I do not care for sports. Sometimes, my boss will tell me about a really riveting football game, and I will be confused, because we’ve known each other for years, and there is no way I ever gave him the impression I understood what football even is. In fact, I sometimes throw red herrings into what may devolve into sports conversations to make it abundantly clear I am not someone who is going to be fun to talk to about sports.
Person 1: Big game this weekend.
Me: Oh yeah? Is it soccer? Basketball? What sport is in vogue right now? Tell me. Let’s talk about it.
So this past week, when David asked me if I would like to join him for a post-season baseball game, I was surprised.
“You’re asking me?!” I squeaked in bewilderment. “I know this is an important game!”
“There’s no one else that can take the afternoon off. It’s a 1pm game.” He replied.
That was a good enough response for me, so I let my employer know I would be taking Wednesday afternoon off to attend the Nationals game. I was pretty excited: the weather was perfect, and I was going to be spending it with my favorite person.
Now, even though I don’t follow sports, I do know about some basics:
Basic #1: Dress appropriately.
Teams have colors, so you should wear your team colors to the games. You should avoid wearing the other team’s colors.
That’s the most important basic rule I know, so I selected a clever ensemble that used the team colors and also presented my personal style. I didn’t have a team t-shirt, so I made a mental note to rectify that, provided I found a perfect shirt that flatters my figure.
Basic #2: If you are going to a ballpark, you must eat ballpark food.
I have actually devised a little action plan for making attending baseball games enjoyable for me. My favorite thing to do is to wander around the stadium and find the best food and drink, and then sit in my seat and eat this food and ponder thoughtfully whether the food is
1) Worth the 45 minute line
2) Going to give me a heart attack
3) Cold because it was served cold or cold because I had to walk around the stadium to get back to my seat.
The quest for food and these questions keep me occupied for at least four innings, sometimes five. Then I wait patiently for the seventh inning stretch, so I can sing take me out to the ball game.
After that, I sip on my beer and focus on the players, most specifically, their batting songs. The songs are a real reflection of the batter’s character. Unfortunately I have yet to find any correlation between how skilled a batter is and their taste in music.
Then it’s time to go home! You should know that it is very rare for me to know which team has actually won the game I’ve been watching. You should also know that because of this obliviousness, I have thoroughly enjoyed every game I have ever attended.
Everything changed at Game 3 of the Nationals Cardinals game.
On Wednesday afternoon, we arrived at the Nats stadium. When we went through the front entrance, they handed each of us a red towel.
“Oh, we can use this for theme parties!” I exclaimed. “Here, let me put yours in my purse next to mine,” I offered.
“They’re for waving around,” David explained.
“Oh,” I said, pulling my towel back out of my purse.
It was packed. There were kids everywhere, red shirts filled the stadium, and people were excited.
“Quick,” David said, “Let’s go find our seats.”
Since it was just the two of us at this game, and David didn’t have a baseball buddy with him, it dawned on me that I would not be able to approach this game like I had the others: I would have to watch it. And wave a towel around.
In the first inning, a Cardinals team player scored. This was upsetting, but I felt that if I cheered louder, and waved my towel more energetically, the Nationals could score as well to make the game more even. This strategy didn’t work, or wasn’t executed correctly, and by the second inning, Pete Kozma had scored a home run and the Cardinals were up 4-0.
I turned to David, “I know that one guy is out for the season. Do the Nationals have any other pitchers who are good?”
David replied, “Yes, they have three solid pitchers.”
“Okay, next question. Is this guy one of the three?”
David nodded, “Yes, this guy is one of the three.”
Then I got angry. “Okay, well, a lot of people are hitting the balls this pitcher is throwing. WHY IS HE STILL IN THE GAME?”
David nodded angrily with me, “I DO NOT KNOW.”
“Text your friend who works for the Nationals,” I told him. “Tell him to take him out of the game,” I was being serious.
This was the first baseball game I had ever really watched, but I sincerely felt I could be a better team manager than the person currently in charge. Why wasn’t he paying attention? Was he in a 45 minute food line?
“It doesn’t work like that,” David replied. “Plus none of my texts are going through, the stadium is packed.”
“ARGH!” I sat back, frustrated.
At some point, the catcher and some other people gathered around the pitcher.
Here is how I imagine the conversation went.
Pitcher: Hey guys. What’s up!?
Catcher: Yo bro, you feeling okay?
