Expelled from the dark bellows of the TTC into the brilliant light of day, a contingent of breathless retirees gracing me with an unbidden, heartfelt and completely off-key rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as I blast pass them at the turnstile and go, up, up and out!
Out from deep within the bowels Union Station and onto the surface world, amongst tendrils of fans at the exit’s edge, merging with them even though I, as novice, will spend our time together dancing as gracefully as I can on that line between spectator/participant (but probably not as well as I think), bleeding with them into amassing throngs of blue tinged beige slowed intermittently by traffic and the churning volume of human bodies as we/they head, at a march, to the stadium: men, women and children, old and young, white and miscellaneous, most with caps donned and all with spirits high.
A beautiful day for a ballgame.
Big City Life. Until now I thought I had that part of my life, you know, down. I can hail a cab and ride the subway. I know the best places to eat plenty for the cheap. I know the difference between “vintage” and “retro” (in Toronto, this is apparently crucial knowledge) and have perfected patiently-bemused-face for the benefit of disoriented tourists seeking directions to the CN Tower.
“[But] you live in Toronto for how long now and you’ve never been to a baseball game?? How about a Raptor’s game?”
No and no. As it is, I’m hardly ever even in the downtown. The questions are coming at me from Nigel, a wonderfully gregarious if not altogether charming young man who plays a duel role as my sister Dolly’s longtime, legitimate boyfriend. He’s the kind of person you like, really, but are unsure of why, exactly, that is. Something in the air of him, possibly, but that has little to do with how he carries himself.
Stephen and I have joined Dolly and Nigel and a few mutual friends to celebrate our friend, Enes’, birthday. I forget how old he is. Throughout the day, Dolly, who is just as at home in the gaping maw of the ROGERS CENTRE as she is telling stump-necked, lipless men where to get the fucking hell off, will be my guide for the day’s events. She probably knew this, coming in, but something in her face around about the third inning – a shadow just under her cheeks, a slight dilation of the pupil – suggests that she underestimated just how much I would pester her with my incessant questions, random comments and furrowed brow.
I know next to nothing about baseball, let along Major League Baseball and all its associated figures and stats and rituals and traditions, and it shows, and though Nigel is aware of both of these apparent deficiencies in my character, he remains baffled by inexperience and absence. I try to explain:
“Why would I and pay, like, $60 just to go to a game? That’s, like, a lot.”
“For the feel of it! The atmosphere! The vibe!”
“The good touch?”
I say no more.
What I can do with $60 (READ: what it gets me)
- 60 burritos.
- “Nice” groceries.
- A small abundance of dog food for Lou.
- $40 away from $100.
- Scattered TTC fare for a 30-day month (if I stay home every second day or so and remember, remember to get a transfer).
- 120 half-priced burritos.
The ROGERS CENTRE, née: the Skydome, is spectacle unto itself. To the uninitiated, it is an intimidating place and rather unsettling in its vast intimacy. On a good weather day like today, the dome has been retracted, which in the act of taking away actually serves to emphasize the absolute bigness absolutely of everything.
Physically, there isn’t a place to swing a dead cat without hitting several someones and elbowroom is at a premium.
Psychically, it strikes as an act of pure derangement to try to get to know even a fraction of the people here beyond one’s own particular subgroup of friends and/or acquaintances. It’s just too much. Too much, too much, too much….
Practically, and for what I am guessing are a variety of intersecting reasons, we were all there for the same Thing, or at least our interests coalesce around this one Thing.
The Beautiful Game.
Not including luxury suite seats, the ROGERS CENTRE can hold up to a maximum of 46, 105 people for one baseball game. For concerts, the upper limit is a cool 55, 000. On this day, entire sections were admittedly empty (mostly the “nose-bleed seats” as Dolly calls them), but even then we’re talking about a few thousand from what must have been a few tens of thousands.
We arrive just in time to for the singing of national anthems, American then Canadian. Our $60 seats get us close, only a few rows from the field itself. I can see the expressions on the player’s faces and make out individual smudges and grass stains. This, I surmise, must be what Nigel counts as integral to “vibe”, although we probably could have just as easily basked in such “vibe” a few, more affordable rows back.
Today it’s the Toronto Blue Jays v. the New York Yankees and the Yankees, lacking the Home Game Advantage, are up first at bat. There is a gargantuan Jumbo Screen affixed just under the rim of the dome on the side of the dome that faces home base. It lists scores, lineups, players’ names and stats and entertains the crowd with games and graphics.
Craning my neck away from the screen and towards the crowd, it hits me that I am seeing more people in a single glance than I will ever meet in an entire lifetime, and this again leaves me with the curious and regrettable feeling of having so much unfinished yet impossible work to do. The thrum of the crowd washes over me and I find myself caught in its rhythmic sounds and motions. A nice feeling.
“GO JAYS GO!”
“JETER, YOU’RE A BUM!”
“HEY COACH, GIVE HIM SOME NAILCLIPPERS!”
“HE CAN’T HIT THE BALL!”
Along with the innocuous “I LIKE BACON!” the more common elongation either as heckle or encouragement (depending on the tone, artfully applied), of players’ last names – i.e. “SWISHEEEEEEEER” (heckle) v. “SWISHEEEEEEEER” (encouragement) – and the less instructive “DO SOMETHING!” The Game, Dolly assures me, has really officially started.
It is not long into the game that I see it, directly ahead, above and to the right of me, where the dome turns in on itself.
Humans undulating, in turns, en masse.
How do Waves get started? How do they catch on? It’s like a flock of starlings dancing above the horizon on a midsummer’s waning afternoon: who knows?
Dolly’s answer: “You have to know when it’s starting.”
Fourth inning, or possibility the fifth? The teams are either tied or the Yankees are up by 1.
