Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Out In Left Field

By Clark Westfied

"You can observe alot just by watching."
-Yogi Berra

Give Peace a Chance -
At the Ball Park

For me the baseball season was over
when the Yankees got knocked out of the playoffs quickly. But I do want to comment on a disturbing trend in baseball stadium decorum, including at Yankee Stadium. Baseball parks were set up as a sports oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of big American cities. As cities grew rapidly around the turn of the twentieth century, baseball fields, like urban parks, became a reminder of the pastoral days of yesteryear. Ball parks with their manicured grass and smooth dirt in the base paths provided calm from the horse and carriages and then automobiles rushing to and fro on the cobblestone and asphalt streets around them. Inside the park, away from blaring car horns and shouting people, the only noise spectators heard was the crack of the ball on the bat, the chatter of the infielders encouraging the pitcher, and the roar in unison of the crowd when the home team did something exciting. Even the slow pace of the game (though they moved much faster before the 1980s) contributed to the tranquil atmosphere, quiet conversation, and peaceful contemplation that baseball games (not football or basketball) allow.

Times have changed, however, and not for the better.

No longer does a baseball game bring peace and quiet from the hubbub of daily life. If you go to Yankee Stadium you will be attacked by the clatter of noise generated by high-volume loudspeakers imploring fans during an inning to make more noise (can’t they figure out for themselves when to clap and scream?). Worst of all is what happens between innings. The Jumbotron (or whatever it’s called) in centerfield broadcasts loudly all sorts of filler to drown out relaxed conversation. At Yankee Stadium there is such silly-made-up stuff as a three-card Monte version of shifting baseball caps and balls and a race between the B, C, and 4 trains. Of course each of these is sponsored by some corporation whose advertisements we have gone to the ball park to flee. Then there are segments on Yankee trivia, players’ favorite songs, uniform numbers, and a kind of bingo of player identification. But that’s not all. Each player now has a song that introduces his at-bat and during the fifth inning even the groundskeepers become performers dancing to a recording of the Village People’s “YMCA.” The seventh inning stretch no longer has only the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but now is accompanied by Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.” The latter squeezed out the rousing “Cotton Eyed-Joe,” which used to go along with the seventh-inning stretch, but now comes in the eighth inning. And I haven’t even mentioned the music that accompanies the list of birthdays announced on the scoreboard.

Can’t we just watch a baseball game in peace and quiet and enjoy it without loud advertisements and silly scoreboard games? The fan-made sounds that accompany what happens on the field are surely enough. If I wanted to be bombarded by noise and flashing advertisements I would just go to 42nd Street and Times Square. The only saving grace is that I have been to Shea Stadium and noise oppression there is even worse. And, by the way, whatever happened to infield chatter?

Clark Westfield is a pseudonym for a Professor at Rutgers University and a non-fiction writer, who in the twilight of his distinguished career, wishes to fan the flame of mystery. Out In Left Field is a column devoted to all things New York, Baseball, Entertainment, Politics, and History.

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