By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
People go to baseball games for all sorts of reasons.
That was the obvious conclusion after a trip to Cleveland this week where we saw the Indians play the Boston Red Sox. The teams played a three-game series, including a Tuesday nighter and a Wednesday day game. That meant we could see two games with only one overnight stay at a Cleveland-area hotel. That sounded like a good way to catch up on major league action, so off we went.
You can catch up on what happened on the field through the usual outlets. Hint: The Red Sox made their numerous fans at the game – they travel well – happy with a couple of victories after losing the first game of the series before we arrived.
But when attending a game as a fan is enjoyable in any number of ways. People are thrown together at baseball games, whether it in their seat, at the concession stand, or simply waiting to get in the main gate. Most enjoy watching great athletes in action, although the youngest fans appear to be more interested in concession stands at times. Lively and good-natured conversations usually follow, since both sides have baseball in common. (Try that with politics these days.)
We had some good chats with our fellow fans over the course of 22 hours. For example:
*Tuesday’s game was a reunion between a pair of old friends. One was from Vermont, and one was from Cleveland. Each year, they try to do a hunting trip in Vermont and an Indians’ game together. You could tell before the gates opened, that the two couples were very comfortable with each other despite rooting for different teams. Bragging rights would be on the line for the game.
*Progressive Field has plenty of food options available, as long as you’re willing to pay $6 for a 20-ounce bottle of Diet Pepsi to go with it. (Welcome to the big leagues.) Bargains aren’t the only thing in short supply, as tables are scarce too.
In this case, we were joined for lunch by a couple of senior ladies from the western suburbs of Ohio. The two of them go to opening day together, and then pick out four or five games from the schedule that they want to see together. They bring in their own sandwich and a bottle of water to avoid those concession prices, and gabbed away throughout lunch and probably during most of the game. In other words, they had the routine down pat.
*One group of people who sat near us consisted of one man who obviously had watched a lot of baseball, and three women who obviously had no idea how the game worked. How did he spend the game? Answering questions from the other three. He was patient and knowledgeable throughout the night.
At one point I said to him, “I hope you don’t have to explain what a balk is.” That’s because not even a major league umpire can easily explain what a balk is.
*About the only downbeat comment of the trip came from a fan in the stands when it came to, what else, player salaries. The name of Dallas Keichel came up in conversation, as in “What ever happened to him?” I explained that he had signed as a free agent with Atlanta in June. The fan’s reaction was, “I hate it when these prima donnas try to get every last dollar out of teams.”
I explained in a calm voice that Keichel didn’t get any offers because signing him would cost a new team a first-round draft choice under the current compensation rules. The same thing happened to Craig Kimbrel, who may be in the Hall of Fame when he retires but who sat around until the start of summer. I don’t think I changed his mind, but he still enjoyed the on-field exploits of those prima donnas.
*The best story of the two games came on Wednesday. A husband and wife combination drove from Central Massachusetts for the game, with a stop in Kentucky to check up on relatives to follow. As we waited to get our free Indians beach bags when the door finally opened, the husband mentioned that he grew up in Brockton, Mass.
For the record, that’s the same Brockton, Massachusetts, where my parents grew up and where I spent most of the first six years of my life. Upon comparing notes, we figured out that our fathers probably were in the same high school at the same time in the early 1940s. It is a small world.
Sure, the games themselves are important. Tuesday night’s contest was as tense and interesting as you could want from a regular-season game in August. But thriller or blowout, people apparently find a way to enjoy themselves at the old ballgame.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)