Take me out with the crowd: Why the ballpark beats your television

Leon Halip

Even if the beer is expensive, you can't see the pitch and you never know what's going on.

Watching baseball at home, in the comfort of your own living room (or the living room of your vacationing neighbor's house, as the case may be), is a lot different from watching a baseball game from the seats of an actual stadium. This year, which is 2013 (unless I am mistaken), I have seen approximately 5,000 percent more games at baseball parks than I have at any other time in my life, which means that I've spent a lot more "baseball time" this year traveling to and from ballparks, and I have come to this surprising conclusion: I need to get my car's air conditioning fixed.

Taking in a baseball game on television gives you many opportunities to see the game from a thousand different angles. The standard camera view from center field allows you to see the way each pitch bends, twists, curves, and -- if you are watching Cabrera at the plate - winds up in the left field seats. Sitting in a seat on the third base line, it is practically impossible to discern anything about each individual pitch, other than the fact that it appears to have left the pitcher's hand and ended up in the catcher's mitt at some point, probably while you were blinking.

On television, you can see how quickly and at what angle a ball leaves a player's bat, so you know precisely at what moment to leap up, knock over your jar of cashews, and proceed to do the Chicken Dance because your team has just hit a home run. At the ballpark, every fly ball looks like a home run at first, and I have been known to embarrass myself by jumping up and screaming "that one's a goner!" at extremely inopportune moments, such as during the singing of the National Anthem.

The helpful little graphics on the television keep you perpetually tuned into the game's progress, transforming you into a sort of omniscient deity who always knows the current score, number of outs, ball-strike count, pitch count, and the phone number to reach Sam Bernstein's office in case an automobile drives directly into your couch. (I was going to write a Viagra-related joke here, but it took me more than four hours to think of one, so I had to call my doctor.) Sitting in the stands, I am usually struggling to remember even the basics, such as what inning it is and what teams are playing, until finally a security guard comes along to helpfully remind me, "Sir, you need to leave, the game ended four hours ago." Thankfully, ballpark scoreboards are becoming more and more information-intensive, so if I ever feel a bit lost I know I can just look out into left field, and discover that this game is being sponsored by Little Caesars.

Baseball announcers play a huge role in keeping us in the loop on various interesting facets of each in-the-moment play, such as the career average of this hitter against this pitcher, the team's success rate with runners on base this month, the baserunner's stolen base percentage as measured against Hall of Famers from the past 50 years, and whether the color commentator "sees" the shortstop on that last play. From the bleachers, if I want to know how this batter has been faring against left-handed pitching, I need to pull out my phone, pull up a web browser, find a baseball stats site, and struggle to type out search keywords on a keyboard that is slightly smaller than a typical postage stamp. It usually only takes me roughly seven innings before I have succeeded in accidentally calling Sam Bernstein. (Best call I ever made, though.)

But perhaps the biggest differences between watching a game on TV at home and watching it from the stands have to do with the social and environmental facets.

At home, if I happen to run out of beer, I can just mosey on into the kitchen and grab another one, and maybe a bag of sunflower seeds to go with it. At the ballpark, I have to climb an estimated 7,000 steps, weave my way through various aisles and hallways, wait in a line that stretches out of the ballpark and into a neighboring county, and fork over half of my life savings to a disgruntled minimum-wage employee who impatiently informs me, "This is a Macy's, we don't sell beer."

In the sanctuary of my living room, I can just use my remote to turn up the volume and concentrate on the game if things get a bit too noisy at home because, for instance, my kids are screaming about something stupid like, "the brats on the grill are on fire." From my seat ten rows behind the dugout, however, I have to deal with stadium vendors blocking my view approximately every .0009 seconds, hollering at me that they have hot dogs for sale. They not only do this at decibel levels capable of temporarily stunning a herd of angry buffalo, but they do it in a tone of voice that suggests it is my fault they are carrying around 40-pound fanny packs of steamed meat, and if only I would buy a few, they could finally go home to their families.

Dealing with other baseball fans, however, is probably the most challenging aspect of going to the ballpark. We have come to the stadium and shelled out enough cash to wipe out the national deficit, presumably for the purpose of watching the ballgame, and yet most of the people who sit within a ten mile radius of my seat have apparently purchased their tickets for one purpose: to leave them, so they can wander up and down the rows and aisles like children trying to weasel out of English class. This is one aspect of live baseball that I do not understand. I've planned this outing, I've intentionally driven through rage-inducing traffic to get to this location, I've paid good money to sit in this seat, and now I'm climbing over three miles' worth of people in their seats so I can get a bag of cotton candy before the top half of the first inning is over? Is there suddenly a regional shortage of cotton candy that has made this necessary? If I wait just three more seconds, won't there be a vendor invading my personal space, practically forcing a bag of cotton candy into my hands while he helpfully indicates, via hollering into my ears, that this is, in fact, "COOOOOOTTON CAAAAAAANDY"?

When I watch the game at home, I can turn off my entertainment system and be asleep in bed within 45 minutes of the final out (75 minutes, if "Big Al" is late with his game recap). At the ballpark, when the game is over I have to stand in a human traffic jam for the next several months as everyone tries to vacate the stadium at once, until eventually we all realize that the playoffs have started and we should probably start heading back to our seats.

So why do I do it? Why do I continue to deal with the relative levels of exasperation that come along with the "take me out with the crowd" experience? It's simple: as long as I'm at the ballpark, I don't have to listen to Fox National announcers.

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