A day at the ballpark, done well, can be a fine-dining experience. It’s as much about execution as it is about the meal. I’m not talking about the food side of things, although having grown up in an era when mustard and ketchup dispensers with spring-loaded plungers were considered ballyard luxuries, the eats at Fenway these days are of veritable triple-crown caliber.
Yes, folks, I am under the employ of one @John_W_Henry, so I am well aware where the ol’ Fenway bread is buttered. End disclosure.
Ballpark done well, from the Fenway fan side of me, includes the following:
■ A good seat on the third base side, ideally Sections 23-27. It’s the primo spot for watching what’s going on in the Sox dugout, seeing runners cut the third base bag for home, and calling close plays at the plate (I get it right every time; no need for ridiculous replay). The left field corner is a blind spot, but after 50-plus years of visits, I know the angles down there better than Yaz.
■ A beer. Keep that diluted “light” castor oil away from me. One real beer. Two if it’s a hot day. Wicked cold.
■ A hot dog. Steamed. Fresh, warm bun. Loaded with mustard (see above: beer, cold).
■ Scorecard. Pen, blue ink, to match all the rest of the ink-stained scribbles above my right knee.
■ One or two good pals who know the game, mainly for the banter, but also because I need someone to keep score during my food runs and increasing number of bathroom breaks.
From there, I only need the weather to cooperate, the pace to be of reasonable standards (elapsed time in the 2:40-3:10 range), and for the immediate surrounding patrons to be of reasonable fan behavior when it comes to swearing, spilling, PDAing, chiding, and rooting. Oh, and if you’re a female over age 14 carrying a sign reading, “Marry Me [fill in player’s name],’’ please find a date in the bleachers, OK?
What I don’t need, and what I will never (n-e-v-e-r) need, is a PA announcer who updates the ballpark on every ball and strike as they are thrown. In case you missed it, the Red Sox did that Tuesday during a game with the Marlins at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. Every ball. Every strike. Every pitch.
To quote Jack Nicholson (Mel Udall) in “As Good As It Gets’’: “Sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.’’
I’d rather be strafed by a JetBlue airliner between every pitch. And I have worked in such conditions. During my 2-3 years as a New York Times staff writer, I was routinely assigned to Mets games at Shea Stadium. The planes coming and going from LaGuardia shook the joint the way a German shepherd rag-dolls a heroin smuggler. Any wonder I sought refuge in ice rinks all these years?
Yes, I know, it’s a whole new world, and most everyone needs to be plugged in, updated, informed every second, every pitch of the day. The Sox tried this out, according to marketing guru Dr. Charles Steinberg, because of what they believe is the fans’ growing interest and keen awareness in the pitch count and how it affects play, strategy, and perhaps the game’s outcome.
In other words, Operation “Calling the Count” delivered more analytics for the seamheads in the audience. Spare me.
To me, the drudgery of the whole analytics thing is akin to driving a car and knowing too much. Do I really need to understand what’s happening under the hood to enjoy the ride? It’s a good bet, frankly, that I would enjoy the ride less if I spent the time and energy to learn more about spark plugs and antifreeze. Heck, if I knew exactly what routinely went on in the kitchen of my favorite diner, I probably wouldn’t eat there.
Quick: How many stitches are needed to hold together a baseball? Wait, you have the answer? Please, stop reading this column immediately and go to the Scoreboard section. Now.
Fans are fans. Most of them are in the ballyard — get this — just for the fun of it. They come to see a good game, not run numbers like accountants. For those diamond savants who understand that a 3-and-0 count probably means a fat pitch is headed right down Broadway, they’re well aware that the count is 3-and-0.
The rest of the unknowing are caught up in the million-and-one other things going on during a game, a million of which might not, or probably don’t, have a single thing to do with pitch count or even what’s happening on the field.
Really, have you ever gone to the beach and thought about something other than the fact that high tide will hit at precisely 1:47.13 that afternoon? Please, people, let’s synchronize our watches.
Or maybe you went to a July 4 parade and didn’t note that the three tuba players each had 87 freckles and totally destroyed the VO2 Max test three days earlier, in a room that was heated to 101 degrees, all while pedaling Euro-made stationary bikes chilled overnight in purified sub-Arctic air (sorry, dude, barometric pressure unknown).
Ever been to a restaurant and had the wait staff too often fill your glass with water, ask how the meal is, whether he/she can get you anything . . . now . . . now . . . how ’bout now?! Welcome to Operation “Calling the Count.”
Baseball, we are reminded over and over, finds much of its beauty in the fact that it runs on its own time. There is no clock. A game can last less than two hours or go into the next morning. It is framed by outs and innings, imbued with sights, sounds, and memories. It lives on in our memories not for its pitch counts, but for how it counts to our senses, resonates in our souls.
If, in the end, we need someone to clue us in on every pitch, every ball, every strike, we’re missing the point in being there.