Yesterday was a day of firsts: I celebrated my first U.S. Independence Day by attending my first baseball game! The Chicago-based White Sox were playing the Seattle Mariners at their home stadium, U.S. Cellular Field. The day was gorgeous and thus tons of people were going to the game as well, though admittedly lots of them probably were true fans that would turn up no matter what the weather would be.
The stadium itself has quite a few interesting features. Already in front of the entrance one encounters the White Sox Champions Brick Plaza, dedicated to the 2005 World Series championship squad and comprised of the so-called ‘legacy bricks’, each inscribed with a personalized message from fans (those of you following my Facebook page could already see a close-up I posted yesterday; as usual, you can enlarge any photo by clicking on it, so you can just as well use this one). Most of them are really heart-warming to read, even for a person that until yesterday had nothing to do with baseball (i.e., me).
Another interesting feature of the building is the height of the upper deck, resulting from the architect‘s will to eliminate the overhang problems present in many stadiums. Basically, the upper deck is set back over the lower deck, and the stands rise fairly steeply. It gives almost every seat in the upper level an unobstructed view of the field (yay for the cheap tickets!), but a price to pay is having to deal with the slight lightheadedness, or vertigo, as one looks down at the game. Honestly though, it takes an average person about 5 minutes to get used to this, and moreover the view is spectacular!
Now here comes the most surprising thing about baseball I’ve learned so far: it’s truly a family game. Certainly, this has to have something to do with its lack of violence (as compared to, e.g., American football) and the transparency of each player’s behavior on the field, leaving way less space for playing dirty (and thus inviting setting a moral example). However, it seems that also the way fans cheer on their teams is entirely different than in other sports. The casual, laid-back atmosphere is almost tangible. The spectators do not care that much for arriving on time (which you can see by comparing the number of occupied seats in the two photos below, first taken a few minutes after the start of the game and second snapped around the 4th inning). Lots of people are having prolonged conversations with their friends during the game, and I dare say that the majority of them has little to do with what is currently happening on the field. Additionally, the game seems to be at least as important as getting drinks, snacks and junk food; I don’t think I really need to mention that getting those takes about 10-20% of the game, and nobody seems to hurry. Despite all that (or, should I say ‘because’?) baseball is truly a national sport in the United States, and the sheer baseball team revenues can cause a vertigo unmatched by that associated with the upper deck’s height.
Still, this was the most bizarre sports-cheering behavior I have ever witnessed!
Since this was the 4th of July after all, there were many patriotic details. The game started with the national anthem as usual, but there were also some guests from the military (funnily enough, lots of them got the same cheap seats in the upper decks that we had), and of course at least half of the viewers displayed their love for the United States in one form or another, be it a United States’ flag hair-tie or a piece of clothing (I saw one guy with a ‘Back To Back World War Champs’ T-shirt, which, admittedly, was a little bit too much for me).
Another unexpected element of the game were things displayed on the video screen: it provided information on the currently pitching and batting players, but it also served as a means of proposing (there were three happy – or not, depending on their views on the originality of the move – girls this time), delivering birthday wishes or… providing yet more entertainment through short quizzes (which is how I got to know there were 30,297 people on the stadium that day).
And last but not least, there was the game, which I’ve slowly begun to understand and like. At the end I tried to snap a few photos of the crucial pitching/batting moments (again, click to enlarge):
Aaaaaand the White Sox won 7-1!
So, how was it altogether?
I LOVED IT. All the cheerful atmosphere, junk food and flavored beer, not to mention moments of great joy when the White Sox scored, made me feel as relaxed as if I’d just spent a whole day at a luxurious SPA. (Probably; I’ll have to wait with a thorough check of this comparison until I find an all-day SPA offer for $5. Clues, anyone?)
I am already planning on going again!
Finally, it was time for the 4th of July fireworks. The show was spectacular! (Also, I’ve started wondering: how/where do people performing firework shows train? I’d drop by to watch.) It had this peculiar patriotic feel to it, but to my slight surprise I enjoyed it much more than I’d thought. Watching the fleeting lights, I thought about the long road I had to undertake to arrive in the U.S., and that, for now, staying here for good makes me happy. To some extent then I’ve celebrated the Independence Day in exactly the way it should be celebrated, even though until now I’ve felt rather like an outsider than a member.
Well, what do you know – it turns out that taking part in all these celebrations actually does make sense!
If you feel like watching, here’s a video of the fireworks show after the game (this is the short finale version, the preceding 15 minutes are on another video on my youtube channel). There are fireworks, a round of applause, and some “U-S-A!” chanting: