Last week I wrote a think piece about the relatively recent protocol of giving foul balls to random kids. That piece generated so much response that I’ve decided to do a companion piece about other aspects of ballpark behavior and etiquette.
I should say here that about 98% of the big league ballgames I’ve attended have been Mets games — first at Shea Stadium and more recently at their current stadium. So my experiences and habits are, admittedly, very site-specific. I realize other ballparks may have their own unwritten rules, standards, and so on.
Personally, I like to go through the turnstile about half an hour before gametime. That gives me plenty of time to get to my seat, settle in, yak a bit with whoever I’m attending the game with, maybe get a beer, and so on. If I arrive a bit closer to the start of the game, that’s not the worst thing in the world. But I hate getting to my seat after the game has already started. It just doesn’t feel right.
Tipping the Usher
The ushers at Shea, who were mostly elderly men, would lead you to your seat location and wipe down the seat (as if that actually made it cleaner). The usual routine was to tip them a buck or two for this service, and in return they’d often let you move down to a better section later in the game. Learning about this as a child was probably my first exposure to small-scale corruption — the ballpark equivalent of the party apparatchik who fast-tracks your visa application in return for greasing his palm.
The ushers at the new ballpark are younger, don’t bother to wipe down your seat, and seem very by-the-book. I don’t tip them, and my impression is that they’re uncorruptible. Moving down to a better seat no longer matters to me as much as it did when I was younger, so I don’t really miss that aspect of the old system, but I do miss the romantic charm of unspoken rules, the wink and the nod, and so on.
The National Anthem
I always stand for the anthem, but I don’t remove my cap. If other people want to remove their cap, or stay seated, or whatever, that’s fine — none of my business.
Standing Up During the Game
I’ve always hated the insipid radio show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and its host, an insufferably smug guy named Peter Sagal. My already considerable antipathy toward him was cemented in 2006, when he wrote a painfully tone-deaf article about how a fan at a White Sox game had the nerve to stand up, blocking his wife’s view, at a key moment of a ballgame (bases loaded, big slugger up). What kind of idiot would (a) object to a fan standing up at a key moment in a game and then (b) write an article about it?
Obviously, it’s rude to constantly stand up and block people’s views — you don’t want to overdo it every time your pitcher gets two strikes on a batter or anything like that. But at a tension-filled moment in a close game? Standing up is fine. If the person behind you wants to see, they can stand up too. And if they want a guaranteed unobstructed view, they can stay home and watch the game on TV.
Leaving My Seat
If I have to go to the bathroom or visit the concession stand, I try to do it in between innings (in part so as not to annoy other spectators and in part because I don’t want to miss any of the game). If I can’t get back in time for the start of the next half-inning, I might wait in the concourse until the third out is made, or I might just go back to my seat in the middle of the action. That’s sort of a judgment call, based on the game, the crowd, whether or not my seat is near the aisle, and other intangibles.
Going for a Stroll
Some people like to spend an inning or two (or three, or more) walking around the ballpark, shopping at the various merch shops, checking out the latest offerings at the food court, and generally treating the stadium like a mall. Personally, I don’t get that — I don’t care about the merch, the food is usually mediocre and overpriced (I bring my own), I dislike malls (and even if I did like them, I wouldn’t pay an admission price to shop at one of them), and the whole reason I’m there in the first place is to watch the game — but I understand that that’s how live sporting events work nowadays. Anyway, far be it from me to tell anyone not to stretch their legs. Just don’t expect me to go with you.
Cheering/Booing My Team
I always cheer the players as the home starting lineup is introduced, and of course I cheer my favorite players when they come up to bat, when they make a good play, and so on.
But I do think there’s a time and a place. Back in the late 1980s, Mets fans got into this ridiculous habit of relentlessly cheering for a curtain call anytime a player hit a home run, even if it was, say, in the fourth inning of a 5-2 game in May. I always found that embarrassing — save that stuff for a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth, or a triple play, or a big September win against your big divisional rival, or whatever. Have some sense of occasion, some sense of proportionality.
