My mom, who raised me alone, said when I was a kid that she would come to every game if I wanted to play Little League, but I knew how she felt about team sports, which was the same as how she felt about unrefrigerated potato salad at the picnic. Besides, we lived hours from the nearest stadium, the games were not on TV, and we did not have a TV. My friends and I devised a game instead called horse tag, where those who were “it” rode a Quarter Horse full-tilt through the woods to flush “hiders” and try to smack them with a tetherball on a rope as they ran away down the trails.
I would still rather attend the Horse Tag Finals than set out to watch the average big-league sporting event. This has put me at a distinct disadvantage, as you might imagine, in things such as American man-banter, golf-course deal-making, and employment in the head offices of major sports teams. But since we moved to the St. Louis Metro area, I have found myself at Cardinals games about once a year—and enjoyed them.
There is still a strong element of anthropological study in it for me, so I missed Albert Pujols hitting a homer in the second against the Dodgers last night because I was wondering if the older guy eating a hot dog up on the fourth deck was an off-duty usher, since the ushers seemed to know him personally, or just a superfan, and how in the world that eight-year old kid calling out, “Let’s go, Cardinals,” over and over, exactly the same way, for three hours straight, could project his voice so impossibly loudly, down all the tiers of seating to first base, that I would have to be dropped at Barnes Jewish Hospital later to get ear replacements.
It was a beautiful night, and as the innings passed and the skyline darkened I thought of how sports events, like anything else, could be opportunities for enlightenment; one of their great qualities is that they just are, like the cities that host them, and have their own inexorable pacing, long histories, and minute intricacies, which demand presence. My friend and I were talking between innings; he had received a very emotional gift of an original news photo of his father, 12 years old, standing on the dugout at a Cubs game, and we talked about the rituals and occasions for family memories that baseball created.
I said all that had seemed like a very urban thing to me when I was young and living in a little coal town, and since I had no father to take me to games I missed out on the generational part of it. The older guy who had finished his dog turned to look at me, and my young friend said, referring to my sons, who were off getting nachos, You have it now.