't exactly had a love-hate relationship, but what can be better described as the more apathetic like-"meh" relationship.
While I certainly don't dislike baseball, growing up as a hockey-phile north of the 49th Parallel has primed me to favor faster-paced, consistently-flowing sports over ones that take a slower, more methodical approach to completion.
So, at the very least, I've always found watching an actual, full-length game on television somewhat tedious—unless I'm enjoying it with a relatively-large contingent of friends and beer, or simulating my own outcomes through the medium of a Nintendo Gamecube controller.
But that isn't to say that there aren't aspects of baseball that I don't revel in.
Sure, I do like wearing baseball hats. For team support, fashion, and practicality.
That episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns brings in ringers for the Springfield Nuclear Plant softball team is still one of my favourites. (LORD PALMERSTON!)
And I did almost get my Grade Six class banned from playing baseball during recess, due to my careless tendency to hurl the bat behind me upon running to first, oftentimes nailing the catcher in the process (look, I hit a kid in the throat once, it was an accident).
So while baseball may never hold the key to my heart as far as sports are concerned, there are elements of the culture that do still resonate with me. Perhaps it can have a key to my kidney or something.
Ranking above all of the merchandise and all of injuries I've inflicted, however, is actually getting to attend a baseball game.
Something about the atmosphere of being at the ballpark from the first time that I sat in the grandstands at Telus Field to watch the Edmonton Trappers (now the Round Rock Express of the Pacific Coast League) has always made me enjoy being at the stadium, watching the action unfurl right before my eyes.
Maybe it's the ninth-inning tension. Maybe it's the crowd around me throwing up arms as a home run sails over the wall. Maybe it's the hope that you'll take home an errant ball, even if you have to bulldoze through a dozen eight-year-olds and barehand that sucker just to do so.
Either way, like all sports, you appreciate it more when you're watching it live.
So when I was planning out my summer, and came to the conclusion that I wanted to visit New York for the second time—my first visit taking place in May 2007—I saw a window of opportunity and my mission suddenly became clear: not only was I going to attend a baseball game; I was going to attend my first Major League Baseball game.
Strike that one from from my to-do list.
Prior to 2007, I would've naturally assumed that my first tryst with Major League Baseball would take place in either one of two places—Safeco Field in Seattle or the Rogers Centre in Toronto (respectively, because the former is the closest MLB destination to Edmonton, and the latter being home to the only Canadian team.)
However, with New York suddenly becoming a distinct possibility as the location in which to lose my Major League virginity, who the hell was I to say "no"?
The weather was absolutely perfect for a baseball game that day, as my friend and I walked out of our hotel on 42nd and Lexington, literally steps away from Grand Central Station.
I had the whole thing mapped out in my head: take the Seven train to Willets Point, hit the stairs down to ground level, avoid the temptation to weave through the crowd to hit up the souvenir stand, prepare to crane neck upward. Google Maps claimed that the duration of the trip would be 28 minutes, but I'm pretty sure it didn't take that long.
Prior to arriving in New York, I had failed to do any proper research on Major League stadiums to know what kind of seating capacity to expect, but it's safe to say that, at least in terms of the crowd size, Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton's pro football venue, home to 62,000 raging Eskimos fans at full capacity) seemed like my safest familiar comparable.
Initial perceptions aside, it only turned out to hold 41,000 to 45,000 people.
Regardless, Telus Field and your lacklustre 10,000 seats: eat your heart out.
By the time I arrived at my seat, the top of the first was almost complete (with the Dodgers already on the board). My seat was in the Promenade Box, which isn't technically nosebleed country, but pretty damn close.
Nevertheless, outside of the foul pole being directly in my field of view—taking the batter's box out of the equation unless I leaned to the right and got all up in my neighbor's personal radius—the view was still pretty decent for $42.
Being that far up, however, I found that if my mind drifted for a moment, I would miss something like semi-important, like a batter reaching full count or Dodgers infielder Orlando "O-Dog" Hudson going down after being clocked in the knee (which I actually didn't realize had happened until I watched SportsCenter later that night).
Perhaps next time, it would be worth my while to pony up and buy a closer seat—you know, on account of my apparent baseball-related ADD and all.
One of the few complaints I have about my outing to Citi Field is the poor choice of the stadium's location—and, yes, I'm aware that it's built in the same area that Shea Stadium once stood. Don't fret, though: this isn't a knock against Flushing; rather, this one's postmarked to the New York Airport Authority.
