The Things We Say at the Ballpark
Thank god for baseball.
[Quick personal note: my kind and patient speaking agent wants me to remind you that Pride Month is coming. If you’re looking for a speaker for your company, conference, college or some related Pride event, I’m available. Do inquire.]
It actually hadn’t been that long, but somehow, it felt like a past life.
I hadn’t been to a baseball game since October, when my dear friend Ana introduced me, for the first time, to Fenway, the great cathedral of hope that I’m told by many believers is the beating heart of Boston. That’s a story for another day.
As a reciprocating thanks to her, I had bought really great tickets to one of the Nationals’ first weekend home games this season, the third in their series against those bastard Mets, on a Friday evening, April 8th. Stephen Strasburg Bobblehead Day.
No, excuse me, that’s imprecise. Stephen Strasburg World Series MVP Bobblehead Day.
Hey, I wouldn’t hold out on y’all. Here’s a pic.
But Ana had to back out due to work because she’s a busy lady, and so, I called up my friend Anthony, who had I hadn’t seen in a while, to tag along.
Now, sure, October was only six months ago and how spoiled was I to see a great playoff game then, but holy hell, folks, six months in this era might as well be six years, and the calibration of my heart gets unwieldy when I haven’t been to the park in a while.
I don’t know how to explain it, but baseball—which I never played as a kid, not even little league—has a way of calming the worse impulses of my anxiety. The game forces my brain to slow down to a peaceful hum, punctuated occasionally, in the most welcome way, by the undeniable pleasure of a cracking bat’s unbridled ambition.
I fucking love baseball. I love the sustained yet controlled buzz that permeates a ballpark. I love the beautiful and oft-ludicrous humanity that fill the seats. I love the food that’s terrible for you. I love the shitty beer. I love being with a group of good friends and talking to each other about everything under the sun as we wait for something exciting to happen in the game.
That last bit is most perplexing to folks who don’t like baseball, and I totally get it. To them, it makes no sense why someone would pay to wait around for the not-so-frequent moments of adrenaline — indeed, such a moment may never come in a game, and you wound up merely waiting for the drive home.
To them I say: you’re right. If the totality of a baseball game came down to what happens on the field, every fan suddenly becomes a bit of a gambler.
But it’s so much more than that. To me, it’s the conversations had at baseball games that make the experience worth it. While you’re waiting for that exciting moment, you and your pals have cast out lines into the conversational pond, throwing out whatever the hell is on your mind, and often, with the right companions, the folks who know you and you know them, there’s a hell of a bite and the conversation is damn good.
It’s not that these conversations couldn’t happen outside baseball games; it’s that it’s so easy for them to happen at the ballpark. So organically.
Something about the steady but comforting pull of the field keeps your brain’s engine humming at a leisurely pace, just enough to be engaged with what’s going on around you but not so much that you can’t bitch about work or rave about some great flick that just came out or bemoan the state of the dating scene or, as much as I try to avoid it and inevitably fail, unpack current events.
That Friday night was gorgeous. Low 60s. The Sun was setting around first pitch into a blanket of royal blue behind the left shoulder of the park. The clouds had dissipated and been swept away, falling into the horizon. The towering lights had knocked on, washing the park in a golden hue, except where the grass was so, so very green.
As I said, I had splurged on really great seats—a rarity—and we found ourselves not far behind home plate. The kind of seats where there’s free food and drinks and easy, close access to a restroom. The kind of seats with QR codes you can zap to have things delivered to you. The kind of seats I wouldn’t dreamed of having as a kid growing up and watching games on a grainy box television in a dingy trailer.
The world is currently awful in too many ways to itemize, but I had a beer in my right hand and a good friend seated to my left, and here I was, healthy and living authentically and sitting not far behind home plate on a crisp Friday night in a gorgeous ballpark, and my—oh my—how I wish I could tell 10 year-old Charlotte she’d be casually doing this someday.
Anthony’s around my age. We met through the Truman Project and hit it off immediately. He’s good people. Funny, smart, honest, and terrible at skiing. He’s also an Army vet, which, insufferably to our mutual friends, takes up much of the conversation every time we get together. Army vets are gonna talk shit about the Army, guaranteed. We complain with the best of ‘em.
There’s a stickiness and yielding to a good casual conversation, the peaceful tension of a rubber band you absentmindedly stretch in your fingers. It’s a bit more work to keep it pulled, and there’s something of an art to knowing where the yielding must come, like little tides running against the brain and the heart.
We talked about things I won’t much mention here, but Anthony is one of those pals that makes it easy to discuss just about anything without requiring you to be “on” in the ways so common these days. Even the word “discuss” might be too formal here. Shooting the shit. Yeah, that’s better. That feels right. Shooting the shit, with glances into the more serious subjects.
It’s been a tough few months on the trans rights front, and even that feels like an understatement. I tell Anthony that the attacks on trans kids hurt to watch, but far worse than that is the silence of those who supposedly are our allies. The silence is somehow the worst part. The silence, more than anything, has been excruciating. I’ve cried too much lately. It’s hard not to.
Anthony doesn’t pretend to get it, and that’s partly what makes him so refreshing. He understands certain angles of bigotry in his own context, but he doesn’t claim to get what trans folks are going through. He just knows it sucks because that feeling of shouting into the void rings familiar for anyone on the margins.
Josh Bell clocked a dinger to right center field in the bottom of the third, putting us up even with the Mets, and though we don’t yet know it, that’ll be the apex of our excitement over the on-field activity.
Except it wasn’t! Top of the fifth: poor Francisco Lindor took a stray ball to the chin from Steve Cishek, signed just a few weeks prior, and the benches cleared into a brawl.
Did I mention these were really good seats? Hot damn and stretched rubber bands, if you’ve never had a front row seat to an MLB mosh pit, let me assure you that you’re not likely to soon forget it. I wasn’t hoping for a fight or anything, but when it happened, it was hard not to gape.
I laughed when Anthony remarked, seemingly in awe: “I’ve never been at a game where the pitchers sprinted from the bullpen into a rumble.”
Nor had I.
That Nats went on to lose, and the rest of the game wasn’t much to write about if you’re not a Mets fan.
But Anthony and I took full advantage of the good weather and the cold beer, and our brains went fishing back in the easy depths. Seamlessly.
Despite how awful things have been in the world lately, I found a scrap of heaven in my backyard that night.
The sky cooled off. The chatter got lazier. The laughs easier.
The peace came so fast and so easily that we didn’t take notice.
I love baseball.
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Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but if you feel so moved to support my writing, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Founding Member at $210.