“I’ve been to probably 14 or 15 professional ballparks,” my friend Chris said nearly two weeks ago as we were driving home from a trip to Pawtucket, Rhode Island’s McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, “and the crowd at this place was, by far, the strangest group of people I have ever seen. Pawtucket, you win.”
The other three people in the car – Chris’ friend Billy, my brother Tim, and me – laughed and quickly nodded in agreement. I made a mental note to remember the quote because really, nothing I wrote on my own could possibly convey the weirdness with which we were confronted at McCoy Stadium.
Doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try.
In descending order, here are five things that happened at this game that made me lose a little faith in humanity:
5) We decided soon after our arrival that the centerfield bleachers were the place to be. Problem was, the bleachers are connected to the areas in which pregame picnics and birthday parties are held, which means that they don’t actually open the gates until immediately before the start of the game. (One of the ushers told Chris that we could find our seats as soon as we heard the word “brave”, which led to over an hour of Chris randomly shouting, “BRAVE!” and hoping for the best.)
We got some food and got into line about twenty minutes early. Our timing was good – way more people were behind us than in front. A couple of minutes before the game started, it began to rain (again – we’d had about an hour of moderately heavy rain just as we arrived at the ballpark). People huddled together under umbrellas and tried to find some sort of cover without leaving the line. Somewhere in the middle of this, I think, two things happened: the Star Spangled Banner began and they opened the gates to the bleachers.
It didn’t really sink in until we had gone about fifty feet: we were walking to our seats during the National Anthem. Now, I’m not the most openly patriotic person in the world – I love being American, but I don’t feel the need to be all up in your face with that love – and I can’t really pass judgement because I was a part of it, but this just felt WRONG. I mean, someone like Toni Smith or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refuses to stand at attention for the Anthem because of deep, important, valid personal beliefs, and we as a society crap all over them for it. We say that they’re wrong for acting that way. But two hundred people walk over Francis Scott Key’s sweet tunes for no better reason than securing a couple of metal bleacher seats in prime homerun territory? That’s cool, man. Don’t worry about it. No big deal.
4) The National Anthem is a cool, meaningful song that should be respected; God Bless America is a little different. Not that it doesn’t deserve much love, but it always feels a little out of place, like we’re trying too hard to showcase our patriotism. I don’t know if that’s the best explanation. Bottom line, for whatever reason, I’ve never felt it was nearly on the same level as the Anthem. You can walk around the ballpark, get a hot dog, talk to a friend during God Bless America and it doesn’t feel strange.
Anyway, they played God Bless America in the seventh inning, we all stood up, Billy and Chris took off their hats – business as usual (I would’ve taken off my hat if I’d been wearing one. Why? Because I’m a follower). As I listened, it seemed like this particular version had a little extra flair thrown in – like they stretched out some of the notes to add some pizzazz. It was like the instrumental of the Ronan Tynan version. Eventually it came to what we thought was the end, Billy started to put his hat back on…and the song kept going. Not for long, but the flair had thrown him off, there was more song to be played, and he had jumped the gun. He let his displeasure be known by loudly saying, “OH COME ON!”
This, of course, cracked me up. He wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, not at all, but the combination of a never-ending song and his failure to secure one of the Dustin Pedroia bobbleheads being given away prior to the game (more on that in a minute) had led him to his breaking point. Billy wasn’t lashing out at God Bless America, he was lashing out at the inequities and inconsistencies of life, and I thought it was hilarious.
3) The Pedroia Situation has to be number three. When I bought the tickets, I picked August 2 for two reasons: one, it was the closest date that worked for all four of us and two, they were giving away Dustin Pedroia bobbleheads to the first 4,000 fans. Unfortunately, I have a problem with not reading things closely, so it took awhile before I learned that the giveaway was planned for the first 4,000 KIDS ONLY.
This took a toll on Billy, who apparently is a big Pedroia fan. Before the night was through, he had gone to every usher in the place, trying his best to talk someone into giving up the bobblehead. No dice, even after they started giving them out to random adults. The best moment, however, was soon after we entered the ballpark. We were out in left field, checking things out, when a group of three kids wandered by. One of us, I forget who, suggested that Billy offer them a couple of bucks to get him a Pedroia. So he did.
It was hilarious, seeing a grown man chatting up three adolescents in the farthest reaches of the stadium. I expected Chris Hansen to appear at any time. The kicker, though, the thing that made me lose faith in the children of Rhode Island, was when I asked Billy how much he paid the kid to get the merchandise. I figured it was at least five, maybe ten. If the kid was smart, he recognized the desperation and held out for the Hamilton.
