This year has been one of the toughest I have ever faced. I’ve been laid off twice, gotten in a car accident, had several emotional disputes (you can call them fights) with a member of the opposite sex, and was even in the hospital for a few days. 2011 has not been easy.
But baseball, the Rays, and Tropicana Field have been there for me through it all.
I know that sounds very James Earl Jones-ish of me. Remember his classic scene in Field of Dreams where he says that the one constant through the annuals of America has been baseball? While that might not be 100% true for America – I doubt baseball was there for Washington, Franklin, and Adams – it is definitely true for me. When I walk into Tropicana Field, I forget everything going on in my life. The only thing happening is baseball. From the first pitch to the last.
Baseball is the perfect remedy for a disrupted mind.
By it’s very nature baseball has a calming effect. It has a way of slowly swallowing you into the story of the game. It builds at a leisurely pace, as rarely is a game decided in the first inning. As the game progress, every move, every at-bat, and every pitch becomes increasingly more important and as the game spins its tale, the outside world increasingly loses relevance.
And with the Rays penchant for close, low scoring games, every game carries an intensity that envelops those who want to be swept away.
At worst, the Rays lose and I walk out of Tropicana Field in the same malaise as when I walked in. No baseball loss can compare to real life losses. Even the worst blown save pales in comparison to human tragedy. At least I was out of the house and my mind was occupied on something else, however briefly.
But if they win, if the Rays pull magic out of their hat, win in dramatic fashion, or if I see a piece of baseball history, then I can walk out of Tropicana Field with a smile, awash with the temporary euphoria of victory. Baseball has saved me once again from the drama of reality. It has provided me happiness without the headache of a hangover or the consequences of other chemicals.
It doesn’t matter whether or not I go see the Rays by myself or in a group. Sure, sitting among friends provides conversation and camaraderie, and they may know what I’m going through and can provide words of encouragement, but sometimes going alone is just as good when the waters of life get rough. As long as I’m not sitting by a drunkard or two, no one will bother me. Sitting by myself also gives me the opportunity to keep score, which is the most mind engrossing thing a fan can do, to write the story of the game in the ancient code of the scorekeeper.
And although we all wish it was different, I am able to use the current attendance situation to my advantage and sit as close or as far from other fans as I want.
Sometimes going to the ballpark solo and sitting by complete strangers isn’t such a bad thing. Neighboring fans come in handy and provide unbiased platforms for celebration. They embrace fandom without bias. They give me a high five for a Longoria homer just as they would slap the hand of their own brother. They don’t judge me, and as long as I am rooting for the Rays, they don’t hold anything against me. But I am careful, they might think less of me if I don’t follow the normal fan protocol: if I don’t cheer, if I don’t complain about the umpires, if I don’t yell “balk” when an opposing pitcher fakes a pickoff to second or third, or if I don’t stretch half way through the seventh inning. Then they might ask me what’s wrong.
(Not standing up for the wave, however, is highly acceptable. The wave is a vile creation made for those who need “in stands” entertainment. It does nothing for the players or the team. I have never heard a player say the amount of time the fans stood up and put their arms in the sky spurred them on to victory. Fans are there to root for the Rays, not to amuse those who are bored. But I digress …)
When I was first thinking about putting this article together a few weeks ago, I discovered I wasn’t the only person who uses Tropicana Field as an escape. While talking to a group of friends, I met someone who told me baseball had the same calming effect on them as it does on me. They had a family member in the hospital and going to see the Rays was a way to leave their troubles behind, if only for a few hours. Sure, they had their phone on them just in case, but when they were at the ballpark they could forget about the stress, the tears, and the sadness of the outside world.
They could find peace.
(Image from baseballsnatcher.mlblogs.com)