Friday, 2 October 2009

Joining the Red Sox Nation

Tonight I went to my first baseball game, at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. To people that don’t know Boston or baseball, this is a Big Deal. The Red Sox are massively popular – they’re known for their obsessive fan base, the Red Sox Nation, every other person in Boston is wearing a Red Sox hat, and the games are always booked out. I was desperate to go, and luckily, tonight they were playing the Cleveland Indians, who aren’t very good, so we were able to get some tickets for $20, and off we went – six foreigners and a token American to explain the rules (see summary at the bottom).

My first impressions of the stadium was that it seemed like a cross between a stadium and a fairground. Seriously. The stadium part was normal, but on the ground there was every type of food you can imagine – hot dogs, burgers, chips, pretzels, clam chowder, pizza, toffee apples (haven't seen one of those in years!), popcorn, candy floss, and heaven knows what else. And it didn’t stop when we got to our seats – people running up and down the aisles selling all sorts of food and drink, passing money along the rows and food back – it was crazy and didn’t let up through the game. Like with cricket, there isn’t really a break between when it’s on and when it’s not – there’s no half time, but there is a lot of stopping and starting, and no-one seems to be paying attention for more than half the time. There was a lot of music as well, which heightened the fairground thing – between each player batting, they’d play a song, busting out the cheesy Euroclassics, before turning to country later in the game. Very Twenty20.

The game was enjoyable and interesting, but possibly the slowest sport ever – after a 3 hour game, the score was 3-0. The trouble is, that half the time they don’t hit it, they just miss a bunch of times, then one guy gets to first base or gets caught, then they swap innings, which can get a bit tedious – at least in cricket they mostly hit the thing! And there are long periods of standing around for no apparent reason. And when they swap pitchers, they spend about 15 minutes with the new pitcher warming up – can’t they be warmed up already?! Again, not to draw unfair comparisons, but cricket players manage it! The funniest part though, and the most bizarrely, quintessentially American thing ever (possible exception: the turducken), is that they have advertisment breaks. In a sports match. Seriously. They stop the action, so they can show adverts on the TVs around the grounds.

Having said that, it was a great experience, and it was great to see Fenway, painted green all over, with old-style signposts and with its famous wall, the Green Monster. On top of that, this was a nothing game, a walkover, but the stadium was still pretty full and the atmosphere was great, especially in the second half, when people started singing between innings – everyone knew the words so I’m guessing these were team theme songs. There were also bits of excitement – the Red Sox getting two Indians out at once by running out one at second base, then stumping the second at first; a big collision at third base between a running Red Sox player and a fielding Indian; and the Indians’ pitcher getting hit by a returned ball and having to limp off the field. And even in the in-betweens, I did find myself strangely gripped – I guess the same part of me that enjoys watching online snooker! Or possibly the former rounders player and cricket fan. I also think that in a tense game it might be more exciting, and that, like cricket, it may be one of those sports where knowing a lot about it might make it more interesting and, like cricket, it might be one of those things you’re not really supposed to sit down and watch, you’re supposed to have a grand day out and some beers with your friends.

Long story short, although thinking about the components, it should have been just wierd and dull, it was actually awesome and I can’t wait to go again! Guess it’s time to buy me a Red Sox cap... and get excited about owning an actual factual baseball baseball cap.

*For the non-Americans, it goes something like this (cricket terminology in brackets to help explain):

- Team A pitches (bowls) to Team B

- Team B’s batsman has three goes at hitting it, which each failure called a ‘strike’ (3 strikes and you’re out... always wondered where that phrase came from). If you hit it behind you, that counts as a strike. You can also get out if the ball is caught by one of the fielders. This is easier than in cricket as they have gloves and the ball just drops in. People can also get out by getting run out, or being stumped at first base before they can make it.

- If Team B’s batsman manages to hit it, he can run to first base, or beyond if he’s feeling lucky.
The next batsman then comes up to bat. If he hits it, any teammates further around the diamond can run for the next base. If they get all the way round they get one point. But they can only run once the ball has been caught by the other team... or something. I’m hazy on this rule – anyone care to clarify?

- If three players from the batting team (Team B) get out, the innings is over and you swap roles.

- Repeat as above.

- There are 9 innings, plus some tie break innings if they’re even.

- The winner is the one with the most points. Since the innings are very short, there often aren't many points. Tonight it was 3-0 to the Red Sox

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