Today I continued my American education. I went to see the San Diego Padres compete at Baseball against the Florida Marlins. I was a San Diegan for a day, and so was disappointed at the rout that resulted. A large part of the crowd left before the end, disgusted.
It's a strange game. We had good seats near somewhere called First Base. Sometimes my young parishioners talk about getting to First Base, and with my suspicious clerical mind, I jumped to the conclusion that they were talking about something naughty. Well now I know better, but I shall warn them that the game looks very dangerous.
The point is that lots of men of varying shapes (and it's surprising just how comfortably built some of these athletes are) dress in pyjamas and disport themselves around a cone-shaped field with a sandpit at one end. One man gets up on the sandpit and cocks his leg. Then, just as you think he is either going to overbalance or relieve himself, he hurls a ball at a fat man a little distance away. In front of this fat man is a man praying on his knees (both of these have masks on their face, presumably to stop them spitting at the man on the sand pile). In front of the praying man (who occasionally rises to a squat) is another man with a club. It is his job to try and prevent the fat man and the praying man from getting hit (he doesn't succeed most of the time) by hitting the flying ball as hard as he can with his club into the audience, conveniently ranged on either side of him. There is a scream of horror from the poor people as the ball flies towards their teeth, and the braver among them try and capture the ball before it can do too much harm. Then they refuse to give the ball back, hoping that this will save their expensively-whiteneds. But, nothing daunted, the man on the sand pile finds another ball and tries again. He gets three goes, and then the man with the club has to run, because the other men in pyjamas try to hit him with the ball. Just after we arrived, one player for the Padres actually tried to run home in fright, egged on by the screams of the crowd. A big sign flashed up HOME RUN!!!, and he got to go and sit in a sort of underground bunker as a reward. Everyone applauded his escape attempt. They didn't let him go home, though. From time to time balls would not succeed in injuring a member of the audience; many people would throw up their hands in surrender, but it was in vain. One of the players was sure to throw the ball at them nonetheless.
The Padres also employed a coach; this was a woman with a powerful voice who sat a row or two behind us, and freely dispensed her advice with a quite extraordinary pair of lungs. It was, no doubt, useful advice. 'Strike one, strike two, strike three', she yelled, though the poor batsman had a job to strike anyone at all, as he missed his shots and the crowd groaned with relief.
Perhaps the strangest thing was the anthem. Everybody had to stand up in the middle of the seventh over and, hand on heart, sing what I suppose is the Baseball Anthem, a moving plea speaking of the fear engendered by that flying ball. I think the words were something like 'Don't Take Me Out At The Ball Game'. The effect was a little spoiled afterwards, however, by the fact that this moving moment was followed by 'Twist and Shout', which everyone did energetically, getting out of the way of the flying missiles. Tragic.
You can see my splendid Canadian baseball cap from Niagara Falls in the picture. I now understand that its purpose is to catch flying balls.
And tomorrow, I will meet that wondrous Gem of the Ocean……