Time was that a seat in the bleachers, the viewing stands farthest from the action at a baseball game—well, the bleachers were always for the masses, folks who couldn’t afford the more expensive seats. College students out for an afternoon in the sun and some cold, cheap beer. Little league teams ready to cheer on their heroes up close. Last minute fans hoping for any ticket to see the game. Bleacher seats were often wooden benches. Move too fast and you’d get a splinter in the backside. Folks in these seats even have a nickname: “bleacher bums”, connoting their once downscale status.
Now? Bleacher seats at Fenway Park, home of Boston Red Sox, are no longer that cheap. But at $30 a pop for a seat way, way up in the nose-bleed section, 500 feet from home plate: it’s still the best deal in the place. And as I discovered on a recent balmy and blue sky August evening, when the Sox took on Chicago’s White Sox, the bleachers are also still about as democratic and diverse a place as you can find anywhere.
Sitting directly behind me were four young women, visiting the United States for the very first time, from France. It was their first ever baseball game too. Next to me: three Hoosiers from Gary, Indiana who’d never ventured to either coast. They were stopping by friendly Fenway before going on to Maine for a wedding. With me were four “Minnesota Nice” old friends, Twins fans making a pilgrimage to the oldest major league ball park, circa 1912, still in use in the United States.
It was a magical night, one I could not plan, one I’ll not soon forget.
We all stood in respectful silence for the national anthem, hats or hands over hearts, as an oversized flag flapped and snapped in a gentle August breeze. The Parisians ate their mustard slathered covered hot dogs with gusto, and I did my best to explain the game to them. They enthusiastically watched and asked lots of questions. What better way to learn about America than at a ball game? The Hoosiers shared their impressions of Boston (so much traffic!) and they asked me about the best place to eat lobster down east. My younger mid-western seat mates, BJ and Nathan, nine and twelve years old, screamed with gusto at the BoSox’ first home run. At games’ end our mini-community parted as new friends, grateful for wonderful folks to catch a game with, share stories, and share life, if only for a little while.
And guess what? None of us, not one, wanted to talk about politics or even bothered to look at breaking headlines on our smart phones. Red state, blue state, “America First”? Who the heck cared about that!? The action on the field was much more interesting and fun. Any thoughts of our differences faded away amidst the spectacle of baseball, a seemingly eternal game, played on a field of bright green as the city skyline faded into a pink and purple sunset. My new friends from France even said that Bostonians were actually friendlier than the folks from their home town! Yes. Seriously. The Red Sox won in a rout and we even made it to the train before it got too overcrowded.
We live in times when it is easier than ever to immerse ourselves in “the news” and “the latest” all the time. Like crack addicts we stay glued to our screens, awaiting the next thing to freak out about. I know I’m guilty of this obsession. And since such reports are most often slanted to the negative, this media saturation can give us a warped view of life. A view from 30,000 feet that tempts us to see only the bad in the world. To grow cynical or weary or pessimistic about it all.
But if we are wise, we will go local, get down to earth and on the ground and see that much of the time, most of the time, this life is still good. We just have to look for it and remember. That most folks are kind and welcoming. Strangers are just friends we’ve yet to meet. Home towns are the places we cherish so much that we want to share these with visitors from far away. And what really gives us pleasure day to day is not overly complicated either: spending time with the people we love and being open to all the God given gifts each twenty four hours has to offer. But first we have to get in the game and pay attention.
So that’s my view from the cheap seats, the bleachers. Perhaps it’s time for you to take in a game soon. I hear that tickets are still available.