The Business in Baltimore

“Well there is this guy named Adam Jones.”

“Yeah?” she said.

“And everyone knew he was going to be really good but he was this central piece in a trade for Baltimore’s ace, this guy Bedard.”

“So?”

“The trade backfired and the guy needed labrum surgery and we resigned him though because he is good.”

“So why what’s the point?”

“Someone might use their names while heckling us.”

One person did. We drove through traffic for three hours to get to Baltimore. There was a rain delay and the game started half an hour late. This worked perfect – we would arrive during the second inning.

“This used to be a smoking room.” I said.

“Oh yeah.”

She turned on the heat later that night: the smell of burning cardboard, mold-growing-upon-mold and cat farts blew through the room. I went to pull the tv out of the stand. There was no slide. I caught the tv a few feet off the ground.

“This lamp doesn’t work.” she said.

It wasn’t plugged in.

“You know how they say that purgatory is just like everything else in the world, how it all seems the same, but really, everything is just a little bit worse, but only just enough to frustrate you?” she said.

“Yeah?”

“That’s like Baltimore.”

Her description was startlingly accurate.

We walked around for half-hour and couldn’t find a place to eat after 10pm. The only places we found that night were a liquor store and two ‘gentlemen’ clubs. Apparently, down by the waterfront, there was a decent nightlife.  And we had seen The Wire: and we knew how something could be portrayed and how it could truly be.

“I have no idea where the water is.”

We also knew someone could see a portrayal and realize things needed to change. Apparently Baltimore was trying to clean itself up, or at least gain some exposure.

“This isn’t New York or Chicago or LA,” she said. “This is a real modern American city.”

ʘ

There is a big brown warehouse that fares prominently over the right-field wall.

When I was a kid, I wanted to go to the field for every franchise in the major leagues. I went to Candlestick Park. I have been to Fenway. I went to the place-where-the-A’s-play. There is some shame in my family that I have never been conscious or what the American Supreme Courts defined as “alive” at Wrigley Field.

I have been to the Kingdome and Safeco countless times.

The official attendance is eight thousand. An easy fifteen-hundred are wearing Mariners gear. I am not used to seeing a mostly-empty stadium. Safeco’s attendance numbers are pretty good – it appeals to a certain crowd and it is a nice stadium – but more on that later. Typically the attendance there is above twenty, at the very least. Twenty is empty.

I wonder who roots for the Orioles. I never meet Jacksonville Jaguars fans. I never meet Milwaukee Bucks fans. Until a couple years ago, I had never met a Baltimore Orioles fan.

We had tickets for back-to-back games. The Mariners were in town, and there was a game Wednesday night and a game Thursday afternoon.

“Let’s just say in Baltimore for the night.”

And thus the hotel.

I imagine that my opinion of the Orioles, and the Camden Yard experience would be very different if I only went once. Like every baseball team, they have cute and fun between inning activities. They have the standards: the blooper real, the team trivia questions, the “guess-that-year” game, a variation on three-card-Monty (there’s involves a crab and a boat and a squid and at one point a meta-fourth-wall-breaking-hand entering the scene ala Looney Tunes.) There was a kiss camera that encouraged couples to kiss when they were on camera. Not surprisingly, no same-sex couples were featured. Although I suspect a few sibling couples were.

Regardless, some baseball was played, the intricacies and situations I will not go into here. Bottom line is that we lost both games, although the second loss was an exciting loss.

It was my first experience rooting for the visiting team at a stadium. I remembered my feelings for these people at all of my exclusively home-team experiences. I expected some minor backlash. So I wasn’t surprised when a guy called me a “faggot Mariners fan” as I entered the men’s room. I briefly considered asking them if they were coming onto me, but this didn’t seem like the crowd that would either understand irony, sarcasm and assertive  masculinity that didn’t involve  guns, hunting and/or ambiguous histories of sexual assault.

They are the Baltimore version of the “bridge-and-tunnel” club. These are the type of people that slur five words into one, and generally think of tolerance as I beat you to near-death instead of beating you to death and thus you got off easy.

On another non-linear occasion, I went into the bathroom as the crowd had really thinned out. There were two people in the bathroom before the top of the ninth. I feel like bathroom and concession lines are the true mark of attendance figures.

A man and a woman yelled each others names back and forth through the door.

“Andy!!!”

“Audrey?”

“Hey ANNNNNDY!”

“AUDREY! I’M TAKING A SHIT!”

“ANNNNNNNDY!”

“GODDAMITAUDREYI’MTAKINGAFUCKINGSHIT!”

There was a pause.

“ANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNDYYYYYYYYY CMONNNN!”

“I SAID I AM TAKINGAFUCKINGSHIT AUDREY.”

I asked the man washing his hands next to me if he thought it was his wife, his daughter or both.

ʘ

The mystery and wonder of going to a park has fallen off for me.

There is still that immediate sensory readjustment when you can see the grass through a tunnel and then you get the view. That, will never go away.

