Major League Baseball

When I was in Los Angeles, my nephew said I must go to see a baseball game. I knew nothing about baseball except that it is a big part of American culture.

First, I tried to go to an LA Dodgers game. However, they were “on tour” – that is, playing at an opponent’s stadium.

In Chicago, I tried to go to a Chicago Cubs game. They were playing a local derby with the other Chicago team, the White Sox. This was mostly sold out and the remaining tickets were prohibitively expensive.

When I got to Boston, I was sharing a dorm with an avid baseball fan. He had come from Russia just to watch the Boston Red Sox, who were the current Major League Baseball (MLB) champions. We started talking and he said I should be able to get tickets at a reasonable price. After going to various websites, I bought a ticket for the second game in the series, which was the following evening, against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Sox had won the first game against the Jays.

On the morning of the game, I reflected on the fact that my Russian friend had not returned by the time I’d gone to sleep the previous night. It turned out the game had finished at 1am! It took that long to break the deadlock. I hoped that tonight’s game wouldn’t go on that long. Games have an indeterminate finish time, like the games in tennis.

During the day, I walked around Boston, starting with the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Greenway replaced an elevated highway that pierced the heart of Boston. It was eventually demolished after 50 years of being an eyesore.

On my walk along the Greenway, I passed the Boston Public Market, the waterfront, and many green spaces, including one with a pergola, which has become the centre of cafe culture in the area. The market was the first I’d seen resembling a typical British food market.

The Dewey Square Park, with its red seating and large mural covering the Greenway Wall, attracts workers on their lunch breaks. The mural, which had two birds on it when I was there (see photos), has a new work painted on it every year.

The evening came and, with thousands of others, I made my way to the Red Sox’s stadium, Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in MLB.

On arriving at the stadium, the first thing I noticed was the abundance of families. There was lots of socialising going on. Whilst the game was in full swing, many people weren’t paying much attention to it; they were preoccupied catching up with each other. And even though seats were numbered, people moved around freely, swapping seats when necessary.

Then after an hour or so, some people started leaving. There was at least a couple of hours to go! It was nothing to do with the game. They’d come only to do a bit of socialising and the baseball game was just a pretext.

I was completely confused about the game. I didn’t know the rules. I therefore started moving around the stadium and eventually found a friendly steward. Over ninety minutes or so, he explained the rules and answered most of my questions about the intricacies of the game. When he didn’t know the answer, he would call over a fellow steward or security guard to see if they knew.

He told me that this game had been one of his most enjoyable. I guess in America either you know the rules of the game (because you grew up with it) or you’re not interested. So I was a rare breed: I knew nothing about the game and was interested! He enjoyed being the expert. The alternative was repeatedly telling people to sit down. During the time we were talking there wasn’t much stewarding going on!

When two sides play a series, there are between three and seven games. There are 30 teams and each team plays a staggering 162 games in six months. To minimise the already excessive travel across the States, the games for a series are played in one batch, whilst the team is visiting, rather than visiting a team up to seven times.

The Red Sox’s motto for this season was “Turn the page” after winning the World Series last season. Alas, I learnt that the Red Sox were not doing well this season. They weren’t going to follow up their 2018 success. Even worse, their perennial rivals, the New York Yankees, were doing well!

The baseball World Series, despite the name, is not contended by teams from around the world. In this context, “World” is equivalent to America. As if to live up to stereotypes, some Americans do think that the winner is the best team in the world! There is, however, a Baseball World Cup, which was discontinued in favour of an expanded World Baseball Classic tournament. Curiously, Cuba not USA is historically the most successful international baseball team by a long margin. That may be because, like the English Football Premiership, there are foreign players in MLB or perhaps the USA has not taken the competition seriously in the past. The American men’s baseball team are currently the world number two, behind Japan, who are also ranked number one for women (the USA women are fourth).

Thankfully, the game finished more quickly and decisively than the previous night’s one. The Sox comfortably won and released the dedicated fans. The “social fans” had long departed.

I said goodbye to my guide and joined the masses heading for the subway. There was a calm, good-natured feel to the whole evening and even whilst waiting for our train to arrive, people were friendly and in good spirits.

I’m glad I listened to my nephew: you have to experience one baseball game in America.

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