Saturday, April 23, 2011

Men Left On

[Fair and Unbalanced contributor sasqi and her husband Paul are on a two-month road-trip stopping at several major- and minor-league ballparks. Here's Paul's report from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas]

Two months on the road, 15 cities planned, perhaps more before we're done. At least twelve of those stops to see baseball games. So after just four games it's a little premature for generalizations.

But one thing so far, as obvious as it is mysterious: fans are fans. We pretend that we live and die for, struggle with, our teams. We moan, scream, whine, yell; go to bed grumpy or ecstatic, chew our way through inning after inning on peanuts and profanity. And we do it whether we're cheering for the Corpus Christi Hooks, AA, or the Astros, or Rangers, or A's, MLB. We do it in Texas or California, in the creaky confines of Oakland's tired park or the splendid wealth of the Rangers in Arlington.

There's something chastising about this simple revelation. We're all the greatest fans in the world, all the worst and least supportive fans. All just fans, unable to do a damn thing to change the course of a game, bring home a run, make a better slide, dive for that fast-sinking blooper. We can admire, admonish; take pride, feel shame. But it's good to know we're all doing it, all over, and that the only reason it matters so much is because we decide it does.

F and I sit along the left field line, row three, at a game between the Texas Rangers and the LA Angels in Arlington.  We're wearing our A's hats, strangers in a strange land. The two seats at the end of our row remain empty until the bottom of the second, when a couple move in.  Before they're seated the man turns to me with a look both threatening and welcoming: "A's, huh? You hate us I bet?" "I don't hate the Rangers but I do wish they'd lose once in awhile," I answer. He laughs. I tell him we're traveling, visiting friends in Texas; he tells me about his time stationed in San Diego in the Marines.  He's got a shaved head, muscular body, in his late twenties. The woman with him seems a little younger, soft face and wide lips, long dark hair. They carry metal bottles of Bud Light with them and he orders two more from a vendor just as they sit down; they'll go through at least five more rounds before the game ends. He asks me who got the one Ranger hit they missed in the first inning; Andrus, I tell him. Single to deep short, then Weaver picked him off leaning. He swears: "Andrus! He should never get picked like that." Doesn't help when I explain that Weaver, the pitcher, was gunning for him--I watched with a pleasure I can't have at an A's game how Scioscia, the Angels' manager, maneuvers an inning.

The game moves on, the Angels gradually taking a 1-0, then 2-0 lead. Weaver is at his best, and though Harrison is pitching well for the Rangers (both pitchers come in, and leave the game, with ERAs of under 1.50) he can't match Weaver's effectiveness. Weaver strikes out eight, all swinging; pitches a complete game; is in total command. The Angels make a couple phenomenal plays in the field to back him up while the Rangers commit two errors. Still, it remains close:  4-1 final score.

Close enough for my ex-Marine friend/enemy to yell his way plaintively through one frustrating inning after another. I'd just come from listening to the A's lose to Boston 5-3, leaving 15 men on base, twice loading the bases without scoring. "It just kills you, doesn't it?" he says when I tell him. "Drives me crazy, when the Rangers can't get a man home or Kinsler strikes out like he did with men on base." I nod. I ask if he got to the playoffs and World Series games last year. "Every one! That was on my bucket list." He asks if I'm a season ticket holder, I tell him I am, explain the cost of A's tickets vs seats to see the Giants play. "I hate your Giants, you know." Of course he does. We talk stadiums, me praising the look and feel of the park here, he asking about Oakland. Between walks up to refill beers and hit the bathrooms we hear from the woman with him. She's from Atlanta--"follow the Braves all my life." Just in Dallas for eight months. What brought you here we ask. "I don't know. I was working after college in Atlanta and just not getting anywhere.  My folks told me they saw how unhappy I was and I had to do something. I wanted to go to Brazil--my mother's got family there, and lived there until she was 18. But I jokingly said, "Maybe I should move to Texas." My folks said, 'Do you want to?' And I didn't know. I had relatives here, and used to come for vacations sometimes with my parents. So I just figured why not." She was leaving soon for Brazil, to work in the favilas.

In the meantime--well, this was the meantime. The two of them  teased each other a lot.  This was her second Rangers game ever, the first since she was a child. About the fourth inning, the man turned to me over her shoulder and said, "She's a bad luck charm. I told her if the Rangers lose, it's because of her and she can't come to any more games. That's right, isn't it?" I told him I watched the A's lose a lot of games and didn't want to think it was my fault. She slugged him on the shoulder. "I just wanted you to say what you did," he told me, rubbing his hand along her jeaned thigh. I didn't believe him, and I don't think she did either.

[Related posts: WhataburgerThe Open Star]


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