Friday, August 14, 2009

What to Do When Not Paying Attention at the Ballpark by Mike Faloon

The line drive sailed into left field, straight and true. It had all the markings of a routine play. Gary Sheffield settled in, feet planted, glove lined up. I assumed he was paying attention right up until the moment the ball bounced out of his glove allowing the Marlins runner to ease into second with a stand up double. He never scored, though because his Florida teammates followed with a pop up and ground out.

Keep the “E7” in your scorecard if you want but his miscue didn’t cost the Mets any runs. And Sheffield didn’t get fined or lose any more respect, so there was no cost to him. Not paying attention can be all right. And this season Mets fans—and apparently Mets players—have good reason to divert their attention elsewhere. This set the tone for the games I’ve seen this summer. Here’s what I’ve been focusing on during my trips to ballparks through the northeast.

How to Play MoundiesMarlins vs. Mets
CitiField, NYC

Moundies. It’s a game my friends Alex and Sue taught me. It goes like this. At the end of each half inning follow the ball. If it rolls onto the mound, then the person holding the cup wins the money. If the ball doesn’t end up on the mound, then the cup is passed to the next person. Bring lots of singles.

It may help if I run through those steps a bit more methodically. Here we go.

One: Get a cup. Alex plays old school and just wipes out a used beer cup. You can also ask for clean cup.

Two: Have each person put a dollar in the cup. My wife and I went to a Mets/Marlins game with Alex and Sue. (It was our first trip to Citi Field. Nice park. Should be called Gil Hodges Stadium, though.) Four participants means you start with four dollars. The math gets no more complicated than that.

Three: Set your order. We played from left to right. Sue sat on the left. She held the cup first. Allie, Alex, and I sat to Sue’s right in that order. We passed the cup along in the order. That may be a bit more detailed than necessary but I’m taking no chances here. It’s not like a classroom where you can raise your hand and ask a question. Or just call out, which my students do a lot and I don’t mind, as long as what they’re saying is relevant, especially when we’re having an impromptu debate, let the good ideas surface without reservation. But let’s get back to Moundies before I get all Socratic.

Four: Watch how each half inning ends. The top of the first ended with the Marlins’ Jeremy Hermida striking out. Mets catcher Omir Santos caught the third strike and rolled the ball toward the mound. It rolled off the second base side of the mound. Sue was watching—we all were at that point—but she did not win. The ball has to stay on the mound for the cup holder to collect the funds.

Five: Put more money in the cup. Bottom of the first. Sue passed the cup to Allie and everyone ponied up another dollar. Omir Santos swatted a grand slam, the first in the history of Gil Hodges Stadium. The Mets scored six runs in the inning.

Six: Keeping watching the mound even when the game is exciting. We all forgot about Moundies after the grand slam. Allie passed the cup to Alex, who won when Fernando Tatis, playing first base for the Mets, recorded the last out of the top of the second inning. The pot was up to $12.

Seven: Start again. The cup had $4 when it came to me. We got talking about work, specifically Secretaries Day, which is not something that teachers should forget. (Sue and Alex teach at the same school I do.) Unlike a dropping a fly ball in the major leagues, there are consequences to neglecting your school’s secretary. I got to thinking about this and lost track of the game so the cup went back to Sue.

The rest of the game was pretty dull but playing Moundies livened up the evening. One more tip, a bit of etiquette really: if you seem to win more than often than the rest of your group, treat everyone to some snacks or a round of drinks. The idea is that everyone kind of comes out even in the end.

