To be perfectly honest, I’m not much of a sports fan. Being Canadian, I am a hockey fan out of sheer patriotism, but as my hometown team has been doing poorly for the past forever, I’ve been spared the necessity of actually watching the little black dot zoom around the ice and the beefy men trying to beat each other up. The only sporting events that I ever watch are the Olympics, but I never watch Olympic Hockey – I always seem to jinx it. In 2010, I managed to see all of the American goals (even the one thirty seconds at the end of the game where I just wanted to see if it was over) and in 2014, I watched all but the last five minutes of the women’s gold medal game, and we all know what happened there… No, I rely on nice people in my facebook feed enthusiastically over-posting, friends who will obligingly text me with the score, or (this being Canada and Hockey) the yelling in the street for my sports news.
Dating an enthusiastic sports fan, however, leads one to attend at least a few games out of sheer curiousity if not a desire to explore each others interests (I drag him to various art events, so we’re calling it fair). My first sporting event was curling, which was fun and fascinating, despite the fact that all I really saw were a bunch of people sliding down the ice (as I was sans glasses and thus, effectively blind), and all I really heard was that damn moose. We got to see the beginning of Brad Jacob’s gold medal journey though, so that was fun.
My first baseball game, however, was more a matter of serendipity than anything else. I discovered Michael Lewis and devouring everything he wrote, including Moneyball, introduced me to the very tantalizing idea that numbers could, with some accuracy, predict the outcome of a sports season, and the Jays (The only Canadian team, patriotism being a given) played a home series when I could actually go watch it. So off we went.
We grabbed hot dogs outside the stadium, which I figured was somewhat of a tradition. The sign on the food truck and one of the customers before us proclaimed the vendor as the purveyor of the best hotdogs in the world. Whether that claim is true is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that his poutine certainly isn’t (Poutine just doesn’t taste right unless you’ve just come off a hard morning crashing down the moguls or finding yourself on a black diamond, only to realize that you’ve only ever been on blue squares before). However, I might’ve been a bit biased, since the wind was so strong I kept getting gravy in my hair and the cheese curds were cold and not at all properly squeaky by the time I’d taken two bites. So after we’d eaten the dog and I’d given up on the poutine, we went into the stadium.
Now, I had a moment of panic when we started to go into the stadium, because I had my craft supplies bag with me (don’t ask) and security was checking bags. What if they accused me of covert knittery or assassination by wire? What if they thought I was going to gouge out someone’s eyes with my earring hooks, or brain several furry creatures with my tiny bags of beads? What if they didn’t let me in, or worse, confiscated my bead supplies (no body touches my crafting supplies. No. Body.)? But security did a quick check, and very sensibly assumed that it was a bag of crafting supplies and that I couldn’t do much harm with it, except maybe wield the thing as a club (although since half the bag was yarn, it wouldn’t do much damage anyway, and anyhow, you can wield any bag as a club if you try hard enough). They did look at me funny, but I’m rather used to it, and they let us in.
My boyfriend and I had seats on the 200 level, nearish to the foul line on the third base side. I thought we had fairly nice seats, as we had a perfect view of the stats ticker, a decent view of the diamond itself, and a terrible view of the jumbotron, which means we could cheerfully pretend ignorance if some well meaning cameraman tried to kiss-cam us. I also thought we were in a decent position to catch any home runs, but I was proved wrong; in a game of home runs, not a single one had the decency to even land in our section so we should try and gain a black eye as a souvenir of my first baseball game. Oh well.
I have to confess, I didn’t even realize that we’d missed the ceremonial pitch, and we were already two hitters in before I realized that the game had already started. My boyfriend pointed out R.A. Dickey’s walkup music (he’s a really big Game of Thrones fan), but this being my first baseball game, I didn’t realize what walkup music meant. I get the impression that the first four or five or even six innings of a baseball game usually isn’t that interesting, because most starters (pitchers who start the game) are pretty good, and don’t usually let anyone score runs until they get tired.
I learned a lot of baseball lingo, though. Walkup music is a quick blip of music that plays when a player from the home team walks up to the plate (or mound, in the pitcher’s case), hence the name. While they were fun, and set a great tone, I really want to hear some guy walk out with something like BABYMETAL. Everyone’s heard of a strike out, but I learned that there exists a ground out, a line out, and a fly out as well. I finally got it through my head that a lot of baseball games are played indoors, utterly destroying my ideal of the burning sun, the yellow grass, the droning bugs, and the lazy, sweaty moments broken by the crack of the bat and a moment of frenetic energy and running. The field actually looked very small and well manicured from our vantage point, and I’m pretty sure I missed the first couple hits, they were so quiet… Ooops.
