Monday, August 26, 2002

America's Pastime

I'm not ripping up any anthropological trees by saying that Americans are fat. They are a race of monstrously obese people, and whilst as a visitor it is fun to gasp at the portions, indulge a little and laugh at the backsides, it is not an understatement to say the obsession is killing America.

But food isn't America's pastime, Baseball is, it's a charmingly archaic sport apparently untouched by the ugly corporate monster. That's how it feels at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Redsox and the oldest ballpark in America. The game is a series of time honoured and wholesome rituals. Boys in their late teens dress in Red Sox Uniforms, complete with balls, bats and gloves . Each game begins with a ceremonial first pitch from some esteemed guest and is followed by the gratingly patriotic singing of the national anthem. The preamble is completed when a small brat announces...


Even during the game the rituals keep coming - Christ, in the 7th innings everyone stands up for The Stretch and sings a song accompanied by a live organist. This is a sport that still negotiates player's wages through trade unions. It's like it's been ring fenced off from the modern world and that America needs it in order to take a break from rampant modernisation once in a while.

It took me three pitches to realise we'd started - and I was concentrating. The other 31,998 spent the first five innings buying and consuming a bewildering variety of concessions from wandering hawkers. So complicit was the consumption of Crackerjack, hot dogs, peanuts, cotton candy and Coke at $4 a bottle that it is easy to consider baseball as less of a sport and more an imaginative way of consuming junk food.

During this opening feast the Red Sox players minds' were clearly on what The Sausage King was selling outside as the Texas Rangers raced to a 3-0 lead. The crowd greeted this with a general disinterest, probably because they had spied a lemon slush seller making their way up the terrace. The only acknowledgement of the game was when a fly ball hurtled into the crowd and everyone scrambled to grab the ball. The winner held it aloft and everyone around applauded politely before returning to their food.

In the 6th the Sox pulled one back, and in the 7th they tied the game up at 3... or made it 3-3. And then, at this point, as it approached it's exciting climax, with the game balanced finely between the resurgent Sox and the dominant but wilting Texans... people started going home. Perhaps through indigestion, or maybe because people wanted to avoid the rush at Wendy Burger, but about 1/3 of the crowd chose to forgo the final two innings, in which Boston notched 2 more runs for an exciting victory. Weird.


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