Savoring the Pleasures of the Game
By Edward Shanahan
Despite my long tenure as a Red Sox fan, going back to 1944, and our relative proximity to Fenway Park, I have not attended a game there in many, many years.
It’s too hard to get ticket if you won’t deal with a scalper, unlike most of the Yuppies who pack the park by buying tickets on the street for $100 a pop, and too daunting a trip home to Western Massachusetts after a night game, which is when most teams play.
But I recently came up with a better game plan for satisfying my once-a-year urge to go to a ball park for a leisurely afternoon in the sunshine, watching professionals play without hype and in a slightly less commerce-driven environment.
It was the final day of the Cactus League season for the Oakland Athletics, who undergo their spring training in Arizona and play their home games at Phoenix Memorial Stadium. And what a pleasure this was.
The Athletics were matched up against the San Francisco Giants, a team those of us in an American League city rarely get to see. And the A’s and Sox only meet six times a year, unlike the ridiculous 19 games that the Sox play against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, which is no kind of rivalry. The Giants swatted five home runs and 17 hits for a 15 to 0 victory over the A’s, an outcome that was satisfying in all important respects, as we had no loyalty to either team.
The game had all the necessary ingredients – good fielding, good pitching, lots of offense and all played in a setting that for an Easterner was magical – brown desert hills looming behind the outfield fences, full sunshine flooding the field and stands, lush green turf, lots of families on hand, as well as those of us who are older and thus more discriminating about our baseball, like the couple next to us from Edmondton, Alberta, who had home-game tickets for the entire month of March, and the woman kept track of the play on a hand-made score card. Older guys my age wearing flowered Hawaiian were doing the ushering and handing out free Bull Frog sun lotion for those of us worried about too much sun, which was not an issue for us sunshine-deprived New Englanders.
Even though we were in the last row behind the home plate foul screen and right below the broadcasters’ booth – I spied Jon Miller of ESPN, on a busman’s holiday, talking to some of his pals on the local radio and television outlets – we were closer to the field of play than in most big league stadiums. It seemed like a large crowd with most of the seats filled, which put the final attendance at about 6,500.
And despite all of the offense and pitching changes the game was played in 2 hours and 26 minutes, about half an hour less than the average game played during the regular season.
Parking was $5 and at the end of the game, it took us about three minutes to exit the park and be headed back to where we were staying across town.
Our experience, of course, was not unique – snowbirds from all over New England throng the Grapefruit League spring training parks in Florida, or games in Arizona as well.
But it was our first spring training outing, and without question our best baseball experience in years, equal to spending a summer evening a few years ago in folding chairs at a Cape Cod League game in Harwich. These baseball games were played on a scale and at the pace that were accessible and to be savored.
The highest tribute was offered a few days later when Ann, not really a baseball fan or partisan of any kind of professional sports activity, volunteered: “I think the baseball game was the best part of our trip!”
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