Pitcher: Yeah man, why do you ask?
Player 1: PULL YOUR SH*T TOGETHER A$$HOLE.
Player 2: I want to hit you with my glove, but this game is televised, so I am going to stand here and speak in a calm fashion.
Pitcher: Yes, I admit, this is not my finest hour, but please don’t take me out. I can do better.
Catcher: Okay, bro. Good talk.
Player 2: Yeah good talk. Let’s slowly walk back to our spots now.
By the seventh inning, the manager must have realized the pitcher reneged on his promise, because they finally put a new pitcher in. I got really hopeful. I thought, “This is it. They are going to make a comeback.”
Five minutes later, I asked, “David is this pitcher one of the three good ones?”
David calmly responded, “He’s pretty good.”
“Okay.” I think about it. “WHY IS HE THROWING ALL OF THESE BALLS?! The first guy could have done this.”
“They are intentionally walking the batter, so they can load the bases.” David explained.
I stared at him and then looked back to the field.
This was complete craziness to me. My understanding up until now was that the intent was to keep the players from the other team off of the bases.
“They want to get a double play,” David said. Then he continued, “It’s a bad idea.”
And yes, it was a bad idea. Next thing we knew, the Nationals were down 8 runs.
“Can they come back from this?” I asked.
David showed me the win probability graph, “Their odds of winning are lower than 1%.”
I was crushed. And I wasn’t the only one. The fans were starting to turn on each other too. Three men sitting behind us, 10 seats to the left, started yelling at the fans in front.
“STAND UP! KEEP CHEERING!” they yelled while motioning to the people to stand up in front.
“WE MAKE IT POST SEASON ONLY ONCE EVERY 60 YEARS, JERKS! STAND UP! WE NEED MORE SPIRIT!”
“I’m trying to watch the game!” The guy in front of him angrily said.
“YOU NEED TO STAND!” the fan replied.
“YOU NEED TO COOL IT!”
And they continued repeating their respective concerns loudly until security came.
The game ended, and as much as I had wanted them to, and in spite of the kids putting on their rally caps, the Nationals did not make a comeback. It was devastating. We went to the Team Store, so I could look at the apparel options, but I was so upset by the blowout that I didn’t even have the heart to buy a shirt. This was not a game I wanted to remember.
Game 4 was the next day. The game was taking place during work hours, so I couldn’t watch it, but I did follow the game win probability graph on Fangraphs. They were steady around 50% up through the eighth inning, so I found myself getting more and more excited. It wasn’t a blowout! They had a real chance! And then…then, the Nationals have hit a home run, and that man with the formidable beard and terrible batting music has hit a home run! They won! I was ecstatic and called David to see if we could get tickets to Game 5. “I want to go to the game, and I want to buy a team t-shirt!” I declared.
“Tickets are around $180 dollars and they are far away,” David told me, after looking up our options.
“Okay David, let’s just watch the game from a big screen then.”
And for the first time in my life, I was excited my Friday night plans involved watching baseball.
Friday night we headed to the bar, not sure what to expect. Within three innings, the team was making us proud. The Nats were up 6-0, and I was telling David what kind of shirt to buy me at the next post-season game.
“David, I’m really excited for my Nationals shirt. Can you drop the guy you are going with and take me? Actually, don’t worry about that, but you have to get me a shirt so I can support our team. Make sure it’s a cute one! YAY!”
I was so giddy. 6-0.
By the top of the ninth the score was 7-5, so the Cardinals had made things interesting, but the Nats still had a 96% chance of winning. Those were good odds.
Then something terrible happened. The five runs the Cardinals had achieved were disconcerting, and it seemed our pitcher was pretty jarred by the turn of events. The pitcher was throwing erratic balls. Since I had also been drinking, this was particularly infuriating.
“ARE YOU GOING TO WALK HIM TOO?!” I yelled at the television. David hushed me.
But my anger transitioned to shock in the next five minutes as the Cardinals scored four runs to change the outcome of the game. The bottom of the ninth was swift and painful as we watched the Nationals choke in every sense of the word. I was really sad. We left the bar with our heads down, stunned at the turn of events.
“Is this what it feels like to be a baseball fan?” I asked David.
“Yeah. Sometimes,” he replied. “It can hurt.”
He was right. It did hurt. But at the same time, it was kind of neat. And thus I learned Basic #3: Being a baseball fan is an emotional rollercoaster.