As for booing the home team: Again, I think there’s a time and a place. I’ve always tried to remember that baseball inherently involves a lot of failure. Even the best team loses 50 or 60 games per season; even the best hitter makes an out more often than he reaches base. Lately I’ve seen fans boo every time a player strikes out to end the inning with a runner on base, or every time a pitcher leaves the game after giving up a few runs. Again, I find that embarrassing. If the team really stinks over an extended period, or if a player is really underperforming, then sure, booing makes sense. But again, have some sense of proportionality and don’t act like you have an entitlement mentality.
Cheering/Booing the Opposing Team
I usually boo the visiting team’s players when they’re introduced as part of the starting lineup, although I’ll cheer if there’s a particularly good player who I’m fond of. And of course I’ll cheer if a visiting player makes a great defensive play, or if a player leaves the field after an injury. That’s just good manners, right?
Chatting with Strangers
Obviously, most of my conversation at the ballpark is with my girlfriend, my brother, or whoever is attending the game with me. But I also like to talk with strangers. Much like a bar, the ballpark feels like one of those spaces where it’s okay to make eye contact and engage with someone, and it often makes for a really fun experience.
My speech, much like my writing, includes occasional uses of words like “shit” and “fuck.” I’m not using those words every sentence, or even every inning, but they’ll probably come up here and there during the game.
Now, if a little kid is sitting right next to me or right in front of me, I’ll tone that down. But if kids are just in the general vicinity — four or five seats to my left, three rows behind me, that kind of thing — then fuck it, I’ll talk the way I talk. Exposure to a little salty language at the ballpark won’t stunt their growth. Might even be good for ’em.
Longtime readers may recall that my father actually taught me to litter at the ballpark. I used to think that was the coolest thing, and for many years I left a few peanut shells under my seat in his memory. But in the last year or two I’ve decided that that’s selfish — littering is just unacceptable, at least for me. So now I try to leave my space as clean as it was when I arrived. I don’t think my father would mind (and my mom would definitely be thrilled!).
For many years I kept a scorecard during the game, but at some point, I think in my early 30s, I stopped doing it. I found that it’s a trade-off: On the one hand, keeping score kept me more engaged with the action on the field, plus there’s something geekily satisfying about it; on the other hand, it also made me less sociable, less chatty, more intensely focused. Nowadays, I’ll sometimes see someone else keeping score at the game and get sort of wistful, but then I think of how relaxed I feel, and how I’d probably be more tense if I were keeping score. I’m okay with that trade-off.
Checking Out-of-Town Scores
It will never not be fun to shout, “And the Yankees are losing!” (Well, assuming they actually are losing, which admittedly isn’t often the case these days.)
Critiquing Other Fans’ Jerseys
I guess because I’m the Uni Watch guy, people watching a ballgame with me will sometimes say, “Look at the jersey that guy’s wearing — the number font is wrong.” Or “Look at that guy wearing a Yankees jersey with ‘Jeter’ on the back. That really bugs me!” Or even “Doesn’t that guy in the Reyes jersey know that Reyes isn’t on the team anymore?”
My response is always the same: “Who cares? Fans can wear whatever they want.” And that’s really how I feel about it. If you’re happy with what you’re wearing, that’s fine with me. And besides, maybe that Jeter jersey was a gift from a parent or relative who just didn’t know any better. As most of you know, I don’t wear team gear myself to begin with, so I really chafe at the notion that there’s a “right” or “wrong” thing to wear at the ballpark. Live and let live, I say.
I cheer (or not) when I want to, not when the scoreboard tells me to. But if other people want to cheer when the scoreboard tells them to, that’s fine. Similarly, I don’t mind if other people do the wave; I trust that they’ll do me the same courtesy when I opt not to do it.
The Seventh-Inning Stretch
I always stand up, stretch, and sing along to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but that’s just me. I don’t care if other people stay seated, or yak, or whatever.
There was a time in my life when I made a point of staying until the last out, no matter how lopsided the score, how late the hour, or how miserable the weather.
Looking back on that now, what the fuck was I thinking? If you want to leave early, go ahead and leave early. I sometimes do!
So that’s me at the ballpark. How about you? Any behavioral categories I missed?