Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Night at Jacobs Field

Just got back from the Jake, where the Royals were shut out by C.C. Sabathia and the Cleveland Indians 1-0. The only run came on a Franklin Gutierrez home run in the 3rd. Call it a hunch, or the ridiculous cold (about 50 degrees with a chilly breeze), or the fact that the Royals have struggled mightily at the plate and Sabathia is somewhat better than Steve Trachsel, but I just had a feeling that was going to be the only run we'd see. It was a shame, because Jorge De La Rosa looked good -- the Gutierrez home run was the first hit he allowed -- as he almost threw a complete game, lasting seven and a third before getting pulled for Jimmy Gobble and David Riske. All things considered, it was a brisk, error-free two-hour, 28-minute game in which each team collected five hits and made a couple of nice plays on the field. If you were a little kid out for your first ballgame, this would have been -- excepting the weather -- about as good as you could have asked for. Somehow this comforts me a little, certainly more than this: after the final out, a drunk Cleveland fan walking up the aisle, seeing my KC cap and connecting one and one, said, "Oh, go ahead. Please." And then, vociferously, "Hey don't worry, it's not your fault! They tried!" I nodded without a witty retort.

Alas, it's still a loss, No. 3 in a row. But maybe by recreating the game experience through color and memory we can assuage the despair, turn it into another thing altogether, a diversion or a snapshot of a moment sheared of its rueful implications (for instance, the loss coupled with the Rangers' win means the Royals now own the worst record in baseball). We'll see...
Jacobs Field really is a lovely stadium, built in 1994 in downtown Cleveland as one of the first new facilities in baseball's decade-long architectural renaissance, an era -- still ongoing, arguably -- that saw the erection of urban wonders such as Comerica Park in Detroit, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pac Bell Park (now AT&T Park) in San Francisco and PETCO Park in San Diego. My one complaint is that it doesn't seem very intimate -- they say it is, but with all the concourses, the multiple tiers (five, I think) and random razzmatazz, it just has the feel of a postmodern tourist attraction more than a ballpark. That, really, can be the cookie-cutter complaint for all these new ballparks. They look great on TV, and maybe they're even great when you're in your seat with a cup holder, but to actually walk through them is to see that they've sacrificed charm for luster. Where it's slick and stolid with amenities it fails to bleed character.

I'm not one to fawn over Wrigley Field -- it's got problems, certainly, namely its wealth of visitors who don't care about the Cubs or baseball -- but Wrigley has everything Jacobs Field wishes it will have in 80 years: history, charm, character... you know, the intangibles. They're hard to explain -- I can't believe I've criticized Jacobs Field even this much, considering how nice it is -- but it really can be felt. It's the difference between watching a game at the Jake and a game at the K and -- despite the newer stadium's luxury boxes and state-of-the-art everything -- coming away from the K thinking, as a Royals fan, you had a much fuller and enjoyable experience. Maybe Indians fans would say the exact opposite. Maybe that's the point I'm getting at...

Anyway, our $10 seats... not so great. So my aunt and I moved down after the top of the 4th.

Is it wrong to buy cheap tickets and then move down? Personally, I think it's a completely acceptable practice as long as the lower bowl isn't three-quarters full. If that's hard to eyeball, then here's a simple test: in the upper deck, scream, "LET'S GO [OPPOSING TEAM]," and if no one -- not a soul -- makes a move to shout you down, or even offer a counter-chant, or so much as make a wisecrack that they think you can't hear, then you should move down.

At the end of the Indians' half of the 6th, Esteban German was running the ball in when he spotted a child above the dugout. A bunch of people were leaning in, clamoring for the ball, but German lingered at the top step, pointed to the child twice or three times, and underhanded it to the kid. If you ever find yourself wondering whether it's acceptable to root for the Royals, this episode could be your reason No. 1 for why it is.

(Speaking of rooting for the team: I found a Royals fan among the muck. It might be hard to see, but in that crowd there's a black-billed Royals cap. I was glad to see it, since no one else wore our colors, and you know they say one is the loneliest number.)

Reason No. 2 it's okay to root for this team:

Kiss Cam is pretty much my favorite between-innings entertainment, beating even the hot dog race. Tonight, the funny guys at Jacobs Field put these two on the big screen:

I can't quite tell who that is on the left -- I need a better camera, I know -- but the man on the right there is Mike Sweeney. The crowd -- 14,036, or so they say -- as they always do for Kiss Cam, started going nuts. And Sweeney -- because he's a nice guy -- ended up playing along by raising his right arm as if to wrap it around his teammate. No, the two didn't kiss, but Sweeney turned to the guys above his dugout and made a little "What do you want from me?" gesture with his palms extended, complete with a grin. How does anyone not like Mike Sweeney?

In the end, the man pictured below and the guys to the right prevailed. The Royals stayed with the Central-leading Indians all the way, prompting my aunt to tell me, "You know, they aren't bad," but, as it is in these zero-sum games, a loss is a loss.

There is good news, of course. As this blog lives in a baseball world, tomorrow there will be baseball again, good and glorious like the patron saint who sits over this game. There will be jubilee, or perhaps heartbreak, between dusted earth and fine chalk and grass trimmed to the single blade, so precise as to give the illusion of artificiality. Groundskeepers' Art, as it will be titled in the centuries to come where neither baseball nor any other sport will exist. For the moment though, there is peace here between these lines, perhaps a tumultuous, competitive, rough, wonderfully flawed form of peace, but peace all the same. The accord of the ball and bat and those who use them lived long before any of these current players and shall persist long after other expirations, inspiring new generations of fans to keep it lively despite the finite consequences of bat meeting ball, and new writers to guard this national treasure and infuse it with life. So it is with this game, which they call timeless: that it is measured with banners and pennants and box scores is a fact but not its essence; for that, one looks inside to his own imagination, which is constantly calculating the possibilities, impossibly imagining favorable outcomes when bat meets ball -- or doesn't -- and forever predicting, even against the face of reason, a win the next day. There is always that next day, next game.

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