Monday, September 25, 2006

fan appreciation day

If one is of the left and is looking for camaraderie of the political kind, one should probably not go looking in the stands of a professional sporting event. Or so experience had taught me.

I love baseball, but I have always felt a little ill-at-ease amongst the cheering throngs, even in this bluest of blue baseball towns. My discomfort is especially palpable during the national anthem—a song, I contend, that has no place at a sporting event, 88 years of tradition be damned (it’s a baseball game; not a nationalist pep-rally—or, to put it less subtly: it’s Flushing; not Nuremberg). I used to sit during the star-spangled rah-rah—out of protest—but got tired of the derisive stares and catcalls.

Lately, I have solved this problem, in my way, by simply arriving late. (Not intentionally, really—let’s call it a semi-happy accident.) Well, I have sort of solved it.

You see, at Shea Stadium, in Flushing, New York, ever since baseball resumed a couple of weeks after 9/11/01, this mere pastime (national though it may be) has been infused with a second call to arms (or to feet, as is this case). Ever since that September, the seventh inning stretch, traditionally home to rousing renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a song I happily stand for (that’s why it’s a stretch, dontcha know), has begun with a “ladies and gentlemen, please rise.” And the song for which us ladies and gents are rising? Why, it’s possibly Irving Berlin’s worst song ever: “God Bless America.”

Again, the fans dutifully stand and the hats come off—a few even sing along, dewy-eyed. And, again, I’d like to be sitting in protest, but—and this has been especially true since the invasion of Iraq—that baseball-loving, phony patriotism-hating behavior gets me something less than adoring support from my comrades in section 21, loge level.

All of this is my rather long-winded way of saying: so, imagine my surprise, when on this Sunday, the last regular Sunday home game of the season, “fan appreciation day,” whatever that means, when, come middle of the seventh, we ladies and gentleman are asked to rise for the singing of “God Bless America,” someone in my section yells out, “Bring ‘em home!”

And the “’em” isn’t baserunners, and the “home” ain’t home plate, either. Nope. On this late September day—some five late Septembers after the questionable introduction of this artificial and purely promotional nod to a Hallmark card version of national unity—no one needed explain beyond those three words, nor did I fail to appreciate the difference between real and fabricated patriotism.

It makes you proud to be. . . a baseball fan.


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