It’s not easy to eat your way through a baseball match.
When you walk into the ground there’s the hotdogs and the fries. That smell of frying onions is a timeless magnet to anyone who has had the benefit of a couple of pints.
But the game is about to start and the queue is hefty so it’s straight to the seats in a tremendous show of discipline.
Of course, that’s only posture.
The first break in the play comes after a couple of minutes and the smell of the onions has done its harm so it’s back down the steps and into the queue.
When you get to the top and the food is ordered, it seems sensible to throw in another beer as well.
No point in queueing twice.
Back up to the seat with a big tray and settle in for the evening.
The stadium is gorgeous — Fenway Park in Boston, the oldest baseball park in the big leagues. It’s a lovely warm night after a lovely hot day and the sun is only now dying behind the stands.
The crowd in the grandstand are moving in and out, greeting each other, sitting down, standing up, and dancing.
The dancing comes as a bit of a surprise.
Breaks in the play are filled with tunes that draw people to their feet. There’s music from The Clash and The Rolling Stones and Justin Bieber.
The best of the dancers are drawn from the Harvard University Graduation Class of 2016 in the rows just in front. They have come to the game to mark the end and the beginning. And they’re drinking and eating and dancing (all at the same time) and just in great form.
But the challenge continues: Young men are walking up and down the aisles with monster bags of popcorn and with large trays filled with big cartons of lemonade.
It’s hard to look away from them — and hard also to look away from the other men who are selling ice cream. More ballast.
It’s not right to say that the game isn’t being watched. It is, for sure, it’s just that the action happens in slivers and passing the time in between is pleasure in itself.
All the while, the hum of chat rises from the stands, broken by the occasional cheering and groaning.
The biggest cheer comes when the star hitter, David Ortiz, steps up and swings at a pitch.
Ortiz is beloved of the Red Sox fans (his name being bandied around during the steroid scandals that rocked baseball has now been long forgotten). The statistics show he is one of the greatest players ever to play for the club — but he is now 40 and his athleticism is much diminished. He still has power, but it is fading and this is his farewell season.
Every night now that he plays in Fenway Park seems to be touched with emotion.
In truth, Ortiz hasn’t been in great form of late but tonight — on this play — he connects with the ball and sends it down low to the left corner of the field.
The crowd scream and shout with delight, all around people are on their feet.
The fun is only starting: Ortiz can’t shift through the gears anymore and it feels certain that he would have been happy to amble to first base, given any sort of a fair wind.
The problem is that the Boston Red Sox are losing pretty heavily tonight and if the game is to be saved, he needs to do something a little more.
So Ortiz sets off on a sprint, gets around first base and heads for second. It’s going to be a close run thing, as the fielders are zipping the ball across the field and it looks likely to reach second base before Ortiz does — meaning that he will be out.
In a desperate late act at salvaging the situation, Ortiz dives and slides. It’s a fractional call, but the umpire signals he has made it. The crowd erupts, but a TV review is called.
While the footage is being played and replayed, Ortiz is gathering himself on the field, getting his breath back and chatting to the fielders around him.
After the review, the decision stands and Ortiz is safe. The crowd go wild — it’s the biggest cheer of the night.
Someone starts the Mexican Wave. Actually, two lads start the Mexican Wave.
They’re well into their 40s — old enough to know better.
It’s hard to know why it doesn’t really take off, maybe it’s because jumping out of a seat is not always easy when you’re this full.
Despite all the drink, only one man appears to be properly goosed. He walks up the steps looking like he’s wrestling with The Invisible Man. He’s talking away to nobody in particular. He sits into a seat. And then moves. Tries another seat. Gets up. And then pours himself back down the steps. His business is more easily completed under the stand than in it. The joke about Fenway Park being the best bar in Boston is easily understood.
The game began at 7.10pm — it’s now nearly 10pm. A new hunger has set in — not the type of hunger that means you need food, more that you just actually miss eating.
The good news is that, out the back, more men are selling more food.
A band is playing out through the window of a bar and people are inside dancing and singing.
In Fenway Park, the game is still continuing — even though it’s really over. The Boston Red Sox have been poor tonight and are being soundly beaten by the Baltimore Orioles. The two teams were level at the top of the table before tonight, but the Orioles have been so much better from start to finish that it is difficult to see the season playing out well for Boston.
Despite the loss, the fans heading off into the night are devoid of rancour — the length of the season (last year Boston played 162 games in 183 days) means that sustained vitriol at losing would turn Fenway Park into an epic, interminable episode of Liveline. The place is too good for that — and so is the game, itself. And anyway, the Boston Red Sox are playing again tomorrow — time to meet the challenge again.
Wet, wet, wet: Soaked by the Red Sox
Sideline reporter Guerin Austin of the New England Sports Network may pack a mac and brolly to be prepared for the Red Sox next walk-off.
The likes of Claire Mcnamara or Geoff Shreeves can be thankful they don’t have to cope with the dousing tradition that keeps Austin on her toes on Fenway duty.
Last month, Austin was splashed by history when 40-year-old Sox veteran David Ortiz, playing in his final MLB season, hit a walk-off double.
Unfortunately for Austin, her work required her to pounce on Ortiz for reaction before he returned to the dugout, just as teammates dumped a vat of blue Gatorade over the veteran, catching Austin in the crossfire.
“I was drenched,” Austin later tweeted. “Drivers seat looks like it got attacked by a smurf.”
And last week Austin was in the right place at the wrong time again, when the Red Sox mounted a late-inning comeback to beat the White Sox on a Xander Bogaerts walk-off single.
While Austin chatted with Bogaerts, another dousing arrived, turning her clothes blue and probably the air too...
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