Our balls on ice
by Knute Berger
I need to set the record straight. I recently wrote that “If someone … asked me to lower my testicles into a martini glass filled with ice, I would not do it.” That’s not really true. What I meant to say was that I would not do it without proper compensation.
The entire fabric of our society is held together not by whether you should dip testicles into a martini glass but by the idea of a fair exchange of money or goods for something of equal value. Break that contract and society itself breaks down.
The dangers of social decay came to mind as I engaged in what has become an annual ritual: attending a Seattle Mariners game.
Yes, I know I’m crazy to be so obsessed with the M’s that I take in one whole game a year. I used to share season tickets and take in many more games, but I just can’t quit those crazy guys.
As I sat in the outfield and watched the M’s swept by the Boston Red Sox on July 23, however, I realized I was having all the fun of freezing my balls in a martini glass without fair payment. In fact, the compensation was all flowing in the wrong direction. I was paying more than $100 for tickets, peanuts, lemonade, and a hot dog for the rare privilege of watching the Mariners roll around in their own excrement. Why, I wondered, aren’t the M’s paying me to watch? The market is out of whack.
Social contract? Fair exchange? The national pastime as played by the Mariners is as corrosive to the American way of life as, well, engaging in torture and throwing out the Geneva Conventions. It’s baseball’s equivalent to ripping up the Constitution to eavesdrop on citizens — not that we’d ever do anything like that in America.
The game I witnessed was a fiasco. The Mariners played without fire, made key mistakes and errors, blew chances to win, took the game into extra innings, then fell apart. They had Willie Bloomquist at shortstop, failing to stop balls. They had Willie Bloomquist at the plate, failing to hit balls. Then they moved Willie Bloomquist to center field, where he inexplicably dropped a ball and cost the M’s the game. It was hardly all Willie Bloomquist’s fault — he wasn’t pitching or umping — but he was more the team mascot this day than the Mariner Moose.
Even before the final out in the 12th inning, seagulls began to circle over the infield as if it was the city dump. They seemed to know that a comeback was unlikely. Maybe they’d learned to spot Willie Bloomquist from way up there. End this misery, they seemed to cry, and let us recycle this garbage.
The game’s most entertaining moment, one that brought all the fans to their feet at once, occurred in the late innings when a half-naked guy bolted onto the field and broke a few tackles before being sacked and hogtied by security. It was perhaps the only time in the history of modern, politically correct, Barrack Obama-loving Seattle that the people stood and cheered for someone with a Confederate flag tattooed on his ribcage.
Lest you think this is a story about baseball, let me make clear that this day at the game was about something more. Seattle, as you know, is being humbled in its sports ambitions. We’ve lost the Sonics to Oklahoma City, the Mariners are not simply one of the only teams that has never been to a World Series, they are the worst team in baseball, period. Our civic sports hopes are pinned to a changing of the guard with the Seahawks and a new professional soccer franchise partly owned by right-wing gameshow host Drew Carey.
But I witnessed something at the game that took our sports — no, our civic — ignominy to new lows. A large percentage of the fans, I guess about half, were Boston Red Sox fans. Which meant that on the M’s own home field you could not tell from the cheers whether the home team had scored a run or been called out. And these fans were openly carrying signs and wearing Red Sox red t-shirts, hats, and jerseys, as if they were in Fenway Park. Worse, for the most part they were the cooler, hipper, and better looking other people in the crowd. They also seemed more interested in baseball than the Seattle soccer moms and dads and their kids who trooped endlessly up and down the rows in the middle of innings in search of pink and blue cotton candy.
This was appalling for a couple for reasons. The M’s are reaping what they have sewn, which is a mall-like stadium that attracts people who care more about garlic fries than balls and strikes. Nor is it surprising, given management’s determination to make money over winning pennants. The Mariners are already marketing to different fan segments because Mariners fans alone won’t fill the seats. For example, many Japanese tourists flock to Safeco to root for Ichiro and Ichiro only. He’s like a team unto himself.
The phenomenon also says something about the lack of assimilation of Seattle’s newcomers. In Yankee Stadium, you could get a broken nose for flaunting the symbols of the opposing team. I saw the M’s play (and beat) the White Sox at New Comiskey Park a couple of years ago, but I rooted for the team discretely because I had too much respect for, OK, not Chicago but my pretty little nose. At Safeco Field, no fan of the enemy is given a hard time. They dance, cheer, and root for their old hometown team as if their stay in Seattle means little more than a night at the Sheraton.
It could be some of these fans are visitors from out of town. Canadians used to flock to see the Toronto Blue Jays, even in the old Kingdome days, and embarrass the hometown fans in the stands. But I doubt that Red Sox Nation hopped flights specifically to invade Seattle like baked-bean-scented locusts to take over Safeco during a series with one of baseball’s most pathetic teams. My hunch is that some of these people are showing civic disrespect because Seattle doesn’t have the balls (not to mention the hitting or pitching) to enforce a culture of local loyalty, to convey the message that when you live in Seattle, you do as the Seattleites do.
This gets back to an ongoing complaint I have that we’re doing a terrible job of welcoming people into Seattle’s local customs and habits. Compared to the traditions of Boston or New York, we don’t have many. I don’t blame Red Sox fans for rooting for Boston, but I do blame Seattleites for not imposing a code that says you put something at risk if you flaunt your old-world loyalties in our town. How will Seattle ever gain big-league, big-city status if we’re such wimps? Personally, I don’t care about those big league ambitions — but I have to say it was much more fun to watch a bad Mariners team in the Kingdome with 4,000 other rabid local baseball fans than to watch a bad Mariners team in a pricey Safeco alongside 20,000 Bosox boosters.
I’m not saying we should punch people out, but what about something more creative, like a gate tax of $30 on any fan wearing gear from an opposing team? We could use it to build light rail. Make those assholes pay a price. We shouldn’t put our civic balls on ice without getting something out of it.
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