Sunday, August 31, 2008

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”

Baseball is claimed to be America’s favorite pastime.

After twenty-three years of living in United States, I have not yet experienced watching this important American sport. Recently, I decided to follow a friend who’s a passionate Mets fan to a baseball game at Shea Stadium. I was curious about two things, just what exactly is baseball all about and why it is “America’s favorite pastime”.

It’s an express subway ride on the 7 train from Manhattan’s Grand Central to Queen’s Shea Stadium – about half an hour journey. The whole baseball craze started as early as when I got on the train. My friend handed me a Mets cap. As I put on the cap, I started to notice other people also wearing Mets cap, and some with jersey shirts. Once we arrived at the Shea Stadium, people spilled out of the subway, in a sea of white and blue, and a tinge of orange. Boys were dressed in complete uniforms, including the gloves. People wore jerseys of their favorite players; Santana, Wright and Beltran. It occurred to me it was not just merely watching baseball, it was just as important to dress the part. Even before entering the gigantic stadium I was getting excited just observing the thousands of passionate fans - the enthusiasm was in the air!

A woman came on stage of the baseball field. All the spectators stood up. As the words of the national anthem “Star-Spangled Banner” filled the air and the American flag fluttered in the breeze I couldn’t help but noticed how patriotic sports can be. The audience is diverse, not just male, but women, kids and adolescents, various ethnicities and age group. Though it was my first experience, I quickly sensed that baseball is very much a family and friend event. Armed with plenty of hot dogs and beers or soft drink, this was a moment for family members and friends to catch up. People go to a baseball game not just of the game, being with their family and friends is important too. I enjoy hearing my friend talk about baseball and his granddad. As a kid, his granddad who lived in Flushing near Shea Stadium would take him to see many baseball games. My friend developed at a very young age the love of baseball, and the Mets. What I could connect with was not the affinity for the sport itself, but the memories it provokes of a childhood long gone, and the relationships with people.

How long in history has baseball been playing in the lives of Americans? “Baseball became an extremely popular sport during and just after the American Civil War. It was called "America's Pastime" because during the late 19th and early 20th century it was probably the most widely played sport in the country. Baseball was to that time period as video games and television are to today. Before TV Baseball was what kids did after school and on the weekends and during the summer...etc. It was literally how America passed the time.”

I tried to think of a childhood experience I may have had related to this great American pastime. I had none. In walking miles and miles down memory lane, the only recollection I could think of is from a book I read in fifth grade, “In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson”. The story took place in 1947, the year Jackie Robinson took bat. In the book are these two passages:

“In our national pastime, each player is a member of a team, but when he comes to bat, he stands alone. One man. Many opportunities. For no matter how far behind, how late in the game, he, by himself, can make a difference. He can change what has been. He can make it a new ball game.

“Jackie Robinson is the grandson of a slave, the son of a sharecropper, raised in poverty by a lone mother who took in ironing and washing. But a woman determined to achieve a better life for her son. And she did. For despite hostility and injustice, Jackie Robinson went to college, excelled in all sports, served his country in war. And now, Jackie Robinson is at bat in the big leagues. “

The author, Bette Bao Lord is a Chinese woman who based the story on her life as an immigrant from China to Brooklyn, her struggle to learn English and fit in, and her passion for baseball. Sports have often been associated with the American Dream. It may not be true that dreams can come true in America, but one can dream and there is a possibility the dream can come true. In many countries, one can’t even dream. This is what I have learned in the past decade living in other countries. With all the problems and faults, America is still a great country. Success is never guaranteed, but it is a country of second, third, fourth chances.

“Take me out to the ball game... take me out to the crowd…. ”, the song blared from the sound system at the seventh inning, near the end of the game. I have heard of this song countless times in other settings. But as I hear it this time, I had to smile to myself : Here I am out seeing a ball game! and here I am out amongst the crowd! The first baseball game at the Shea Stadium is special for me - and as I found out at the end of the evening, it would also be my last game at this stadium. Shea Stadium will close down after this season. The new stadium, directly across the ball field will replaced this old one next year. Will the new stadium continue to provide for future generations, as it did for my friend and his granddad the same great experience of where people can come together to watch this great American pastime?