Field Tripping By Kate Drabinski

Field Tripping: Baseballing

Getting nostalgic about baseball, being a fair-weather fan, thinking about subsidies

I might from Boise, Idaho, a town hours and hours away from the nearest pro baseball team—glancing at a map I'd say the Seattle Mariners are the closest I could get to a hometown team—but I was raised by a rabid Dodgers fan. The first three things I can remember learning didactically are first, we hate the Yankees; second, never cross a picket line; and third, Fernando Valenzuela is the greatest pitcher of all time. My brother took it all to heart, playing Little League, pitching for the high school team, and collecting baseball cards in albums alongside pages and pages and pages of obscure statistics that could be used to prove that his favorite player of the moment was the greatest of all time.

Me? Well, I remember my first major league game—the Pirates beat the Dodgers 1-0 at Chavez Ravine—but that's pretty much it as far as my baseball childhood went. Oh, and there was that time Hank Aaron made a personal appearance at the Idaho State Fair and we got his autograph to give to my brother, but mostly my relationship to baseball has been one of the mind, not the heart, except insofar as in the very depths of my heart, I still kind of want to be just like my big brother.

And then I went to graduate school at UC Berkeley in the era of the Oakland A's Big Three: Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder. It was Billy Beane-Moneyball time, though I didn't really know what that meant; I just knew tickets were $2 on Tuesdays, plus BART fare, and the home team always seemed to win. And Barry Zito—swoon. He did yoga, played folk music on the guitar, and was a designer, making the tie for the Father's Day giveaway one June. And oh boy, could he pitch. Alongside Hudson and Mulder, he helped the team win seemingly every game-a shocking twenty in a row in 2002. It's easy to be a fan with that kind of team and those kinds of wins, even if they flame out in the first round of the playoffs several years in a row.

I moved around a bunch after that, mostly to towns without major league baseball teams, and my attention to the game waned, replaced by a brief but rabid interest in gardening when I lived in Portland, Oregon, followed by total dedication to parades and the Saints when I landed in New Orleans. When I found out I was moving to Baltimore, though, I was ready to return to baseball, quickly signing up for MLB.TV so I could watch the Orioles. Being a fan is part of belonging to a place, it seemed to me. My dad's from LA, hence our Dodger fandom, but the lore of loving the Dodgers goes way back to mythical origins in Brooklyn. Fandom is passed down through bloodlines, the team becoming another honored ancestor in the lineage.

So I watched the O's play, read their box scores every morning, ready to join a new Baltimore family. You're always an interloper, though, the new fan. I thought about that this week as I hopped on my bike, in a gray skirt and green shirt-no orange in sight—to catch the O's playing the Mets. It was my first game of the season—I was there when we were winning, got tickets to that playoff game a few years ago, but like I said at the start, I'm a fair weather fan. I locked up my bike between two police motorcycles and a police van, because they'd surrounded the bike rack, and headed to the stadium, picking up a soda, peanuts, and cracker jacks on my way, because that's how you do at a game.

I was quickly in a stream of orange-clad fans, many of whom, I'm guessing, can roll out their O's credentials, boosted by deep knowledge of the past, perhaps earned through year after childhood year collecting cards and stats like my brother did. The ladyfriend and I found ourselves at a game last year that ended with a celebration of the Orioles Hall of Fame; I didn't know a single name other than Cal Ripken, Jr.'s (I totally have his eyes, by the way), but there I was, cheering and weeping along with the starstruck true fans. I was out of place then, and I felt out of place now. I'm a fan, sure, but not a real one.

That doesn't mean I don't love a night at the ballpark, though. We had seats out in the left field box, closest to the field as I've been since the A's played the Yankees back 2001, and my dissertation advisor gave me her tickets. I found the veggie hot dog, covered it in ketchup, mustard, and relish, and cheered on mustard in the condiment race between innings. I tried to keep my eye on the ball as the crabs spun around, wished they'd let The Lesbians get on the Kiss Cam, and encouraged my seatmate to text stadium officials to complain that The Bird hadn't made it over to Section 80 yet. Oh, and I watched some really good baseball—a close game, back and forth, the home team winning with a walk off homer.

It was such a great night at the ballpark that I wondered why we didn't do this every night, until I remembered how much these tickets and stadium dinner cost, how long it took to get my bike and then get us back to a car trapped on the sixth floor of parking lot over by the medical center. And I remembered, again, how much of our social wage has gone into subsidizing this team (it's stadium, security needs, parking, traffic, and even the light rail, built to open at the same time as Orioles Park) that is both us and, when it comes to profit, very much not us. But that's the thing with nostalgia and childhood and all that-in spite of knowing that stuff, the baseball park still calls, maybe not every day, but every season, and I'm just fair weather enough to show up.

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