April 21, 2009

A Fan’s Guide to Ballpark Etiquette

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“Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd.”
Most people do not have a problem following Jack Norworth’s famous first two lines, but it’s when they’re finally with the crowd, that the trouble ensues. They lack proper ballgame etiquette. It is precisely this lack of etiquette that has prompted this column.
Inevitably, if you are still reading this column, there is a good chance you will attend a baseball game this summer. If I am mistaken and you will not attend a single game this summer, you may return to your Star Wars convention, memorizing the periodic table, pinching babies or whatever else it is people who abstain from baseball do. This column is not exclusively for the baseball fan, but it is for any all-around sports fan who plans on attending future athletic events. The following are my “Top Five Rules for Attending Sporting Events.”
No. 1: Dress appropriately. Similar to other special occasions, there is a dress code for these events and it would behoove you to follow the basics. We have all seen “that guy.” Hopefully, you have never been “that guy.” He’s the guy who attends a Red Sox-Yankees game in a San Diego Chargers jersey. Unless this guy is LaDainian Tomlinson, I see no reason to sport the jersey — or any other team’s paraphernalia for that matter. It is perfectly acceptable to wear street clothes or business casual to the stadium, but if you choose to rock a team cap or jersey, make sure it belongs to one of the two teams playing on the field. Showing up to a Mets-Phillies game in a Detroit Tigers T-shirt is embarrassing and should be outlawed.
Ignorance is not an excuse either. This dress code applies to significant others as well, even if their level of sports interest is below average. If she gets to pick out your outfit when you meet her parents for the first time, then you get to pick out her clothes when she meets the Cubs’ starting lineup for the first time.
My favorite fan is the guy who wears a Dallas Cowboys jersey to a Dallas Mavericks game. What this guy is saying is that he knows which city he is supporting, and that’s it. To this man a pigskin and a basketball are interchangeable. Nice try, Buddy, maybe next time.
No. 2: No love for the glove. Bringing a mitt to a ballgame is a time honored tradition, but if you are over the age of 13, it is time to man up and leave the leather at home. Only you and the 40-year-old virgin still bring your glove to a ballgame. It was acceptable, even cool, when you played in Little League, but welcome to the Big Leagues, Sally, where real men catch homeruns with their bare hands.
No. 3: Treat balls hit into the stands like they are extra credit. Nothing should stand in the way of you and a foul ball. I had the good fortune of catching a homerun ball when the Mets defeated the Phillies at Veteran’s Stadium in 2000. I was sitting right above the bullpen in right field when Mike Piazza belted the game-winning blast in the ninth inning. As I extended my glove over the bullpen railing, several heavyset men simultaneously lunged for the ball, jarring it from my glove. (Please note: I was 12 years old at the time, so bringing my glove to the park was still acceptable.) The ball hung in the air for a split second before it was about to fall into the bullpen abyss. However, I snatched the ball with my non-glove hand and it now rests proudly next to my high school diploma.
Of course, this is the story that I tell people. The truth is that I was sitting in row 22 between home plate and first base when backup catcher Gary Bennett popped up a lazy foul ball in my direction. Apparently, the two elderly women sitting in front of me thought this would be a good time to stop their gabfest and make an attempt on my foul ball. They thought wrong.
The ball came crashing down to earth through Grandma’s frail, arthritic hands (Note: her compliance with rule No. 2) like a hot knife through butter. At that point, any hope of human decency or respect for one’s elders was eliminated. I was like a squirrel after a nut, Harry Potter after a snitch, Dr. Phil after a jelly donut, Kobe after that girl in Colorado … The old bird stood no chance as I instinctively scooped up the loose ball.
The two beleaguered women looked visibly upset and, yes, perhaps shouting “Boo-yah!” was a poor choice of words. Eventually, I returned to my seat and proudly showed the ball to my father, who wore the same expression on his face as my mother when I presented her with the necklace I made out of macaroni in kindergarten. Incidentally, this is the same man who only the previous summer was willing to leap over two rows of metal bleachers and a bewildered seven year-old girl to snare a lousy, giveaway T-shirt. The missile had been launched from a bazooka gun by Rascal, the mascot of the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. You would have thought my dad was pursuing Hank Aaron’s 715th home run ball and not a cheesy T-shirt with which he washed his car two weeks later.
No. 4: No hogging the camera. This is one of my least favorite trends in recent years. It does not matter what inning of the game it is — it could be the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes on the batter — yet there is always a smattering of fans behind home plate waving to the camera. With millions of viewers watching, these folks start waving their hands as if hailing a cab in midtown during a rainstorm. These people are the epitome of Antsy Hands Open Lots of Eyes Syndrome (A-HOLES). After calling every person in their cell phone during the first three innings and waving to them on television, one would assume the novelty wears off, but one would be wrong.
This is the saddest 15 minutes of fame a person could possibly hope for. These A-HOLES have the best seats in the stadium and yet they spend their time waving frantically at the camera. This is not a Miss America contest and these are definitely not Miss America contestants. We get it. Anytime Chipper Jones steps out of the batter’s box we will see you making a scene in the stands above his right shoulder. Awesome.
No. 5: Support your team, not the TV network. Although I have never had the foresight to create a sign, I endorse making them if they are creative. Some signs are classic. When Barr-oid Bonds was on the brink of surpassing Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, he received a warm Philadelphia welcome when he trotted to left field at the start of the game and the Philly Faithful unveiled a sign approximately 60-feet long that read, “RUTH DID IT ON HOT DOGS & BEER. AARON DID IT WITH CLASS. HOW DID YOU DO IT?” In fact, it was during Mr. Bonds’ homerun chase that fans had ample ammo to create several of the most unique and memorable signs, such as “HEY BARRY, MOVE YOUR HEAD. WE CAN’T SEE.”
Unfortunately, not all signs are created equal. Similar to the A-HOLES who served as my inspiration for the fourth rule, some people go to the ballpark just to appear on television for a fleeting moment. These attention seekers often succumb to phrases, such as “Sportscenter is Next!” or “The NFL on Fox” or some variation of words that form the acronym CBS. So long as the networks reward these faux fans by airing their signs on television, these knuckleheads will continue to paint marriage proposals to Erin Andrews across their chests.
Final words of wisdom: Similar to professional athletes, there is a broad spectrum of fans. It is at the ballpark where this spectrum is examined under a microscope for all to see. If you have the good fortune of attending a ballgame this summer, please heed my advice.