NEW YORK—My 88-year-old Aunt Adele attended what likely was the first baseball game of her life with me the other day: New York Mets vs. Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field.
Just maybe, when she was 10 or 12, she said, she saw a game, but if so, and she has no specific memories from it whatsoever, that was the only other one. Many years ago, she said, a guy asked her out on a date intending to take her to a game. He told her baseball was like ballet. She didn’t go.
You’ve got to realize that the reason Adele had not visited a Major League ballpark had nothing to do with financial deprivation or access. She has lived in New York Cityfor 55 years, a subway ride from big-league ball. Nor has she pined for such an opportunity. It simply never crossed her mind.
My aunt is an actress who loves Broadway and movies. Her total knowledge of baseball before Wednesday was the names Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio (probably because he had married Marilyn Monroe).
It is probably impossible for anyone raised in theUnited States, lived her entire life in theUnited States, reads newspapers, watches TV news, and whose first language is English to know less about baseball than Adele. Baseball 101 was too advanced.
Adele did not know there was a diamond, three outs to a side, how many players take the field, how a batting order works, how many innings are in a game, what a home run is and that umpires are Switzerland, the neutral parties on the field.
The Arabic alphabet and trigonometry might qualify as things I know less about than Adele did about baseball. Yet she was game for a game. Adele assumed it would be a New York Yankees game.
“I know there is a Yankees team,” she said. But the Yankees were playing inTorontoat the moment. I asked if she knew there was also a Mets team. Kinda, sorta.
We held tickets to a matinee on a Thursday, but the Mets and Reds also played the night before. I decided to watch a few innings following a basic instructional session.
My approach was to base the entire foundation of the sport of baseball around the concepts of safe and out. After listing all nine position players for the defense I said the batter represented the offense. If the batter hit the ball and the fielder caught it, he was out and was replaced by the next batter. If he hit ‘em where they ain’t (thank you, Willie Keeler) he was safe at first, second or third, and if he hit the ball out of the park it was a home run.
Happily, Adele was familiar with the expression “three strikes and you’re out” in terms of it being a simile applied to life.
Just seeing Citi Field was a revelation. Adele had no idea ballparks are so large. It occurred to me why. Alighting on a televised game what you see 90 percent of the time is the pitcher-batter confrontation. There are only rare panoramic shots where the other players look like ants.
We took a lap around the park, checking out every concession stand and souvenir store. It was all routine by the standards of baseball stadiums inAmerica, but all new to Adele. “They have every conceivable kind of food,” she said.
The ballpark fare was the same as it is around the majors, with the plus of knishes. New to me was a gluten free stand, which among other offerings, sold tapioca pudding. No comment.
Being able to see the entire field all at once and the 90 feet between bases, brought home a sense of reality perspective rather than a shrunken TV camera version of the field.
The game featured knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (a treat for me, but lost on Adele) starting for the Mets and Mat Latos starting for Cincinnati. As soon as the game began we had to address the issue of foul balls and the white lines representing inbounds and out-of-bounds. For the longest time Adele couldn’t grasp why the batter did not keep running after making contact. In those instances he was either out on a fly ball or had hit if foul. We got that straightened out.
“This is a real adventure for me,” Adele said.
We were sitting the 300 level and Adele asked, “We couldn’t get hit by a ball could we?” Yes we could have. “Nah,” I said anyway, “it would be pretty hard.”
It was 75 degrees, sunny, with no humidity, so the day was ideal for baseball. For the most part it was a just an average baseball game with no super slugging and no overwhelming pitching. Anything overlooked in my Clif Notes approach to the rules I tried to describe it when it happened—like bunting.
The Reds took a 4-0 lead. The Mets tied it and then scored five in the eighth to prevail 9-4. There were a couple of home runs (including a three-run job by New York’s Ronny Cedeno) and some pitching changes. “It’s not as complicated as I thought it was,” Adele said. I was just glad I didn’t have to explain the infield fly rule.
“What kind of salaries do these people make? Adele asked. I looked her dead in the eye and said, “Millions.” She didn’t even blink.
When it was over, Adele agreed that saying baseball was like ballet was not the best description. It was more like theatre without a script, improvisational drama, we agreed. But ballet?
“I think he just wanted me to go out with him,” she said of the long-ago suitor.
Adele concluded that going to baseball games is fun and she would like to see more. Maybe even that other team based in New York.