An ode to a game.
For a sport that has produced such writing - acres of columns, stacks of narratives, biographies, autobiographies, research papers, statistical papers, poems, songs, scripts, baseball is ultimately about sound.
The crack of leather on wood. The slap of a ball in a glove.
The groan of the ump.
The heckle of the crowd.
It was at my first ball game in years this past weekend. A double header in fact. Four glorious summer hours of the Ottawa Champions, the new home-town team, against the New Jersey Jackals.
Arriving early I was struck by the empty noiselessness of an unused stadium. The snap of the seats being opened for the first time in weeks. The spark of the static that form of cheap plastic creates.
The first game started at five and it was a family crowd. Cries and screams of children filled the air. Sitting about ten rows up from home plate I heard as much of families bickering as I did the game. For every striiiike there was a "Jimmy get over here!"
It took a couple of innings for the crowd to focus, aided in part by one voice. Far up in a seat behind first base an old, deep smokers voice would call out "UMP YOU BETTA GIVE US THAT STRIKE TOO"
The crowd grew throughout the first game. The stadium being in the east end of Ottawa, French filled my ears. Seniors swapping stories about seeing the Expos play in the 80s. The judgy groan of a "vraiment!" after another Ottawa batter struck out. The stadium announcer, not yet in a rhythm, hacking at the language trying to translate each announcement. At one long stumble over words, a good number behind me yelled the correct noun back up at him.
For the second match I moved to three rows behind home. Here my ears met the sounds of the ump muttering. The bench coach heckling "YOU'RE A FUCKING MORON." to the ump. The crowd faded into the background as each smack of the bat was louder, sharper.
The second match the crowd was more attentive. Base hits got claps. Strikes outs cheers much louder than the first, more distracted children ridden game. The second match also introduced the sound of the drunken Dad.
We met him in the middle of the 5th. An Ottawa batter with the name of Schwartz just game to the plate. In the silence after the entrance music a lone male voice called out "MAY THE SCHWARTZ BE WITH YOU"
Baseball wit is a sharp wit. For the rest of the match "USE THE SCHWARTZ" became a regular call.
The second match also saw the Umpire kick out Ottawa's bench coach. Ottawans are normally a pretty quiet crowd, but we are hyper-sensitive to a feeling that the deck is stacked against us. The crowd pelted with ump with rage for the rest of the game, far out of proprotion to the match or to the call. Even as the Ump left the field the gentleman sitting beside me - basically at field level within 10 feet and ear shot of the man in black hollared "YOU SUCK UMP!"
The baseball wit is a sharp wit.
After the game ended - the home team lost 5-0; home teams always lose it seems - the stadium quickly murmured with the sound of people checking for wallets and keys, of small talk as they hold doors for each other and the odd trip over a concrete step.
A quiet ending to a loud game.