All fathers love baseball and were good at it when they were little. (The average lifetime batting average of the average American father is .800.) Mothers hate it, though they were even better at it when they were little. All little boys want to be like—and be liked by—their fathers and are secretly worried about the ball game Dad keeps threatening to take them to. Get it over with.
Here's what to do, and what to watch out for.
BUY THE TICKETS. This can be done from the office, after coffee time, where it's cozy and you're in your element. Order the tickets yourself, but let your secretary overhear you doing it. She'll love you for it and will probably tell the boss, and he'll love you for it too.
(Caution 1: On no account agree to take the boss's son along. Many promising careers have been wrecked in this way.)
(Caution 2: Remember that the cost of the tickets is only a down payment on the evening. A good rule of thumb is that a kid sitting in a $3.50 box seat will consume $3.50 worth of hot dogs and souvenirs. On the other hand, a kid sitting in a $2.50 reserved seat will also consume $3.50.)
Once the tickets are purchased you can't back out since the investment is too great. Besides, your wife has already made extensive plans for her own evening.
WHAT TO WEAR. Lots of warm clothes, especially if you're going to a place like Candlestick Park.
(Caution 3: Do not decline to take along anything your wife suggests. She knows exactly what the conditions will be at the ball park.)
GOING TO THE GAME. Opinions differ on whether to arrive in time for batting practice. To a large extent this depends on how much of the actual game you yourself want to see, since batting practice plus a few innings of baseball is all your little pal can take. During an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the 1960 season, when the Pirate bats were booming, the average opposition hurler lasted 3‚Öì innings. The average father didn't do much better than that. On the other hand, if you get to the park early you won't have the tangle of incoming traffic to contend with, and your little pal will be spared several sharp comments in the early part of the evening. On the other hand, whether he gets these sharp comments early or late makes no difference to him, so you might as well suit yourself about watching batting practice.
WHAT TO BUY. Pillows, toy bats, toy canes, hat, baseballs, biographies of the players, a portrait of the club owner—plus anything and everything else your little pal desires. This is a once-in-a-life-time proposition.
(Caution 4: It is not necessary to buy a program. There are lots of them in the stands.)
THE GAME ITSELF. Baseball has been aptly called "the game of nines." There are 18 players, nine on each side. (College teams are sometimes called "nines.") There are nine innings. Three strikes is out, and there are three outs. (Three times three is nine.) After that it gets complicated.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR. One of your functions as expert guide on this tour of the national pastime will be to answer questions and keep your little pal alert about "what to watch." This means that you yourself must know what to watch. After all, a ball park is a big place, and you can't watch everything.
Laymen watching the game have a tendency to watch the batter until he hits the ball and then to watch the ball. However, at times it is essential to watch the runner, not the batter. In this way you will be able to answer such questions as, "How did Willie Mays get on third base?" Again, there are times when it's futile to watch the runner (who, unless he's trapped, can only go in one direction anyway), because then you'll miss the cutoff and won't be able to explain how Eddie Kasko happens to be fielding a ball hit to Frank Robinson.
Watching the third baseman is always optional. He's going to get killed one of these days, and you must decide beforehand whether you and your little pal want to see it or not.
Watching the third-base coach is not recommended unless you enjoy listening to Japanese people talking on the phone. In most games nobody but the batter watches the third-base coach—and in some games not even the batter watches him. This is why the coach doesn't get much money.
As a rule only the outfielders' wives watch the outfielders.
First base is a much-watched position—mainly because first basemen are often described as being "like ballet dancers at first base." A lot of ballet dancers go to ball games just to watch the first baseman.
You have to be careful about watching that girl a few rows down and to the left. She may be an outfielder's wife.
Occasionally it is useful to watch the on-deck circle, especially in a tight game in which "the tying run is at the plate." In that situation the man in the on-deck circle represents a one-run lead, and it is therefore important to know who he is. In most big league ball parks it is not possible to see into the dugout, where a six-run lead can often be observed sitting on the bench scratching himself and reading Madame Bovary.
By and large, however, the most important man to watch is the pitcher—especially when he is having "a conference on the mound" with the catcher, the first baseman, the third baseman, the shortstop, the second baseman, the manager and two umpires. Pay careful note if the pitcher drifts away from the group and starts to trade baseball cards with the right fielder, since this means that one of his buddies has been asked to please stop reading Madame Bovary and start "heating up in the bullpen." Now is a good time for you and your little pal to go to the bathroom.
(Caution 5: Never go to the bathroom when it is a "good time" to go. You can't get in. He can always get in by telling the men in the line ahead of him that he "can't wait.")
(Caution 6: Don't try this yourself!)
