In the total body of work which comprises Achewood—a body of work which runs the gamut from topics as disparate as cutting-edge gay pornography and risotto burnout—you will notice a remarkable lack of baseball. In my youth, I played little league as earnestly as any mortally shy, four-eyed kid in jeans and non-regulation discount sneakers could, of course. My dad even coached a year or two, but it didn't amount to much (he listens to Sibelius in his Volvo and plays Frankenstein with heirloom rose grafts). At the end of my last year suffering under the mesh-backed, adjustable-strap crown of thorns, when the team awards were handed out, he had to give me an award just like everyone else, and I went home with a baseball in a spherical plastic case which read, "Most Versatile." Meaning, no matter which position they stuck me in, I'd be equally capable of moistening my dungarees if a ball came within twenty yards of my "responsibility zone." I eventually opted for Boy Scouts over baseball and my mother, whose arms grew taut and veined with the effort of hauling hundreds of yards of dungaree-ripe clotheslines to and fro each week, sighed with relief. Since that time, America's game and I have fallen irreparably out of touch.
Thus it was with no small amount of surprise that I found myself happily accepting a ticket to see the San Francisco Giants season opener last Tuesday. My old friend Jon, whom I have described elsewhere as a high-tech knee breaker and axe man who routinely travels the globe to put the screws to six-figure geeks, had a couple of sweet stubs that put us six rows back from third base, and I thought, "Hey, I'm a writer. I could use an excuse to wear pants this month. My wife would love it. She might even get out the camera."
I met Jon on the Caltrain that wends its way up the San Francisco peninsula from our southerly suburbs. The trip had been sold to me as an excuse to start drinking beer early in the day, a generative exercise with which I am professionally familiar. I wasn't terribly in the mood to sup on suds as I walked to the train at 11am this particular day, but I gamely picked up one of those mortar-size Heinekens at a corner liquor store and felt its cool weight against my hip as I waited for the train to toot and hiss up to the platform.
Jon wandered into my car and set down a Safeway bag full of Guinness and high-end potato chips (as I have mentioned elsewhere, Jon works hard, and takes his pleasure when and where he can get it). We cracked a couple of the cans and got to chatting about our kids. Here and there we broke off a couple of the Clotted Cream and Kielbasa Kettle Chips (real name forgotten) in our mouths and chewed like horses. I traded him my Heineken mortar for a humbler and more nutritious Guinness pint, and after a fashion we rolled into the San Francisco terminus, a mere block from AT&T Park. Having fortified myself earlier with a toaster waffle, I found the rate of Guinness absorption wholly pleasant.
Awash in a sea of fellow fans, we made our way to the park and had a quick Anchor Steam at the peripheral ACME Chophouse (how many ballpark slop-shops can say that their menu and food philosophy were designed by Traci Des Jardins?), before entering the gates and getting an Anchor Steam to wash down all that Anchor Steam. To dogpile the beer and keep it subdued, we ordered an unusual number of ethnic sausage sandwiches from the dizzying assortment of food concessions (correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I saw one small booth that was permanently serving a still-beating cobra heart to an animatronic Tony Bourdain). "Hey," I thought, "Maybe it's not me that's stayed the same. Maybe it's baseball that's changed." It was a happy moment. Perhaps I would have to have baseball over for halibut cheek ceviche and Żubrówka appletinis sometime.
We descended to field level and took our seats. My warehouse guy, who actually follows baseball with a religious fervor, described our address in the sixth row as "worth killing [me] over," so I was happy when we finally alighted and there was no C-4 duct taped to the underside of my seat. We settled in next to a couple of drunken, fat blowhards with chunky watches (Wikipedia: season ticket holders) who quickly engaged Jon in expert baseball camaraderie. I played it loose and fast on the other side of Jon and was largely ignored, despite my looseness and fastness.
The first few innings went smoothly, and I found myself watching the batters' stats on the Jumbotron. After noting a few curious trends (e.g., a perceived Gaussian distribution of batting averages in the batting order), I felt ready enough to dissect the sport with the drunkest and blowhardiest of the chunky watch brigade. Unfortunately, the subject never came up within earshot, so I busied myself with watching the Giants spray clouds of raunchy foul balls into the upper deck.
Before long, it was clear that I would get sunstroke, so I rolled down the sleeves of my fancy hiking shirt and pulled the bill of my old Boston Red Sox cap (purchased during the frenzy of the 2004 ALCS, at which time I happened to be in Boston) even lower on my brow. Jon wandered off to get a few more eight dollar beers, and the near-most blowhard pressed his opinions on me. After a bit of deft prying, I was able to get him to admit that he was very successful, and had sold a lot of things to a lot of people lately. Life had been worse for old him, he admitted in full candor. His friend afforded that the fellow's house was an excellent place for parties, and that there were always cool people there. I said that I agreed it must be so, and they seemed pleased. It was as good a time as any to head to the lavatory.
Using the men's room at a Major League baseball game is an institution and culture of its own, ancillary to the game itself, dependent but distinct. It is a milling, densely packed cattle call where fathers try to teach their too-young sons how to use regulation urinals. Teenagers gripe at the backs of the old, who can no longer muster significant PSI. Here and there a laugh spreads at an odd vector across lines of men who are half-paying attention to whatever micturation foible or embarrassing cell phone conversation is most obvious. Those who have just finished their business part the seas of uncomfortable men like a uranium Moses. If you find yourself next to a thorough hand-washer, you use the soap too. If not, your fingers dance briefly beneath the auto-activated spray and you are on your way back down the steps to your seat. To the blowhards.
Which brings me to why we left in the seventh inning. The Giants weren't up to much, and we'd had enough sausages, so it seemed unnecessary to run the risk of getting corralled into after-game beers at the blowhard party house. Jon and I instead ran a con about a sick kid or a wife with dysentery or something of the sort, shook a few quick hands, and trotted up the steps and out of the stadium. Feeling smart, we had a few beers, a couple Subway six-inchers, and caught the next train south. By six o'clock that evening I was standing in front of my hallway mirror and admiring my lobster-red sunburn dickie. A hot andouille curled against my pancreas and went to sleep. Anchor Steam trickled slowly from my ears. I was happy. Baseball was something different to me now, just like fishing and summer music festivals. As with those other sterling examples of boredom and agony, beer had drawn everything into focus. Thank you, Jon. Thank you, beer.