Baseball: A Passionate Pastime

Mountain biking? No, thank you. Hiking? Uh, excuse me? Catch me in a canoe or a tent? Not a chance. A rock show, maybe. A Giants game -- all summer long! Sure, there are a number of invigorating, healthy, outdoor activities in the Bay Area during summer, but for my money, it's sunny afternoons and windy nights at PacBell Park. Souvenir beer cups and warm peanuts, hecklers and hackers, sluggers and sliders -- it's a damn fine show.

The routine goes something like this: Before the game, it's key to find a reasonable watering hole. At $7 a beer inside, you'll want to lay a foundation for a sturdy fifth-inning buzz by investing in some cheaper drinking before you get to the park. In the neighborhood, go to Curve or Acme Chophouse or Max's Diamond Grill. Zeke's or Bizou may be less crowded.

After a few rounds, the discussion turns to Barry Bonds, who's been playing whiffle ball with National League pitching for the last decade -- how many homers does he have? What's he on pace for? Tidbits of ESPN small talk trail off as you amble past the Willie Mays statue and enter the new and already legendary home of the San Francisco Giants.

The experience can vary greatly, depending on where you're sitting. The bleachers and the right-field wall offer the possibility of catching the long ball or experiencing the oncoming trajectory of a splash hit. Up close, you lose the good-natured antagonism of the bleachers, but you gain the details and strategic elements of the game -- the sour cringes of strikeout victims, an authority view of the strike zone, the constipated bellowing of umpires, and in my case, the back of comedian Rob Schneider's head. For all the drunken heckling he takes -- "Deuce!" or "Ewe can do eeeet!" (the optimistic Cajun from The Waterboy) -- Rob's a pretty good sport.

It's a pure carnival atmosphere for the true baseball fan. You either love the game or are indifferent to it, but most people enjoy taking in a ball game at PacBell Park. Part of the fun is listening to the booming music chosen by the players before they step into the batter's box. Barry Bonds gets ready to sling the lumber with Dre and Snoop. Jeff Kent psychs himself up with Bon Scott-era AC/DC classics. But my favorite pre-at-bat tune is third-base man David Bell's choice of Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls." I can just imagine the boyish Bell mouthing the lyric, "Take a look to the sky just before you die!," staring down the meatballer on the hill, and going yard on some high cheese. Song choice is a big factor in a batter's success. (There are also unconfirmed reports that J.T. Snow has been playing Creed in the locker room for the past two seasons).

The food at the park is ridiculously expensive, but it does a fine job of soaking up the booze. The Carvery in the field-club area serves up a tasty prime-rib dip sandwich. Sausage and slices, wieners and wraps, garlic fries and Eskimo pies -- they've got it all. Upper-deckers can find a mean crab sandwich betwixt rows of nacho carts and pretzel pushers. Calorie counters beware -- this is no place to tone your eight-minute abs or maintain the pertness of your buns of steel. Your cholesterol is going to skyrocket and your belly is going to bulge. It's the nature of the ballpark feast, being just one peanut shy of pulling a button-bursting, Python-esque Mr. Creosote fiasco.

They also serve beer. Did I mention that? Plenty of it. It's necessary to partake in at least one, sometimes six beers at a game, if you're so inclined. It's as important as sunscreen on your bald spot or a bonnet for your baby.

But most of us don't come for the people watching, food, drink, or music. We don't even come to watch Giant mascot Lou Seal shake his furry ass on top of the visitor's dugout. We come, quite simply, for the game. Detractors will complain that it's boring, preferring instead the Playstation athleticism of the NBA or the homoerotic violence of the NFL. We recognize that some stretches of the game can inspire a snooze. But over the course of nine innings and 27 outs, there takes place an amazing amount of drama, glory, and disgrace. In the blur of a 96-mph fastball or a slow trot around the bases, there is magic. Others complain that "there are too many games," failing to detect the subtleties of the American pastime, the ebb and flow of the standings, the promise of minor league call-ups, or the frustration of rubber-armed pitchers failing late in the throes of a pennant race.

We go because we know Bonds is going to put balls into McCovey Cove and more milestones on his Hall of Fame résumé. Tsuyoshi Shinjo will do his bunny hop before catching a fly ball. Dusty Baker will saw his way through a mountain of toothpicks, and Robb Nen will throw gas in the upper 90s. Livan Hernandez will walk the bases loaded and then strike out the side, and Evil Jeff Kentevil will pretend the wrist he broke in a freak "car-washing" mishap during spring training hasn't lessened his power stroke. We go because Benito Santiago has found the fountain of youth, and maybe we've got a shot at overtaking Arizona and stealing the NL West pennant -- if we stay healthy, and Jason Schmidt can keep ringing up the Ks and keep his fastball down. And we go, quite simply, because it's summertime in San Francisco.

 
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