Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Being Part of the Crowd

On Monday afternoon, I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic game here at Miller Park. For those who missed the highlights, the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers staged one of the better pitching performances in years, as St. Louis' Chris Carpenter dueled Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo pitched a no-hitter into the 6th inning, until Brendan Ryan beat out an infield single to short to leadoff the inning. Meanwhile, Chris Carpenter held onto a perfect game into the 7th inning. The perfecto was broken up when Craig Counsell hit a sharp grounder past second-baseman Skip Schumaker to lead off the seventh. In the end, both Carpenter and Gallardo pitched eight scoreless innings. The game was still 0-0 as the 10th inning started. Billy Hall would end the game in the bottom of the inning with a long walk-off single, only the Brewers third hit of the day. It was a truly fun game to be a part of, especially when the home team ended up on the right side of the 1-0 finish.

What was most remarkable about the game - and indeed was my favorite part of it - was something that most people might not remember as they drive home with the thrill of Billy's at-bat fresh in their mind. It happened in the 7th inning. When Counsell laced that ball past Schumaker to lead off the 7th inning, the stadium erupted in a long, loud cheer. It wasn't a sarcastic cheer for Counsell - instead, it was 43,000+ Brewers fan recognizing that the perfect game had been broken.

That's what I love. When you're at a ballpark witnessing a game like that, there is no official proclamation that the opposing pitcher is in the middle of a history-making game. There's no message on the jumbotron, no announcement over the PA, nothing. Instead, it's just a stadium full of baseball fans collectively recognizing something unique about the game and organically rooting for it (against it) together. Sure, the big cheer is no different than what you would get from a home run or a game-winning base hit, but those are easy. Anyone watching their first baseball game would cheer at a play like that. Counsell's hit, on the other hand, requires a certain amount of knowledge and awareness to be appreciated the way it is. It's fun to be a part of that kind of crowd.

I remember first experiencing a similar "Wow! This crowd really knows what it's doing!"-moment at a college basketball game. It was the Horizon League Championship game between UW-Milwaukee and Butler, I believe. Their star player was a big power forward who could do what he wanted down low. Late in the game, with UW-Milwaukee on the verge of winning the game and claiming a berth to the NCAAs, a foul was called under the basket. The crowd held their breath and, after hearing that the foul was called on the star PF, his fourth, they cheered wildly. It wasn't that he was fouling out - he still had one to go, after all. If that was the case, then it would've been a no-brainer to cheer the call. Instead, it was the recognition by the entire crowd that Butler's PF was now in a very sensitive position and might not be a factor in the game any longer.

I know that this kind of stuff happens everywhere, and isn't anything really special. But it's still something that I appreciate every time I go to the ballpark. It's the feel of being a part of a great crowd, and it's a big appeal of going to a live game (among many other things, of course). I'm just glad I'm lucky enough to be able to go to 20+ games like this a year. I wonder, what is it about live baseball and the ballpark crowd that appeals to you? And are there other "invisible" moments like that in other sports that I'm missing? Maybe, in football, a player saving the ball from bouncing into the end zone and downing it at the one instead? Or [something similar in hockey]? Any thoughts?

(BTW: This post, which is meant as a positive view on the game, was a little tougher to write than I expected it to be. I was watching the Brewers lose 8-1 to the Cardinals and trying to defend the Brewers' "class" to my normally level-headed brother via text message while writing it. It was all very disconcerting and depressing.)


Ron Rollins said...

It was. Good piece. It's nice to see some stuff like this about the "game" itself, and the game on the field, that is positive.

Usually anything along this lines is negative in some way, or doesn't really capture what happened.

Don't worry, you got it.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

Man, I wish I could have been at that game. I, instead, went to a Bats game where each team couldn't figure out how to play baseball without making 6 mental and physical errors apiece.