It Takes All Kinds

001No one can say that they do or do not enjoy baseball unless they have attended a game in person. One has not experienced this all-American pastime until they have jumped for a foul ball or free t-shirt, placed a hand over their heart as the national anthem soared over field (ears slightly splitting at “o’er the land of the FREE!”), and eaten a pretzel with enough salt to ruin the kidney of everyone at the stadium. But, more than anything else, the crowd is what truly makes attending baseball games special. For anyone who has not attended a game, here is a categorized summary of the typical ballpark crowd:

The first group consists of older men who might have a job, family, political and religious views, and a life outside of the stadium, but as soon as they don their well-worn caps, all that is forgotten. They can recant significant (and insignificant) moments in baseball history. They can recite the stats of any given player. They will sit in hard, numbered seats for hours and discuss their opinion on every player in the MLB; “He’s a nice guy and a good outfielder, but he can’t hit worth a squat.” I considered labeling this tight-knit cluster “Bleacher Geezers”, but that sounds far too disrespectful. These old-timers preserve the integrity and intrigue of the sport. They enrich it with their love and knowledge…like Grandfathers of the Game.

Then, there are the Star-Struck: Young people clamoring for autographs and pictures. I am most familiar with this group; my cousin, Ryan, is a leading member of this enthusiastic crew. Every game, we have to arrive at minimum one hour early so he can hang to the fence like a bird of prey ready to swoop down on a small animal, armed with a fine-point sharpie and spotless baseball.

The next bracket, the Carnies, is not part of the baseball-watching crowd. They are the food vendors who walk through the crowd, half-barking half-crooning, like carnival workers, “ICE! COLD! BEE-EER! GET! YOUR ICE! COLD! BEE-EER!” (All Carnies, without exception, exponentially draw out the monosyllabic “beer”.)

The final category, the Crazies, is the most easily identifiable. These are the people who put the “fan” in “fanatic”, the “nut” in “peanut”, the “crack” in “crackerjack”. They deliberately grab your attention with crazy outfits, clanging cowbells, shouting at every play and player, clapping, whooping, hollering, beating drums, cheering, booing…

Anyone who does not fit into one of these categories is Everyone Else: content to watch the game, eat a hot dog, jump if a free shirt or foul ball comes near, and cheer when the occasion calls for it.

Oh…I almost forgot about the tall and/or bald guy who always sits directly in front of you. That dude is in a category all by himself.

But it is the characteristics and quirks of these groups that form the dynamic of the game. It is all of these groups – the Grandfathers with their extensive knowledge and fatherly wisdom, the Star-Struck with their youthful vigor and idolization, the Carnies with their sugary gifts, the Crazies with their unflagging loyalty and boundless spirit, Everyone Else to fill the seats (not a very grand responsibility, but a necessary one) – to make the atmosphere that attracts people to the stadium. It takes all of these groups uniting to vigorously cheer an adored team onto victory.

It takes all kinds of people to make a world…or a game worth experiencing again and again.

The Silent Teammates

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the spring of new life; it was the winter of mourning. It was the beginning of the end; it was the end of the beginning. I had miles before me, I had miles behind me. (That isn’t a paradox, so it doesn’t really belong in this paragraph, but it is true.)

The majority of readers will not understand this piece. How can they? Only true, dedicated runners will understand the heavy-heartedness of having to throw away a pair of running shoes. I remember the horrible day when my first pair of running shoes gave out.

My running experience began in 8th grade. I was bright-eyed and naïve about crosscountry, competition, and carbs. I didn’t even own a pair of running shorts until shortly before my first meet. But I had my sneakers.

They hugged my feet protectively as I ran my first race. They clung to me as I stopped before the finish line because (as previously mentioned) I didn’t know about carbs and that one especially should consume some before an afternoon race. They stuck by me as I stumbled across the finish line, dizzy, white-lipped, unable to see clearly, and hanging onto consciousness by a thread. Even as I retched, they didn’t abandon me. They were loyal to the day both of the soles ripped off completely.

Although one may be on a team, running is, in several ways, a solitary sport. In my opinion, that is one of the most nerve-racking things about it. A runner does his or her best and hopes the rest of the team does the same. You can’t pass the ball, a teammate can’t bail you out, and you cannot just be a “good” runner – you are the third best or the eighth best or the fourth worst.

Arguably, a runner’s sneakers are the truest teammate one has. Teammates carry you through a challenge. They support you. They are right beside (or beneath) you the whole way.

I am probably being silly, but I cannot help being nostalgic as I deposit my worn soles in the trash can.

We had a good run. I guess that’s all that can be asked of any team.