Take Me Out To The Ballga—OH GOD THEY HAVE SNACKS

6:59—By the time I make it to the bleachers, it’s the end of the second inning. The Valley Blue Sox versus the North Adams Guys Wearing Black Shirts. I’ve decided to catch a collegiate league baseball game as an excuse to get out of the house on a nice summer evening. I’m out of my element here, trying my best to blend in. I wear my Red Sox hat, so no one will point and scream at me like a bodysnatched Donald Sutherland. I sit on the bleachers, keep my head down, and write. I’ll probably get beaned. See? “Beaned.” That’s a baseball word. I know stuff.

The crackling P.A. blasts some second-rate Foo Fighters ripoff, or maybe it’s just the Foo Fighters. Then announcer bellows something unintelligible about the “Sequel Gaps”. The North Adams Sequel Caps? The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” plays under a sponsored announcement about Pizza Hut. How does a Clash song end up here, in this place, with these people?

7:18—The North Adams TreacleCracks score in the third, but I’m distracted by sound effects broadcast over the P.A.: The Price Is Right sad music cue. A ‘boing’ sound with no apparent context. Over near the dugout, there are children’s activities involving frisbees and spare tires. Further down the left field line, there are food carts and a bouncy castle full of shrieking children. “LET’S GO, BLUE SOX! LET’S GO!” chants a row of Little Leaguers behind me. They taunt a North Adams player: “C’mon, Watermelon!” Shit, that sounds racist. Or are they mocking a funny last name? I squint at the batter. I don’t think he’s black. Am I racist for checking to see if he’s black? The kids are young and don’t seem malicious and they holler something about tighty-whiteys, so then I’m just confused.
Aww, man! A fly ball just hit a guy in the stands! He wasn’t paying attention and BAM right on the kneecap! I was right – I’m a target out here! Stay sharp or get beaned. I need to focus!

7:35—Okay, I needed to check out the food carts. Whew, that was a dry cheeseburger. Saw a guy with sausage and peppers and I was all like damn! But I’m cheap and the thing was $6.75 or something. What do I look like, a Rockefeller?

7:49—Back to the game. Concentrate, Tom! It’s the fifth inning, and I grab a bleacher seat right behind home base. It’s pretty cool seeing curve balls from this angle. I’da thought this would be a sought-after location, but there’s plenty of room here. Is this not a thing? A fly ball hits the chain link to my left. Wait, is that why no one’s sitting here? Did I just put myself in the goddamned crosshairs? Panic sets in.

8:10—Middle of the sixth. There’s an ice cream sandwich eating competition taking place near the dugout as the teams switch positions. The shrieking children from the bouncy castle have temporarily abandoned their inflatable stronghold to shriek at two kids pushing frozen milk past their teeth. Is this a passing amusement while the players rotate, or does the game actually pause so this event can take place? I can’t tell what’s being prioritized here.

8:14—A Blue Sox centerfielder attempts a valiant and commendable faceslide for a ball. Doesn’t work out. North Adams scores, and then scores again. And then, uhhh… score again. Is this how the game is supposed to work? 4-0. Where the hell is North Adams, anyways? It’s where Mass MoCA is, right? The North Adams Post-Conceptual Performance Artists are killing right now. LET’S GO, BLUE SOX! LET’S GO!

8:18—I heroically endure “Man In The Box” by Alice In Chains, followed by the Pac-Man ‘game over’ sound (apparently only 8-bit audio sounds good through these speakers). Does the seventh inning stretch come at the beginning or the end of the seventh? Wait… You’re supposed to say ‘top’ and ‘bottom.’ I remember this. Everybody claps but I miss why. Maybe someone ate some food really fast.

8:24—Jeez the sky’s beautiful, really beautiful. Bright orange clouds and slate blue shadows over the left field wall of local advertising. I think I just heard the announcer say a batter’s name is Bud Cort. A young lady accompanying a man in a wheelchair is showing an absurd amount of thong an—Wait! Something happened! A line drive? The crowd is all like YAAAHHH. I look around, bewildered. It’s the middle of the sixth, but the beginning. Y’know. Top of the bottom.

8:31—The Blue Sox score, and then they bounce a ball off a logo in the outfield and score again. 4-2. I’m trying to stay focused on the game, but there’s a woman typing on her phone in front of me and I’m half-reading her texts. She and Veronica don’t get along. The shrieks emanating from the bouncy castle have escalated to an alarming level, but the parents in attendance seem numb to it. Seventh inning came and went. Not much of a stretch. Someone threw t-shirts instead. Next to me, a lady receives camera tech support from her son’s friend. “How do you get it to focus?” Focus, Tom! Focus! The first baseman fumbles a catch, and a full two minutes later, Homer Simpson d’ohs over the P.A. There’s no acknowledgment of the irony.

8:35—Two men on, sacrifice bunt. I write this down because I hear a kid say it. He’s wearing a Little League uniform so I treat him with the respect reserved for wise authority figures. “PeopleCats”? The North Adams PeopleCats? How much could a couple of new speakers cost, really? A maintenance guy drives a golf cart full of garbage bags along the edge of the field and kids start cheering. Blue Sox pick up three in a blaze of sports-playing to tie 4-4! Everyone claps. I clap, too. It’s a good game.

8:41—Top of the eighth and my attention has irrevocably waned. It’s getting chilly and I’m having tragic visions of a gridlocked parking lot. I’m sated. Blue Sox up two, then three. They no longer require my ardent fan support. A stolen base is acknowledged with the General Lee horn. I fear the bouncy castle is about to burst open, and five million shrieking hornets are going to pour out like flying liquid hell and kill everyone. As I make my way towards the gate, the Ramones rock out of the accursed speakers, all treble, all crackle. Hey ho, let’s go.

Originally published in The Valley Advocate June 25, 2014