No, he gave him two dollars. A couple of Georges. That’s it. I was shocked when I heard that. Not so much because Billy lowballed him off the bat – that’s just good business – but because the kid didn’t try to drive up the price at all. Clearly, Rhode Island schools need to add Economics to the curriculum.
2) For the latter part of the game, there was a drunk fan standing at the top of the bleachers. At some point, he made it his goal to taunt the centerfielder for the opposing Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Only problem was, he didn’t know the name of the centerfielder for the opposing Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. So for who knows how many innings, we were subjected to witty remarks directed at “Number 36”. If you’re gonna heckle, at least buy a program. Make an effort. And show me something early, or stop shouting. If you’re giving a guy a hard time for backing up a play – in other words, making a good baseball play – you’re too stupid and/or drunk to heckle.
The guy disappeared in the eighth, I think, which was sad because I was very close to starting a “How drunk are you?” chant (I think it would’ve caught on). When he returned, maybe a half inning later, I nudged Chris, who in turn nudged my brother and suggested he trip him on his way up the stairs. He didn’t realize right away who it was, or he might actually have done it.
Oh, and for the record: Matt Carson, number 36…sorry about the douchebag in the bleachers on August 2. I’m sure you get taunted a lot by opposing fans, but I was impressed by how well you handled it.
1) As luck would have it, we found ourselves four seats that were almost completely surrounded by families. Behind us, six or seven kids from a birthday party were sitting with what appeared to be two adults. The kids kept accidentally kicking Billy in the back; by the fifth inning, he was about ready to give somebody, anybody, a piece of his mind. (This was the same group that, amazingly, allowed three kids to leave the area without adult supervision and walk down to the bullpen for autographs. These kids were maybe ten years old – maybe. Not a parenting move I would have made.) They did provide me with a moment of levity, however, when the one Yankees fan in the group started a “Let’s go Yankees!” cheer. His friends responded with, “Let’s go Red Sox!” Within about ten seconds, I had no clue who was saying what. I think if you recorded it and played it backwards, it said “Paul is dead.”
Now, to the front was an older guy with a couple of older ladies, one of whom I’m assuming was his wife. There were a couple of kids down there who were really well behaved. Barely heard anything out of them the whole night. Nothing worth complaining about there.
Our left flank carried the greatest threat to our sanity. The actual composition was fuzzy, but as near as I could figure we were looking at a mother, two young kids, a grandmother, and a father. Though everyone in the group had their weird little quirks, it was the father that really caught the eye of all four people in our group. Three incidents in particular stand out:
–He and the mother were bringing the kids somewhere and made it down onto the walkway at the front of the bleachers. The father was carrying one of the boys. All of a sudden, my brother noticed him yelling at the woman, “Take him, take him, I’m dropping him!” Fortunately, she was there to grab the child so he didn’t have to worry about, I don’t know, putting down the beer he was holding. I like a man who has his priorities in order.
–As the game wore on and this wonderful fellow continued to down as much beer as possible, we noticed that the threat of nudity became greater and greater. He was completely dressed at the beginning; by the time they left, his Red Sox jersey was completely unbuttoned, and the young lady with him was informing the children that it was time to go, before Daddy took his pants off.
–On their way out of our section, the ball park, and our lives, the mother tried to give the father a couple of those ice cream-filled batting helmets to hold. They were empty, of course, save for some sticky ice cream residue. She was struggling with both kids and the assorted crap that all mothers carry whenever they go out in public with their children; he was holding – surprise – a beer. His response: “I don’t wanna touch that!” This happened immediately in front of my brother, who noted on the way home that we were lucky he hadn’t had anything to drink, because if he had, he probably would have said something. And that, friends, would have been bad.
This guy had one redeeming quality, at least: he showed me that even though I think I’m a bad father sometimes, I really could be doing a lot worse.
Now, I know I’ve made it sound as though this was the worst game and the worst ballpark in the history of the world. There were some good points, however. We got to see a six-run Paw Sox rally in the bottom of eighth, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 7-3 victory. Ben Broussard, waived by the Rangers and picked up by the Yankees, hit a long homerun off the centerfield scoreboard, just above and to the left of us. The food was terrific – I had never had an italian sausage and peppers with the peppers underneath the sausage; much easier to eat and enjoy that way. And McCoy Stadium is a nice ballpark, with very good sightlines and a sort of quaint vibe – the luxury boxes, for example, are at field level, which is a nice bit of individuality.
Bottom line: Pawtucket will definitely get another chance, if only because I need to see if this game was the rule or the exception.