Through an interesting scheduling turn of events – more like lucky – I was able to experience professional baseball in two different cities, both as part of a series sweep, and I have to say that I learned a lot about baseball and indeed, myself, and how to find joy in these games.
I found myself in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday night, when my team, the Detroit Tigers, was starting a 3-game series with the hometown Indians. They have struggled with run production and holding leads late, which can be a recipe for losing. I had never been to a game in Cleveland, and just going there was a thrill. I sported my orange Tiger t-shirt and noticed quickly that I was an unwelcome presence among the Tribe fans. Chants of “Detroit sucks” rang regularly through the air between the drumbeat in left field, as ushers regularly ushered out certain troublemakers during a 5-3 Indians’ victory. That game was the first game of what would result in a series sweep. I told my travel companion that in sportual fashion, I was looking only for the joy in the game. Admittedly, it was difficult at first because of the clamoring, name-calling, and anger directed at those who were “my” team. As I considered this scene through Sportuality’s eyes, the Indians were “their” team, and competition to them had a meaning of “working against” rather than “working with” as Sportuality suggests.
Juxtapose this night with two nights later at The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio for the Reds hosting the visiting Atlanta Braves — a fierce rivalry to be sure. Admittedly, I entered the stadium vowing to remain neutral and to cheer for both teams, and the majority of the fan base was dressed in Reds’ red, but there was a palpably different feeling in the stands. Our section included both Atlanta and Cincinnati fans, and each were allowed to cheer on their team without receiving hate and anger from the other side. We were even allowed to cheer on baseball, or all good plays, and feel comfortable doing so. The game highlight for me was a pinch-hit grand slam, something I have never seen live. For drama’s sake, it was Cincinnati’s four runs, and the crowd went into fever pitch, which is a very cool experience, regardless of your team affiliation. Reds’ fans had brooms galore, signifying the sweep, and indeed, their joy in the game was evident. What about Atlanta? I did see an unhospitable move on the part of the Cincinnati fans – a Braves’ home run ball was quickly thrown back onto the playing field, a common practice for home fans at several ball parks. However, I believe that Atlanta fans left feeling that they had seen a good ball game, and that they had been welcome in the Queen City.
According to Dictionary.com, the word hospitality means ‘the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers’ or ‘the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.’ I realize that in this American culture, we don’t necessarily consider our sport affiliations to be opportunities for hospitality, but I believe, and Sportuality would encourage, that when thousands of people are gathered in a single venue, it IS an opportunity for creating greater good. A friendly reception by a home team to any who enter the gates goes a long way toward creating a more civil society. During my stay in Cleveland, I met with alumni and friends of Kalamazoo College, one of whom was an usher at Cleveland Browns’ football games. He resonated with my thoughts about Cleveland sports fans, and said that when he sees an opposing fan enter the Browns’ stadium, he considers himself their advocate, and will make sure they know to seek him out should they feel harassed. He went a step further, without having read Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games, and said that one of his great joys is to stand in the empty stadium pregame, and compare that with the frenzy during a full house. I mention this feeling on page 183 in the chapter on ‘Sanctuary’ – the holy place. What a blessing it is to be able to experience the yin and yang of sportual sanctuaries, a phenomenon unavailable to most who only know a venue full of fans and action.
When we can feel the energy of both the empty and full arena, and understand that we have a choice about the energy, or hospitality, we bring into the situation, we have a great opportunity to bring peace to ourselves, and to our greater world. It’s a life altering, mind-expanding perspective, like seeing the earth from space. It’s a different idea, a new awareness, a new consciousness, and would be a welcome paradigm in all sport venues. On this Memorial Day, we celebrate those who sacrificed for our country, and we are all united for a moment. What if we understood ourselves as connected to all who gather to take in a game, no matter what color they might wear? For humanity’s sake, what if baseball wins?