Hungry now. But my hunger is at total odds with my flat out refusal to buy anything here given the exorbitant prices.
The sun is shining on our backs, burning the top flesh of my right ear. I notice that people all around me seem to be eating something, and there are vendors carrying trays of food and drink atop their heads not unlike the women in the backgrounds of adventure movies where the non-threatening male leads sweat in a way that can only be interpreted as both sexy and acceptable.
I try to distract myself from my hunger by wondering how the handful of uniformed police officers I see placed strategically around the field could possibly contend with the hordes before them, or even come to the aid of an individual in distress somewhere out there, should something go awry, but then deterrence may be the highest level this particular game within a game aspires to. A sign of the times. Sad.
I try to focus on the game. No luck! So hungry with innings and innings to go and our planned Chinatown after game meal so, so far away…
Eventually, I break down and get a soft pretzel, cost $4.50.
My conviction is that the embarrassment of riches of salty snacks, etc. at the ROGERS CENTRE is a rather unembarrassed device to sell more $10.00+ beers and $4.00+ bottles of slightly chilled water; the tradition of having these classic and well-loved goodies at the old ballgame aligning perfectly with the tremendous profit margins they inspire.
Water costs more than a pretzel, but less than a bag of almost $6.00 peanuts.
Nigel buys Dolly some popcorn ($6.50/bag). I greedily scoop generous handfuls into my mouth, even though I made her switch pretzels with me (hers was “toastier-looking”) and knew that she, too, was doing the math.
C: “They’re playing Montell Jordan. Whatever happened to that guy?”
D: “I dunno. Either died or found Jesus.”
C: “They keep playing the same songs.”
D: “Each player has his own song.”
C: “Do they get to pick their own songs?”
D: “I think so.”
The songs they played throughout the game – it’s soundtrack, if you will – ranged from the blatantly obvious (Take Me Out to the Ballgame) to the slightly cryptic (What Makes You Beautiful), and included (but were not limited to) the following:
- Hypnotize (Notorious B.I.G.)
- Gangnam Style (Psy)
- This is How We Do It (Montell Jordan)
- Young Folks (Peter Bjorn and John)
- My Girl (The Temptations)
- I Want You Back (Jackson Five)
- A country song with lyrics about setting a car on fire (?)
- We Will Rock You (Queen)
- Bulletproof (La Roux)
- Seven Nation Army (White Stripes)
- Pumped Up Kicks (Foster the People)
- Misirlou (Dick Dale)
- Rockafeller Skank (Fatboy Slim)
- Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf)
Actually, only parts of these songs are played – choruses (this is how we do it/this-is-how-we-do-it) and hooks (hey, sexy laaaaaaaadieeee!), mostly – just long enough to rile up the crowd during a lull in the action or in anticipation of some action. There is a lot of shifting around in baseball and the games played by the spectators between plays played by the players are obvious testament to this fact. Answer the quiz on the Jumbo Screen! Do a Dance! Attract the T-Shirt Lady! Win a prize.
Sit down again.
I have difficulty matching player and song and eventually give up trying.
If I could pick out my own song to suit me, it would be Return to Innocence (Enigma), and I would have it played in its entirety before I do anything. Just something to smooth-over the crowd. Give the people a nice, easy treat to bring them back to down before the next guy ramps it up all over again with catchy lyrics or driving baselines.
Cloudy now, the sun, as it turned out hours later, now gone completely for the day. I had intended to take a jacket to the game but neglected to put it in my little backpack, which just fit under the ROGERS CENTRE’s crammed plastic seating. The seats themselves are Blue Jays Blue. They are not made for generous butts and their arrangement suggests that legroom was little more than an afterthought. Stephen’s shins touch the back of the seat in front of him and glancing at them makes me long for a PEZ dispenser for the summit of his knee.
Tweety Bird of course.
The stadium’s lights have come on. There’s a definite chill in the air.
Only memories of searing ear flesh keep me warm.
Final inning! Yankees at the bat!
A Mister Ichiro Suzuki is getting ready for the pitch. He does this Thing where he holds the bat at arm’s length at a 90 degree angle, erect and proud, gripping it firmly and confidently in his fist at the base, looking very much like he’s lining up the perfect shot. I briefly envision his marksmanship upon a grassy knoll – how effective it would be, how precise – but immediately dismiss the thought with all the mental energy I can muster in my depraved, post-pretzel state.
Suzuki’s bat, I’ve learned, is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill MLB bat. He keeps in a special case along with its seven brothers, all handcrafted and calibrated to his specific needs. The Blue Jays are now up by 1. Dolly is on her feet, cheering wildly, as is everyone else around us, and as I move to join them I become distracted by the racist catcalls of one man behind us, drunk off his motherloving ass – “GO BACK TO JAPAN!” – my thoughts eclipsed by a moment of blind outrage and incredulity. But it passes and I turn back to the game thinking “why are you really all that surprised?” only to realize that Suzuki has somehow already made it to first and a Mister Alex Rodriguez is back up at bat.
The wind up/The pitch/A crack of the bat and…POP!
Fly ball, dead at centre.
BLUE JAYS WIN.
I cannot impress upon you the abruptness of it all. One minute, BATTER UP! The next, BATTER OUT! a beat and then another en masse moment wherein people by the thousands launch from their butted seats to their feet in a mad dash through rows and up aisles to get the hell out of there before the crowding at the doors gets really, truly crazy.
As we roll away with the tide of the crowd, riding a force not quite our own, the reassuring voice of the day’s announcer wishes us a good day and a “we hope to see you again.” The Voice, I realize, must have been there with us all along, all day long.
I wonder why I hadn’t noticed it before even as I search for Stephen among the faces of the people behind me.