There was a funny moment in between us taking our seats and something interesting happening in the game. I felt like the only Asian in sight that didn’t work for the Bluejays, which is a nice change from my usual environs. My boyfriend and I happened to be in the very front seats of the 200 level (to his dismay, I enjoyed hanging off the side to look at the Jay’s bullpen, which was right under us), and I’m short, so from behind, it’s easy to just see the tall, blond guy with his arm on a seat and miss the black spot which happens to be my head resting on his shoulder. So there I was, minding my own business, waiting for something interesting to happen, when I hear this guy say something really loudly about Chinese girls, in a certain disparaging tone of voice. As I happen to be a fairly confrontational person and, you know, a Chinese girl, I spun around to figure out who was. At the same moment, the speakers, a guy and his date, met my dirty glare, and the two of them promptly turned bright red. The look on his face, something between intoxication, surprise, mortification, and hilarity was too funny to me, so I let it go. It’s not like I could go up to them and demand they tell me about their private conversation, anyway. For the gentlemen who are trying to impress their ladies with potentially racist Asian girl jokes, however, there is a lesson to be learned: you never know where a small Asian girl will pop up.
So the first really interesting baseball thing that happened made the Jays look kind of stupid in the sixth inning. Since the Jays were at “home,” they were pitching the top of the sixth (the first half of the sixth switcheroo). It’d been pretty much run-less until then, and the crowd was getting restless. In the fine, bloodthirsty tradition of mankind, the crowd wanted action. And they got it – it just wasn’t the kind of action they wanted.
One of the Orioles, Lombardozzi, hit the ball really, really high, which I think in the usual run of things, should’ve been at least a fly out. Thing is, he hit it right between the infielder and the outfielder (which is what we call the sweet spot in badminton, and the reason I was trained as a mixed player to yell at my partner a lot), and neither knew who was catching it. Instead of it being a relatively easy catch, the ball dropped between two guys on the field, and Lombardozzi took a double (got to second base). There was this moment of sheer, stunned silence, as everyone took a moment to process, and then the stadium erupted in loud boos.
Now, up until this point, the pitcher had been doing a pretty good job, and the dropped ball wasn’t his fault according to my boyfriend (remember, until a week ago, all I knew about baseball is that they throw a ball and run around in circles). Then, he allowed a walk, which in the general run is not a terrible thing, except when you have no outs and what happens next, happens: the third Oriole player hit a home run.
If the crowd was displeased by the dropped ball, they were livid now. Two things you have to remember: people drink at baseball games, despite the ridiculously high price for beer, and the pitcher’s name is R. A. Dickey. As a Canadian from a town where our hockey team sucks, I’m not surprised by how personally people take sports teams failure and success, nor how vindictive they can be. However, I am surprised by how creative drunk people can be with the name R. A. Dickey. I think I have an even better appreciation of the control and mental fortitude professional athletes must have; people who don’t know you as more than an image or a position or a stat line feel entitled to judge you, revile you, and hurl invectives about your sexual relations with your wife at you (My boyfriend kept me from punching that guy, which in retrospect, was probably a good thing, because I’m tiny and out of shape, and he was a big, beefy, drunk guy).
Anyway, R.A. Dickey held it together and, after a bit of fumbling, managed to strike out an Orioles hitter with the bases loaded and two outs. Now we were holding our breath for the bottom of the sixth when the Jays are at bat, hoping that the near perfect pitcher the Orioles had had on their mound before would lose his moxie. It’s kind of terrible to think of a stadium’s worth of people waiting for you to screw up, but nevertheless, we did.
The crowd snickers when a kind of irony happens and Lombardozzi commits an error and lets Melky Cabrera get on first. It cheers when Bautista singles (gets to first), and holds its breath when Encarnacion steps up to the plate. My boyfriend tells me that Encarnacion is the designated hitter for the pitcher, so that he takes the pitcher’s place in the batting line up. He tells me that Encarnacion is known for being a huge home run hitter, but he hasn’t been doing that well this year.
We watch. Ball. We keep holding our breaths. Strike. We grumble. I looked down for a minute to check my phone, as it’s not rare for players to receive three balls and two strikes, and I figured I was okay to peek away for an instant. The next instant, the whole stadium is roaring, and I look up and wonder what the hell just happened. The men on the field are running, but it takes my boyfriend yelling “We’re tied!” and shaking my arm to realize that Encarnacion hit a homer. I’m happy, because we’re tied, but I’m kind of grumpy too, because I figured it would be the same thing as my experience with hockey, that I’d never see the team I’m rooting for score.
The crowd settles back down. A tied game is always a delicate moment, as the game could go either way at this point. The Jays didn’t have anyone out, so we could concievably still score again. We don’t; the Orioles’ relief pitcher makes sure of that.