The Big Four-OhLeheigh Valley Iron Pigs vs. Syracuse Skychiefs
Alliance Stadium, Syracuse

I turned 40 in July and my wife threw me a surprise party. It was awesome. She rented a box at the Chiefs stadium and invited tons of family (who were already in town for the 4th of July). Was I surprised? Yes, for the most part. We had been hanging in my mom’s backyard—Allie, me, the kids, my mom, my brother Pat and his boyfriend—and suddenly everyone had to leave. Pat and Chris were going downtown to check out a record store. Allie and my mom wanted to take the kids out for ice cream. These are normal things. My other brother, Casey, and I were planning to go to the Chiefs game anyway. So they left and I waited for Casey to pick me up. There were two unusual things that left me curious. Allie woke up our daughter from a nap, which is Haley’s Comet-rare. Second, about five minutes after everyone left I saw Pat and Chris drive by the house in one car followed by Allie, my mom and the kids in another car. Despite these clues the surprise party caught me off guard, especially when I saw my Uncle Steve, from Maine, and a good friend from NYC, Brian Cogan, in the same room. It was like a harmonic convergence of funny Irish guys with great senses of humor and good taste in music and movies.
My cousin’s husband joked that I’d be kind of ticked off by having so many people at the game because it would be impossible to actually watch the action on the field. I did bring my scorecard, thinking I’d be watching the game with one brother and my dad, but I never picked it up.

Technically I Paid Money to See Bob Dylan Perform
Wyios, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan
Alliance Stadium, Syracuse

I can’t be blamed for not paying attention to the game on this trip to the ballpark. There wasn’t a game scheduled. There was a four-act bill, however. It was my first concert at a ballpark. The stage was set up further back than I expected, in the middle of center field. I was there with my brother and my dad. We all loved the opening band but didn’t know their name until they were done. The Wyios. They did this slow version of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe,” which reminded me of Tom Waits. The rest of the set was like western swing (they covered Bob Wills at one point) crossed with Spike Jones.

Willie Nelson was great. He walked one with no introduction, broke into “Whiskey River,” and kept the hits coming for an hour. It wasn’t the most passionate performance (“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was truncated, only hitting the chorus twice; “Good Hearted Woman” didn’t shift into double time like it used to) but he gave us our money’s worth (which is saying a lot given the cost of the tickets). His voice still has that beautiful timbre even if its force is a bit diminished. Four songs into the set he said, “Hello there” and went back to the hits. I was surprised he didn’t monologue more but the dude was there to work. (To his credit he could have had some young buck shouldering the lead guitar duties but Willie was at the wheel the whole time.) Plus, there are other ways to endear yourself to fans. He threw his bandanas into the crowd. That seemed to work for a lot of people. So did the trio of Hank Williams songs. My favorite was the cover of “Me and Bobby McGee,” barely recognizable because it seemed so much faster. I think my dad’s was “Georgia On My Mind.” He harmonized and shared the history (“This was written by Hoagy Carmichael and of course Ray Charles did it, too”).

I liked John Mellencamp more than I expected. I haven’t heard a new John Mellencamp song in 15 years and I recognized most of the set. I found myself listening to the words more than the music. They’re country lyrics set to rock songs, which may be obvious but it hadn’t dawned on before.

Dylan was awful. My expectations were low and I still couldn’t take it. Big deal, right, another Dylan hater. Let me explain. I’ve come to like some Dylan. Not just his songs when sung by other people but his versions. Highway 61 Revisited. Bringing It All Back Home. Blonde on Blonde. The classics. Nothing fancy. Couldn’t take Dylan ’09, though. We left after a couple of songs and talked about the Wyios and Willie as we walked back to the parking lot.

“Sultans of Swing”Falmouth Commodores vs. Orleans Firebirds
Orleans, MA

There is nothing quite like a Cape League game. College all-stars playing on high school fields. No aluminum bats. Fans brings their own chairs. I usually buy a scorecard so I know who’s playing but I went Sheffield this time. My wife and I forgot chairs so we lay in the grass. I came to in the bottom of the ninth. Tie game. At first I didn’t understand why “Sultans of Swing” was playing over the PA. It seemed too mellow for a “rally the home team” song. Then the title hit me. Sometimes it is worth paying attention at the ballpark.

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