The thing about attending baseball games in person is that there's a lot of down time. The natural ebb and flow of the game leads to pauses in the action and quiet moments of introspection where we're left to contemplate the warm summer breezes, plush green grass or why, in the name of all that is holy, our starting pitcher would choose to serve up a home run on the first pitch.
Other parks around the majors do their best to fill every available second with loud noises, scoreboard races, fan contests and sing-alongs just to keep those in attendance interested during pitching changes or between innings. One of the things I've always loved and respected about Fenway Park is that they don't do that. For the most part, they allow the fans to find their own ways to fill the time without forcing them to participate in a "Which section is louder?" contest or a Chicken Dance-Off.
Of course, during some games — like Wednesday night's loss to the A's where the team itself seemed dead-set on not entertaining the masses with a win — those in attendance need to find ways to make their own fun.
If you're me and my friend Chrissy, that means you talk nonsense for nine innings, engaging in what I like to call "Imaginary Baseball World" wherein we ponder the tough questions. Things like this: "What do you think Jason Varitek is talking to the first base coach about?"
The answer being, of course, "Small-engine repair. Lawnmowers. And how Home Depot is having a sale on WD-40 if you buy a whole case."
Come on, you know it's true.
I always assume that people around me can hear snippets of my conversations at ballgames and they say to themselves, "There’s no way I heard that right." Then they shake their head, eavesdrop on someone else or go back to their Fenway Frank. But nine times out of 10, they probably heard me correctly. I probably did just say "Shea Hillenbrand's monkey" and there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. It's just how I roll.
Now Wednesday night, despite the rain holding off in what I can only regard as a minor weather miracle, was not the stuff good times are made of. However, thanks to a generous professor at work, Chrissy and I were gifted with some very swanky seats in prime foul ball territory along the third-base line.
But not 10 seconds after we sat down, starter Brad Penny had lofted a batting-practice fastball to the A's leadoff hitter, Adam Kennedy. Chrissy looked reproachfully at Penny. "Couldn't Josh Beckett find another drinking buddy with an ERA under four?" she asked wistfully, referring to our long-held (and completely unsubstantiated) belief that Beckett and Penny like to frequent this town's finest purveyors of PBR. After that home run and a top of the first inning that would find the A's leading 5-0, we settled in for a long night.
"OK," I said at one point, "so the fact that the base coaches have to wear those little earflap-less helmets now always makes me think John Olerud is coaching third base for a split second."
"And then you start wondering if he wears the helmet to the dry cleaner and stuff?" Chrissy asked.
"Yeah, dry cleaner, butcher shop, Sam's Club, you know."
"Sam's Club?" she asked, "Why would he need a helmet at the Sam's Club?"
"Look, there are pallets of crushed tomatoes way up high at the Sam's Club," I said, "there's no telling what kind of treachery awaits."
"Good point," she conceded.
When Mike Lowell launched a majestic three-run homer over the Monster in the bottom of the first to cut the A's lead to 5-3, Chrissy turned to me, love in her eyes and said, "Do you think Mike Lowell carries a walking stick?"
"Sure," I said, "but only for show. It's one of those fancy kinds that he sometimes twirls rakishly when he feels like being a dandy."
"I'm not sure whether I should be pleased or distressed that you so completely enable my Mike Lowell love," Chrissy said.
"Well, at this point," I said, "he's the only one who appears to be trying to win the ballgame." It was a statement that would turn out to be amazingly prophetic as Lowell would own five of the team's six RBIs on the evening.
During a break in the action, the scoreboard did provide us with some pre-packaged entertainment to the tune of country singer Trace Adkins' Swing over a montage of players swinging violently and either missing humorously or launching massive home runs.
"This seems like a Tim Wakefield song," Chrissy said, "I'll bet he likes it."
"Loves it," I countered. "In fact, I think Wake's quite the car singer. I think he offers to take trips to the Home Depot to pick up Tek's WD-40 just so he can sing out loud to himself."
"I want to go to the Home Depot with Tim Wakefield!" Chrissy replied.
"I'm just saying, that man is quite an expert on pressure-treated decking lumber."
Later on, during a pitching change, newcomer Adam LaRoche crouched down on second base. "What's LaRoche thinking about?" Chrissy asked.
"Goldfish," I said. "The cracker, not the pet. And how he likes that they have the Pepperidge Farm name-brand kind here. In Pittsburgh, they only had the Wal-Mart generic kind. It's not the same."
During all of this, I'd occasionally catch the people around us giving us sidelong glances, trying to convince themselves they hadn't really just heard us discussing Wakefield's penchant for cherry over pine or whether or not Jason Bay would like a nice pair of homemade socks sporting maple leafs (Chrissy is quite the knitter). But we just ignored them and figured that as long as our discussions weren't hindering anyone's enjoyment of the game, we might as well keep it up. Like I said, sometimes you have to make your own fun. Especially when the team falls short of doing it for you. I find then it's best to just slip into the madness and go with the flow.
And who knows, Mike Lowell might reward you with another RBI. He's such a nice man like that.