On baseball 2

Trip Start Apr 02, 2007
Trip End Jul 02, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Missouri
Saturday, May 5, 2007

Fifth innings bases loaded. The Kansas City Royals are down by four and really need to lift their performance. Two enormous screens urge the fans to cheer louder and louder. hokey organ music reverberates through the stadium, trying to build some excitement. The fresh pitcher tosses up ball after ball, walks one man home. then he walks another home. the crowd are getting restless, this innings can't end soon enough. a tactical meeting is held on the pitchers mound.

and i have a moment in which to contemplate the bizarre chain of events that brought me here.

my first month in Madrid, back when i was living in the hermit's cave, for those who remember; i spent as much time as possible outdoors, despite the cold, because it was better than my lightless, grubby little bedroom. and usually, when the cold got the better of me, there was cheap internet in a locutorio (not a wifi-soaked coffee house anywhere).

enter michelle; spending her sophomore year studying in london, on her first sally forth onto the continent. and unable to find her friends because, believe it or not, the train station is very very big. and worse still; she can't find the @ function on these damned spanish keyboards. and without that there will be no email to her friends, and not reunion, and she will be stuck in frosty madrid.

i happen to be the person she asks for help. i show her how to find @. then i leave. then i come back. if she is stuck and has nothing to do, would she like me to take her round for the day, show her the sights? the prado, the retiro park, gran via and puerta del sol. we walk madrid in a day. she leaves. she returns in a few days with her friends. she leaves.

i leave madrid, return to oz. i leave oz and head to the US. i stay with michelle in lincoln nebraska. she has family in kansas city. we leave lincoln for KC. we stay with her uncle and aunt. would we like to see a Royals baseball match? yes we would. we are warned; they will probably lose.

so then, back to the fifth innings, and i suspect i have just about finished another huge mound of cheese-from-a-tap nachos. And michelle's dad is there too. and he absolutely refuses to let me pay for anything, because i looked after her in spain, he is looking after me. i tentatively point out that taking her to a free art gallery and walking her around town isn't actually helping her out. she found her friends. i just raved about Goya. he won't hear it. and he won't stop paying.

the crowd are still restless. a few half-hearted mexican waves get up, but they disperse fast. the stadium behind the outfield is all coloured fountains and billboards, and cars that, if they get hit by a homer, will be given away (needless to say they are undented and intact). this is a different world to wrigley field and the cubs. every new innings is marked with a giveaway of some kind. the kiss cam is roving the crowds, shaming couples or at least people sitting side by side into kissing. the dance cam is doing the same thing but with dancing and individuals. out come the promotions girls and the mascot, and they are carrying bazookas. the first time it is t-shirts they fire into the crowd. later on its alfoil-wrapped hotdogs. meanwhile three people in giant hotdog suits are racing around the field. it is a carnival atmosphere, plenty of gloss and kitsch, to keep the fans in their seats and drinking beer. it works of course. when the Royals claw back three runs in the 8th the fans rouse, but by now everyone is pretty much sticking around for the fireworks show that will reverberate throughout the stadium afterwards.

the stalwart Cubs fans at Wrigley in Chicago could argue, quite reasonably, that this is baseball without its dignity. a huge stadium built in the middle of nowhere, a massive car park that merges with the adjacent football car park, and a pro store that stocks every possible baseball hat. KC Royals are blue and white, but if you prefer your hat in fluorescent urban camouflage orange, that can be done. people scrabbling over each other to catch hotdogs being lobbed into the top level of the grandstand - is this dignity? it is entertainment. you laugh at the concept, you laugh at the people, you laugh with the crowd, you laugh at yourself. but you do laugh.

the Royals lose, of course they do. but we and everyone else knew that when they arrived, or at least from the first innings when they went behind. but everyone has had a good time, they have forgotten themselves and danced terribly to get on camera or kissed awkwardly or fallen over seats to catch souvenir ball shirt or dog. its here again; that ability to suspend disbelief and cynicism, and be immersed in the moment. american earnestness, nine innings worth of laughter, plus a free fireworks display.

and i am again gobsmacked by how good my luck is, how continually i fall on my feet and end up in these fortuitous situations. because in Madrid i was as glad for the company as Michelle was. and i have to wonder for how much longer the universe will allow me to spend on credit in the manner. but while i am afforded this fortune i'll continue to wring it for all its worth. and i don't mean nachos, but i do mean american hospitality, which the land seems to overflow with, and which really there is no alternative but to accept. its no optional, it just is. so sit back and watch the fireworks, eat your nachos and enjoy it.
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