Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I don't care if I never get back

Mrs. Pincus and I have been Phillies season ticket owners for seventeen seasons. We love baseball. We have attended games at many ballparks across the country. We've marveled at the artifacts and memorabilia at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. We've even visited the graves of baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, as well as beloved Phillies broadcasters Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas.

As I write this, the post-season fate of the Philadelphia Phillies hangs in the balance. Devoted Phillies fans have become spoiled over the past five seasons, as we have enjoyed watching "The Fightin's" repeatedly compete in the elusive playoff series. This year, however, is a different story. Plagued by injuries, lost opportunities and just poor performance, the final week of the regular season sees the Phils teetering on the edge between glory and being an also-ran. The team's on-field antics have been difficult to watch as they blew early leads and committed error after costly error. While a trip to the ballpark on a beautiful summer afternoon is refreshing and relaxing, witnessing shitty baseball is a real buzz-kill. Mrs. P's buzz-kill happened sometime in June.

Our seats are fifteen rows from the field, situated on the "foul side" of the foul pole that rises out of the left-field corner of beautiful Citizens Bank Park, in a section comprised mostly of other season ticket holders. We are in seat numbers 5 and 6. Seats 1 through 4, we have come to understand, belong to some corporate entity that offers the tickets to various people — employees, customers, employees' families, customer's families — throughout the season. I can't remember the same group occupying those seats for two consecutive weeks. For some games, they aren't occupied at all.

So, last Sunday, we found ourselves at our last home game of the 2012 season. It was a lovely pre-autumn day and we were prepared to see the Phillies take one last stab at the Atlanta Braves as they limped their way towards a potential victory that seemed much more than nine innings away. My wife had lost interest. She had already written this year off and looked to the clean slate of Opening Day 2013, when all teams are in first place. At this point, the 2012 season had become a social event for her. She eagerly awaited the conversation she shared with the wives in the two couples who sit in the row directly behind us — couples we have known since our seats were located in the now-demolished Veterans Stadium, the former home of the Phillies. The three ladies' conversation touches on issues about family, vacations, restaurants and other decidedly unbaseball topics. 

On this partciular day, Seats 3 and 4 in our row were taken by an older couple who we had never seen before. They were dressed as though they had just stepped off the set of The Philadelphia Story, a 1940s comedic romp through stuffy high society. I've seen a lot of unusual get-ups at baseball games (fright wigs, face painters, this guy), but argyle sweaters and Katherine Hepburn-style headwraps are more often seen on the campus of Swarthmore College than in the company of shin guards and rosin bags.

Cliff Lee took to the mound and, with the delivery of the first pitch, the game was on. And the conversation began. My wife rotated slightly in her seat and the three women chatted about baking, delving deeply and thoroughly into individual ingredients and their possible substitutions in various recipes. They discussed theories of royal icing and fondant, debated various refinements of confectioner's sugar and weighed the pros and cons of buttercream. The gentleman seated to my wife's immediate right was fuming. He glared repeatedly in her direction, silently expressing his annoyance with facial contortions. He was not pleased with this non-baseball discussion. Not one bit. Sporadically, he would clap his hands with exaggerated enthusiasm and whistle, then sit quietly and stew. He would try to break up the talk with yells of "Way to go, Jimmy!" or "Yeah, Cliff!", usually during field activity in which shortstop Jimmy Rollins and pitcher Cliff Lee were not involved. The conversation lasted until the fifth inning of an extremely lackluster game. It was then Mrs. P decided to check out the offerings at the temporary merchandise tent set up on the other side of the ballpark. (With the season winding down and the prospects of post-season slipping away, The Phillies were unloading logoed items at discount prices.) If there's one thing my spouse enjoys more than a boring baseball game, it's shopping. So, off she went — to the obvious delight of the occupant of Row 15, Seat 4.

In the eighth inning, my wife returned to our seats. She excused herself past the annoyed fan in our row and began to tell of the treasure trove of Phillies novelties that she purchased. As the reigning "nicest person on the face of the earth," she bought sparkly, official Phillies-emblazoned flip-flops for the two women behind us. They thanked her and the conversation picked up where it had left off. Agitated that his three innings of uninterrupted baseball enjoyment had ended, the argyled and bespectacled gentlemen grabbed his wife's arm and made a hurried and exasperated exit.

Oh, and the Phillies lost 2-1.

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