Every summer my family and I go up to Maine for a week. My parents rent a beautiful house on the coast of southern Maine, and we go up to relax, eat lobster, read books, body surf, and sleep in. It’s a great family tradition.
One of the facets of this tradition is going to see a baseball game. The Portland Sea Dogs are the AA team for the Boston Red Sox. They play a very competitive brand of baseball against other teams in the Eastern League: Williamsport, Altoona, and towns like this. We love to spend an evening watching a game and rooting for the home team, even though we would never root for the Red Sox against our beloved Cleveland Indians.
The Sea Dogs play their home games at Hadlock Field, just off I-295 in downtown Portland. It’s a cozy field that seats about 7,500 people. Most of the fans are local and some are Red Sox fans who’ve come up north for vacation and want a glimpse of their future heroes. The games are usually packed, and the recent success of the Red Sox had only accentuated that.
Last summer we didn’t buy tickets in advance, and we had to resort to purchasing scalped tickets in front of the entrance to Hadlock Field. This year I resolved to be prepared, so back in March when we set the dates for our annual visit to Maine, I got onto the Sea Dogs website and bought six tickets for the Friday night game of our week there. Six tickets would accommodate my family and my parents.
The day of the game, my daughter fell ill and did not feel well enough to go to the game. My mother leapt at the opportunity to stay back with my daughter and keep her company. So we had two extra tickets to scalp.
We got to the game uncharacteristically early and I set about the task of finding buyers for the two extra tickets. Here is where the cultural differences between the Midwest and New England started to show up.
First, I approached the people who were standing in line to buy general admission tickets at the ticket window. One of the Sea Dogs employees told me via his microphone that if I wanted to sell tickets, I had to move away from the ticket line. Of course; the Sea Dogs did not want to compete with the scalpers, I thought.
I stood mute with two tickets held up in the air and waited for someone to snatch them up. I figured it would be five minutes before someone bought them, ten minutes tops. Ten minutes went by, then another ten. I shifted positions to catch a different stream of people walking from the parking lots to the single entrance at the front of the park. No luck.
Then I started watching the people who were standing in line at the ticket window, and I saw people who had walked right past me without expressing the slightest bit of interest in buying my tickets. What was going on here? Did they all know I was a Cleveland Indians fan in sheep’s clothing? Was it the bright orange golf shirt I now regretted wearing for the night’s festivities?
A fellow ticket seller commiserated with me. “Back in Milwaukee where I grew up,” he said, “my dad had season tickets for the Brewers. On the nights when he and I couldn’t go to the games, he would drive me down to the ballpark so I could scalp his tickets. I got to keep whatever money I could raise. I don’t ever remember a night when I couldn’t sell the tickets. If I didn’t sell them to a father and his young kid to use, at least I could sell them to a budding entrepreneur who would resell them for more than he’d paid me.” This wasn’t happening here, not in Portland, Maine. Not tonight, anyhow.
With ten minutes left until the first pitch, and with my father, son and wife safely seated inside, I gave up and gave the tickets to the fellow playing banjo for tips outside the gates. “Can you use these?” I asked him. “Maybe,” he said. “We’ll see.” He didn’t sound too convinced and I didn’t blame him.
I found our seats, which were up high just below the press box almost straight up from home plate. After I bought food and drinks for the family, we all settled in to enjoy the game.
The crowd was curiously quiet, except for the moments when the Sea Dogs scored to take a 6 – 0 lead over the Harrisburg Senators. It was a big difference from what I’d experienced at Cooper Stadium in Columbus, where the Columbus Clippers toiled in a AAA league for the New York Yankees and later the Washington Nationals (the same MLB team with which the Harrisburg Senators are now affiliated.) At the Coop, the crowds came to have a good time and beat on their cowbells at the slightest provocation. And it was very different from seeing the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field, especially during their run of almost six seasons where the every game was sold out.
The most interesting thing about this game was the antics that management had dreamt up to keep the fans interested between half-innings. There was the John Deere tricycle race for adults (ouch!). There was the chance to toss a baseball through an opening and win a free pick up truck (nice!). And there was my favorite stunt: two people stood with a lobster trap and tried to catch as many fake lobsters as possible being hurled at them by college kids with lacrosse sticks standing mere feet away from them (huh?). Between innings was when the fans really came alive. It was as if they tolerated the game in order to be entertained (and possibly enriched) by the promotions.
As I was sucked into the torpor that the rest of the crowd felt while the action was happening on the field, I started to play with my trusty Blackberry. This thing, for those of you who don’t have one, is a kind of narcotic. It sits in your pocket or on your belt and taunts you not to pull it out and look at it, use it, get lost in it. It is truly the Great Escape, for only $29.99 per month (plus extra for excess text messages.)
I justified my use of the Blackberry at a baseball game because I was using it to check on the progress of the Cleveland Indians’ game that night against the LA Angels. The Angels had the best record in MLB and they were going up against our ace Cliff Lee, who was cruising towards the Cy Young award. I could keep my eye on the action on the field while I checked on my beloved Indians.
That’s where I was wrong. Out of nowhere, I saw a foul ball hurtling towards my right hand, the hand that held the device delivering me my narcotics via the Blackberry. In the split second I had to react, did I throw down the Blackberry and catch the ball? Did I manage to put my fielder’s mitt back onto my left hand and catch the ball the old-fashioned way?
No, I did not. All I could do was to turn my right wrist slightly to shield my Blackberry from damage. The ball slammed into my wrist and off the knuckle of my father, who was sitting to my right. Then it bounced down into the hands of the twenty-something woman sitting in the row in front of me. Chance squandered.
The fans around me did not boo, as they should have. They just looked at this dumb Midwesterner in an orange golf shirt holding up his Blackberry, shook their heads and grinned at each other. I did not make matters any better by explaining “But I was checking on the Cleveland Indians score!” A couple of ushers offered me ice bags and I was too embarrassed or too proud to accept their help.
Now, I have been to about 100 Cleveland Indians games since I became part of a group of guys who bought four season tickets back in the halcyon days of 1994, when the Tribe was just moving into brand-new Jacobs Field on their way to their glory years of the late 1990’s. Our seats are thirty rows from the field, just past third base. It’s prime foul-ball territory for left-handed hitters. I have seen my guests in the three other seats catch foul balls about six or seven times during that stretch. But I had never had a ball hit directly towards me. This was my chance. Squandered.
We got up to leave in the seventh inning, with the Sea Dogs comfortably in control with a 6 – 0 lead. One of the guys sitting around said all that needed to be said: “Hey, buddy…….keep your eye on the ball next time.”
P.S. After we left, the Senators scored seven runs in the eighth inning to take the lead. The Sea Dogs tied it up with a lead-off homer in the bottom of the ninth, and then won with a bases-loaded single by a guy named Iggy. We were blissfully driving back to the beach and missed the action.