During the first inning, I noticed an Air Canada jet fly over and quickly pointed it out to my friend, being that we're just a pair of crazy Canucks and we're inevitably going to mark out over anything in New York that even remotely references Canada (damn tourists, right?). It was flying low as it was making its descent, so I naturally assumed that we were located within an airport's flight plan.
Boy, was I right.
And, of course, as the jet flew over of us, I neglected to remember the sheer number of planes that fly in and out of New York on any given day. But, don't worry, this quickly became apparent to me as about five more planes would fly over us during that inning alone.
I'm not sure how many came by during the entire three-hour game (I'd have to assume around 25–30, if not more), but the loud noise that cuts into the baseball experience every ten or so minutes and subconsciously forces you to look up really takes away from the game. Maybe season ticket holders and Citi Field regulars are used to it, but I found it quite distracting.
For the most part, the Mets fans in our section were friendly, not obnoxious—by and large, they seemed to have plenty of pride for their team, just not so much in the faith department. Or maybe it was Livan Hernandez that they didn't have faith in. One or the other.
I even had a brief conversation with a middle-aged, lifelong Mets fan and his wife, as they spotted that I was sporting a vintage Jays ballcap (with a modified colour scheme).
"So, you're a Blue Jays fan, huh?"
"Ha, so you must be pretty unhappy about all the Roy Halladay trade talks, huh?"
"... yeeeeeah, I'd rather not talk about it."
We did talk about it, though, and both had a good chuckle about it afterwards—he learned that, in an ideal world, I would rather see Doc re-sign with the Jays, and everyone to live happily ever after; I, on the other hand, learned that he'll be content either way, as long as Halladay isn't traded to the Phillies. Sounds about right.
Speaking of interesting exchanges, I followed that up with another one during the bottom of the sixth when I got up to get a pretzel and beer (by the way, happy to see that concession prices are just as ridiculous as they are this side of the border).
When I asked for a beer and he, naturally, asked me for ID, he took one good look at my driver's license and said to himself, "...Alberta?! Who lives in Alberta?!"
Confused, I replied, "What was that?"
Of course, at this point, I can only assume that he's not familiar with Alberta. With some Americans, there are only two locations north of the 49th Parallel that are retained in their geographic memory: Canada and Toronto.
Occasionally, you'll get someone who knows Montreal. Or maybe Vancouver. Or, somehow, Moose Jaw.
But I find, more often than not, you either tell them you're from Canada, or from Toronto (if that's where you're actually from) and they'll know what you're talking about. Judging by the young vendor's reaction, he might've been confusing Alberta with Albania. Or maybe he was just stoned out of his gourd.
So, he fires back, "Seriously dude, who lives in Alberta?!"
Not sure what he's really asking me, I rebutted, "...Uhhh, so apparently I do!"
Once again, a good laugh was had by both parties—only this time, I went back to my seat with a pretzel, a beer, and a whole lot of unanswered questions.
Amidst everything that was going on in the crowd and the concession area during my first Major League experience, however, I feel like I'm forgetting to mention something important...
Oh crap, that's right—there was a baseball game going on!
Despite the fact that this particular game didn't feature any home runs, or any truly incredible feats of athleticism, there were moments that stood out as memorable.
Getting to watch Orlando Hudson get caught in a rundown between second and third base during the first inning provided a good start to the entertainment. I mean, don't get me wrong, we've all seen better rundowns—but it's not everyday that I'm in New York watching baseball. You give me a rundown, I'll take it.
As a more consistent feature to the entire three-hour span, chiming with the chorus of boos that rained down upon Manny Ramirez provided some entertainment, along with a few unpolished quips from select fans about Manny's use of female fertility drugs. Everyone's a comedian!
On the minus side, I didn't get to see Carlos Delgado (one of my favorite ball players retroactive to his time in Toronto) play, and the team that I decided I was going to cheer for got whomped 11–2. But on the plus side, without even realizing it at the time, I got to watch Ryan Church's last game with the Mets, as he was dealt to Atlanta the very next day (I'm not sure why that's on the plus side, but just run with it anyway.)
And at the very least, since no one smacked one out of the park, the Dodgers provided a solid hitting game and took the score into double-digits, as they dissected the Swiss cheese-esque Mets defense all night long.
So, perhaps it wasn't the greatest baseball game ever played, but for a first game, not too shabby. Though I'm certain my next MLB experience will be, for the most part, different (assuming that it's not at Citi Field), I still plan on having as many MLB experiences as possible.
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