R.A. Dickey starts the seventh inning, but he’s pulled when he gives up single and a double. The crowd boos him out. I personally want to applaud him, especially since my boyfriend tells me Dickey named his bats after fantasy swords (Yes, I have priorities. Can he please name his next one Kring, from Terry Pratchett’s Colour of Magic?). They bring one guy in to pitch against a lefty, and then immediately switch him out for Cecil, who happens to be one of my boyfriend’s favourite relief pitchers. Cecil closes the top of the seventh with no more runs scored, which the crowd cheers for.
The bottom of the seventh is uninspiring, with two strike outs and a ground out (when the ball gets to the base before the player does). We’re disappointed, but there are two innings left. The top of the eighth ends quickly with Delabar, who has since replaced Cecil, striking a guy out, walking one guy, and the defensive team wraps it up with a neat little double play (where the defensive team gets two players out), and we all cheer.
The bottom of the eighth starts auspiciously, with a single by Francisco and the pitcher walking Rasmus. The first and second are loaded when Lawrie steps up to the plate, and again, we all hold our breaths. At that point, my boyfriend says something about how Lawrie should just bunt, because we just need one run right now, and Lawrie hasn’t been hitting well either.
Foul. We groan. My boyfriend frowns a little.
Ball. We cheer, a little.My boyfriend is muttering “Choke up already, everyone knows he’s going to bunt.”
Just as he says this, Lawrie hits another home run. This time, my eyes manage to follow the little white ball as it soars right through the middle of the field into the stands. The whole thing feels like a slow-mo movie, and the whole stadium isn’t breathing but it happens, and we’re up by three! The mostly home crowd is exhuberant, yelling many complimentary but also, for some reason, crude things about Lawrie.
We settle back down, and I, for some silly reason, expect the ninth inning to start. My boyfriend laughs at me, and points out that we still don’t have any one out. I blush, and shut up to settle back to watching the game again.
Thole singles. Diaz strikes out on a foul bunt. Reyes singles. Then Cabrera steps up. At this point, we’re all more relaxed, but part of me is being superstitious, and whispering, “Remember the last time we had two guys on base?” So I watch closely.
Ball. Ball. And then with what looks like relative ease on the Jumbotron, Cabrera hits the ball and it soars. We all watch, not believing our eyes. But it keeps going, and going, and going. It’s just enough.
The stadium erupts.
The score is 9-3, at the bottom of the eighth inning. Everyone else is going insane, but remembering what I’d thought after the last homer, I realized that we could still score: we still only had 1 out. Apparently, the next two players didn’t share my point of view, as they both swung out. Oh well; we were still up by 6 points, and the Orioles only had one inning left in which they could score points.
My boyfriend watched the mound closely, wondering if the Jays would bring out their closer (the guy designated to finish the game strong by not giving up any more runs). On one hand, we were still up by 6; on the other, being a badminton player, I’ve seen 10 point leads disappear like mist. They didn’t bring out their closer.
At this point, the crowd was restless, and I was too. It was late, and I wanted to go home. The crowd booed when Lombardozzi singled. It cheered at the next fly out, and booed again when the third hitter singled. Now a little demon was whispering in my ear, saying again “Remember what happened the last time we had two bases loaded?” The crowd was getting antsy, and got seriously annoyed when the pitcher gave up two balls. We did not want another walk happening, especially since it would set us up for a grand slam (scoring 4 runs), and perhaps more importantly, make us stay for the bottom of the ninth. Luckily, the Jays caught the hit.
The Orioles have two out, and at this point, I was about to just pull my boyfriend out of there. Then the pitcher throws a strike. The player swings and misses the second pitch, so another strike. At this point, you can feel everyone in the stadium hoping for the hitter to strike out. The next pitch is a ball, and the whole stadium hisses. You have to feel bad for the Orioles player; a normal person probably would’ve crumpled up and given up already. But the hitter showed the high mental fortitude I now associate with pro athletes, and he hits it. The whole stadium is horrified, and you can feel every eye on the place pushing the ball into the hands of one of the Jays. Someone catches it, though, to all the fans’ considerable relief, and the Jays win!
I should probably thank the Blue Jays for winning that game, because they go on to lose the other two games they play in the Rogers Centre against the Orioles. Still, if they could only win one, I’m glad they won that one in such style, because it made my first baseball game awesome. They definitely have a new fan, and as soon as I eke out the time to figure out SABRmetrics, a new critic. In the meantime, I’m definitely a new fan of, as my boyfriend put it, “people throwing a little ball around, chasing it, and chewing on sunflower seeds.”
Written gems are pieces of my life, polished and shined up a bit. Read more here. If you care about things like names and what happened in all the other innings, check out ESPN’s more comprehensive recap or play-by-play.