A different kind of ballgame
The man seated to my left was attending his first professional baseball game since the Eisenhower administration.
The man to my right was a former minor league pitcher, someone who, after blowing out his arm, held season tickets to the Florida/Miami Marlins for 21 years.
It was a contrast.
My Uncle Lee last attended a game more than 60 years ago, when players like Frank Robinson and Gus Bell roamed the cozy outfield of the Reds’ Crosley Field.
That park is gone now. So is the one that replaced it.
So are the days of fans in suits and hot dog vendors who would fling their products at would-be consumers.
Uncle Lee seemed to remember those days fondly, even if he hasn’t kept up with the sport much over the last six decades.
In Ken Burns’ docu-series “Baseball,” the late writer Roger Angel said that most of the people who he knew who didn’t like the sport were bitter about it, like they were missing out on something.
My uncle is not like that. But he has other interests. During my recent trip to Florida, we went to art exhibits and Vizcaya, a beautiful home built in the early 20th century that rests right on the coast.
My uncle can talk paintings, films, politics and many other things with ease.
It’s just that sports — like baseball — aren’t really his thing.
But that’s OK.
One moment, my uncle would be telling me about his trip to China, his time visiting the Pyramids and his recent trip to Cuba.
The next moment, I’d be explaining to him the safety squeeze.
Meanwhile, Doug — the other man in our three-person contingent — was a Marlins fan. He was even at the game which ranks as the worst sports event of my life — Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
He told me about how his seats were near the Indians’ owners box, and how the owners at the time were taunting the Florida fans for most of the game.
When Edgar Renteria’s game-winning single raced through the infield, Doug said he turned his head to give the Indians contingent a piece of his mind.
But they were gone.
So, while Doug celebrated on that warm Miami evening some 22 years ago, the 17-year-old me was fighting back tears and screaming unrepeatable words at a watch party in the Flats.
But, we got along well. I made sure to wear my Indians T-shirt to the game, and he didn’t give me grief over it.
As for the game itself, it wasn’t exactly a work of art.
The Phillies are a good team; the Marlins are not.
Behind Bryce Harper (who homered, had three hits and drove in four runs), the Philadelphia club pushed across seven runs in the sixth inning, and rolled to a 13-6 win over Miami.
There were only 11,742 fans at Marlins Park to see the game. It took about 3 ½ hours to play.
Despite two World Series championships in its brief history, the Marlins have never seemed to get much support in Miami. The fans they do attract — at least a large portion of them — seem to be there to support their opponents. Harper seemed to have way more fans than any of the players the Marlins have.
Then again, when the Marlins are trotting out players like Curtis Granderson — who may have played at the last game my uncle attended — maybe it’s not a surprise.
For me, it was a great experience. I got to take another ballpark off my list (I haven’t visited anywhere near the number of parks as A-T columnist Al Stephenson, but I’m making progress), and got to see one of the game’s biggest stars.
And my uncle seemed to be in the baseball mood by the time the game was over.
“Why do they make so much noise and do so many things between innings?” he asked about the Marlins’ entertainment crew. “I came to watch the game.”
Hearing him say that nearly brought a tear to my eye.
My uncle was so generous during my week in Florida.
If I could leave him with even a negligible interest in the National Pastime, that’d be a good thing.
Maybe he wouldn’t wait another six decades to see another game.