Going to a baseball game in person is a hallowed piece of Americana, immortalized in movies (Field of Dreams, The Natural), songs (Take Me Out to the Ball Game, John Fogerty’s Centerfield), Broadway (Damn Yankees) and every other imaginable piece of popular culture. I’m sure to many Millennials a trip to the ballpark represents an un-ending string of tired clichés, from the Norman Rockwell-esque image of a child sitting on a Dad’s lap to the obligatory hot dog and Cracker Jacks (have most Millennials even HAD Cracker jacks?). After all, it’s hard to make the case in 2020 that baseball is the national sport (football passed it in popularity a long time ago) and if you asked a group of 12-year old boys whether they would rather watch a Major League Baseball or play Fortnite, I think we all know which choice would likely be more popular.
But to the fortunate souls who grew up loving baseball, there really IS something magical about going to a game in person. It’s superiority to the fan experience at an NBA or NFL game is subjective of course, but thoroughly clear to the clear thinking among us. An NBA game is a performance more than a sporting event, with blaring piped-in music, highlights assaulting you from the giant video screen above the middle of the court, and most of the fans are there to see the 1-3 superstars playing on that particular night. As an aside, it’s entirely unclear why people attend Knicks games. NFL games are weekly EVENTS, to be sure, and for season ticket holders, there is certainly a special feeling of community that can be built tailgating in the parking lot, throwing a football around, eating and drinking while waiting for the game to begin. But in many ways the fan experience is much better at home – you get to avoid the nightmarish traffic getting to the game, the usually cold and sometimes wet weather, the often boorish fans, and with innovations like the Red Zone channel, you can follow every game being played nationwide from the comfort of your living room (and the snacks don’t include a 400% mark-up).
Attending a baseball game is, of course, at its core, a really nice way to spend 3 hours (or 5 ½ if it’s a Yankees/Red Sox game). But it’s more than that, and a big reason why is the connections; both to the past (people were strolling into ballparks 100 years ago to see basically the same game) and to the present (every stadium has its own unique quirks and traditions, shared and hopefully enjoyed by its patrons).
Here are a few of the best traditions which we will hopefully get back to enjoying in Major League Baseball stadiums soon.
Every hitter now has his own walk-up music for each at-bat (or entrance to the game for relief pitchers), which I really enjoy, since it’s a chance for a player to express some individuality and personality. Mariano Rivera famously entered the game to “Enter Sandman” and Trevor Hoffman to “Hells Bells,” both of which had the effect of injecting the stadiums with pure adrenaline as these two all-time great closers came in to shut the door on the opposition. Some choices are no-brainers (Xander Bogaerts uses “X Gonna Give It To Ya”) and some really need a 60 Minutes investigation (Todd Frazier used to use Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”), but it’s always fun. Then there are songs associated with a particular team/stadium, like “Cotton-Eyed Joe” at Yankee Stadium or “Sweet Caroline” which plays in the middle of the 8th inning at Fenway Park and has been a fan favorite for over 15 years.
A good baseball stadium has good food, and a great stadium has a few foods for which it’s famous, foods that make its fans feel at HOME when they see them. There are Dodger Dogs, Fenway Franks, crab cakes at Camden Yards, and, continuing our abundance of alliteration, Friar’s Fries (in San Diego, home of the Padres). Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City has a BBQ burger that looks like it might be coronary waiting to happen. There’s a donut burger in Philly that quite frankly IS a coronary waiting to happen. Cleveland has the Slider Dog, which contains a beef hot dog, pimento macaroni and cheese, bacon and…wait for it…Froot Loops. You can get pretty good sushi at Marlins Park at Miami and decent Chinese food at Oracle Park in San Francisco. I’m a fan of it all.
7TH INNING STRETCH
A unique baseball tradition, every stadium does some version of this where in the middle of the 7th inning, everyone stands while the organist plays “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Harry Caray was the Cubs announcer for 16 years and quite famously would lean out the window of the broadcast booth and lead Wrigley Field in singing the song. Which was entertaining since he was usually 5 drinks in by the 7th inning, and he didn’t hide it well. The Toronto Blue Jays play a song called “OK Blue Jays” during the stretch, which was written in the 1980’s and was a minor hit in Canada. The song mentions several teams and a couple individuals (long since retired) which makes it a little dated, but then again, at Madison Square Garden, when the New York Rangers play, the crowd still chants “Potvin Sucks” 5-6 times a game, and Denis Potvin played his last game in 1988. So I’m not going to judge.
Who doesn’t love a hallowed miscellaneous tradition, right? Being a life-long Red Sox fan, I think of Yankee Stadium as pretty much the Death Star, but one thing they do there that I love is their roll-call. Top of the 1st inning, when they announce each defensive player’s name, the crowd chants his name until the player acknowledges the crowd. Derek Jeter famously would raise his glove as quickly as possible to cut short the unwanted attention, and Nick Swisher used to salute his fans in the Right Field bleachers. In Milwaukee they have a sausage race, where guys in costumes (Bratwurst, Hot Dog, Polish, Italian and Chorizo) sprint down the warning track. Perhaps even more entertaining is the Washington Nationals Presidents’ race, where George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt see who’s the fastest Commander in Chief. For a few seasons they also had a William Howard Taft, a Calvin Coolidge and a Herbert Hoover. I’m really hoping we can get Franklin Pierce and William Henry Harrison involved at some point.
For me, my favorite ballpark tradition is my Uncle Dale keeping score using an old fashioned scorecard – almost every game someone remarks how rare it is to see someone still keeping score (scorebooks were popular in ballparks a few decades ago but are rarely seen today), and for him, it’s a connection to his childhood and a way to stay engaged in the game. For me, it’s a reminder that I’m back at Fenway Park, it’s summertime again, and what could be better than that?
Commercial Real Estate Broker/Sports Fan
Staff writer at Six Feet Apart, commercial real estate broker for CBRE, Inc., and most importantly, a father of two.