I was writing about the differences between Camden and Safeco and I realized there wasn’t much of a point to it. So I deleted it. Safeco is nicer, yes, but they spent five times as much money on it and it was built by a “progressive-city” in a boom era. And the niceties and differences in sports and social hierarchy, and everything in our culture pretty much comes down to one thing, of course. Money. And talking about the difference sonly further highlights the amount of value and priority we grant to money.

At a bar, The Girl and I had gotten into the same dispute we always get into during the NBA playoffs – the motivation and moral management of the referees. (Go ahead and read Donaghyu’s book or look at this.)  

The refs basically want to keep the games close, the series close and the on-court product as watchable as possible. The reason that there is 162, 82 and now potentially 17 or 18 games in a season is only being discussed to make more money. The players know this – all of the veteran NBA and NFL players more-than-jocularly refer to the regular season as “the pre-season.” This why they say it only matters how you finish – because these players are ultimately here to win championships and further glory, not to entertain you. This is why Griffey sleeps in the locker room, players drive home after the 5th inning, Randy Moss quits on routes, basketball games are generally not entertaining until the 4th quarter if you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the sport. This is also why ESPN bombards you with “breaking news” and scores to distract you in case you ever start wondering if what Phil Jackson has to say about Ron Artest’s Twitter posts is actually worth any of your time.

If they are getting played millions to win, and they know there are far more important things in life, and there is a multi-billion dollar industry devoted to keeping you tuned in – what does that tell you?

And the bitter finality and implications of that very thought dawned on me in that way that I always wanted to deny or look around my whole life when a beer man in Baltimore had a few words with me when he saw my Mariners cap.

“You from Seattle?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s a sick fucking thing what those bastards did to your Sonic’s. I fucking hate that.”

I nodded.

“I have been working here, for the Ravens and the Orioles for thirty-five years, and you know what the goddamned truth is?”

I could guess. He leaned in close.

“They are all a bunch of spoiled fucking whores and you know it.”

He leaned back.

“I am sorry about your team.”

And he walked away and I understood what he meant. He was probably a fan of the Baltimore Colts.

ʘ

I was still happy. Probably because I knew everything he told me and I felt sort of vindicated in a way that I didn’t really like but helped with the retinal fact that we just lost a frankly boring-ass game.

But he was right about something. It wasn’t Seattle’s team or the NBA’s team or Payton’s team or Kemp’s team or Wilken’s team or Sikma’s team. It was my team – the fan’s team.

And I had to take ownership of that.

But I don’t think it is ever possible for me to fully reconcile the business aspects of sports versus the fandom aspects of sports. I am hooked in. I check ESPN regularly (and not just because I am still secretly waiting for a necrophilia scandal to break.)

The teams exist in the places they exist, with the games being broadcast because they are the games that can convert the most amount of money. New York, Boston, LA or Chicago wants to be in the finals to draw bigger audience numbers to increase their advertising rates for next season. They work PR better than corporate America. Then I remember each one of these teams is corporate America.

But then I remember they are spending money to open the stadium and keep the lights on and to field a competitive team, and that all of the money gets circulated around anyway. So what’s the difference?

But the difference to me is that for some reason it seems funny to identify with the Tigers or the Mets or the Steelers or any other team and to carry that as part of your identity. I carry the Mariners history as my own history. If there were thirty – or ninety – kinds of soda and they were all produced locally in each respective franchise city, would you carry that brand of soda as a part of your identity?

So this non-metaphorical brand loyalty is really just another mechanic of our economy. But we cheer and wear (and buy) hats and shirts because of a geographical history and a team history, and we share it with each other.

And every time I see my team lose or watch at a bar when a player has played in all likelihood his last game in Cleveland, I try to take a breath and keep it in perspective.

It’s just a game. And it hurts less. And then it ceases to matter.

So I don’t worry ten minutes after the game is over.

But it also makes me wonder why I spend so much time worrying and caring in the first place! Then my heart sinks when I think of all the reading I could have gotten done.

But I don’t remember that, and I don’t carry it with me. What I do carry with me are the people – the Mariner fans behind center field cheering until the last out, the Asian couple in front of us literally sprinting to the front of the fence to get a word into Ichiro, the British man who was going to his first game of baseball and his friend and I coherently explained the rules, and he was following along and cheering and yelling after the seventh inning. Even the brutish fans in the bathroom using slurs. It transcends reason, time and money, our three main utilities. It’s like a church of the willing, of people believing, remembering and reliving, a silly game or three involving balls, gloves, hoops and poles. It takes away from our comfort zone into something more or less human I guess. I don’t think money would transcend someones humanity when nothing else could.

It makes me feel like a kid to love and hate and boo and cheer for those most irrational and ultimately human of reasons. It’s never rational or conductive to fear something – why should it need to be rational and productive to love something too?

And I’ll be a happy man if I have a son or a daughter, and I get to sit them down at Safeco and explain to them: “There was a man named Ken Griffey Jr., and this building wouldn’t exist if…”

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