THE TERMINOLOGY OF BASEBALL. In a sense it is easier to get along without a full understanding of baseball terminology if you are watching a game than if you are listening to one on the radio. At the park, for example, it is always "second base"—never "the keystone sack." The burly backstop is simply the catcher, the stylish right-hander is the pitcher, "the little fella" is Stu Miller, and so on. Still, there are times when it is convenient to have the right phrases ready, as in the following examples:
Q. What's happening?
A. They're having a rhubarb at the plate.
Q. What's happening?
A. Alvin Dark is being unceremoniously ejected from the premises.
Q. What's happening?
A. Big Don is demonstrating considerable anguish on the mound over that last call.
Q. What's happening?
A. Big Don is being unceremoniously ejected from the premises.
Also, it is not beyond possibility that your little pal has been listening to the radio for several days in preparation for the night's event, in which case you may have to answer questions like the following:
Q. Who's on the hot corner?
A. Jimmy Davenport, a slickster with the glove.
Q. Was that one into the slot?
A. No, the slot is over there—past that mommy with the red hat a few rows down and to the left.
Q. What's the difference between the slot and the hole?
A. Oh, look! Somebody on the bench is being unceremoniously ejected from the premises!
These are principally basic terms that apply to almost any ball game. In addition, each team has a specialized terminology of its own that is used to designate the players themselves. The "little fella" mentioned above is a case in point. It is wise to know these terms so that the right shouts of encouragement can be given at appropriate moments in the contest. The players are fond of these names, and it means a lot to them to hear you and your little pal screaming them from the stands. Vada Pinson, for example, likes to be called Fleet Vada. Harvey Kuenn is Ole Harve. Mickey Mantle is M. (Roger Maris is also M—admittedly confusing.) Others:
Orlando Cepeda: The Baby Bull
Lew (or Lou) Burdette: Fidgety Lew (or Lou)
Vernon Law: The Deacon
Vinegar Bend Mizell: Wilmer Mizell
Horace Stoneham: The Man
Stan Musial: M
Roy Weatherly: Little Thunder
Anthony Corallo: Tony Ducks
Most of these examples have been chosen from the National League because that, after all, is the "senior circuit." In attending "junior circuit" games there will, of course, be different terms for the various players.
(Caution 7: Jim Piersall of the Washington Senators and Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox don't like to be called anything.)
WHAT TO DO ABOUT FOUL BALLS. In the upper tier, Section C, Row 12, Seats 12 and 13, foul balls are a geometric impossibility. If these seats are unavailable, you must be on your guard against unwanted "souvenirs." Most parks provide a lot of harebrained kids to chase foul balls—which are later redeemed for "baseball scholarships" at southern universities—and it is usually wise not to try to interfere with these kids or you'll get clubbed. If a ball comes to your seat, however, and no kids show up to chase it, it is best simply to catch the ball by leaping high into the air and "snaring" it with one hand.
(Caution 8: Which hand to "snare" it with depends upon what you do for a living. If you're a right-handed sports columnist, for example, try to "snare" the ball with your left hand.)
HOW TO ANSWER QUESTIONS. As has been suggested, one of your principal functions will be to give succinct answers to your little pal's questions.
(Caution 9: Beware of the long question!)
Q. Dad. Dad. Dad. What if?
A. What if what?
Q. What if there are two out and a man on third base and a count of three balls and two strikes and the batter hits the ball and the batter say he hits it to the pitcher or somebody and the man on third base starts to run and nobody sees him and the pitcher misses the ball and he picks it up and the man that hit the ball hey he falls down hey and the pitcher—?
The senior circuit record for this sort of question was established by a kid named Billy McGuire in Cincinnati in 1956; four innings. Paul Richards, generally acknowledged to be the self-styled master of modern baseball strategy, recommends having a beer, lighting a cigarette, glancing a while at the girl a few rows down and to the left and then asking your little pal to repeat the question. By that time somebody is sure to hit a home run, which always wipes clean the slates of grandstand conversation along with the bases.
Questions like, "Who's up?" and, "Who did you say was up?" can usually be dealt with by admonishing your little pal to study the scoreboard. In most parks it is customary for the players' numbers to be posted in lights on the scoreboard opposite the names of their position—for example, "LF31." Other lights will then inform scoreboard technologists in the stands that "LF" is up, so that noting the number opposite LF, followed by reference to the program lying in the lap of the man sitting alongside, will identify the batter in some cases. In other cases, the lights will flash through the night the steady signal that 31 is up, which can then be matched with LF, in which case it is often possible to remember who plays LF, and so on—there is no firm rule about all this. (Bear in mind that 31 on the scoreboard is really 81.)
The most common question you will have to answer during the evening is, "Was that a home run?" The answer is usually, "No."
Other common questions and their answers:
Q. Can I have another hot dog?
Q. Is this a World Series?
Q. Do you think Mom is home yet?
Q. Is that Willie Mays?
Q. Can I have another hot dog?
But by far the most important question of all is this one:
Q. How long does this go on?
Your immediate impulse will be to give the correct answer: "About two hours."
(Caution 10: Restrain that impulse!)
The correct response at this point is to say, "One more inning," have another beer, take a last look at that girl and start moving toward the exits.
GOING HOME. In many ways this is the crucial frame of the evening. Don't tighten up. Stay loose.
Assuming you can find the car, get in it and turn on the heater and the radio. Since you left Billy O'Dell with an eight-run lead in the fifth inning, and since you (and the other fathers) are beating the traffic out, you have every reason to be in a good mood. Be in one. Listen to the game, and be suddenly grateful for the lucid explanation of your announcers. Pat your little pal, and say it was fun. Think about the boy's mother—which is what he's doing, too—waiting to have drinks and listen to your play-by-play recapitulation of the evening. And if all has gone well, you may be rewarded on the way home with a final question you'll have no trouble answering:
Q. Baseball is beautiful, ain't it?
A. Isn't it!
Q. Isn't it.
A. Yes, little pal, it is.