Baseball Fans (and Players) Behaving Badly

When mobs of people get together, sometimes unfortunate things happen. Too often common courtesy takes a seat on an out of the park fly ball. The majority of our time with baseball fans has been pleasant, even absolutely delightful. But there have been those few times when some jerk—or a whole gaggle of jerks—has made the situation so foul, that we put a park on the “never returning here” list.

For example, one of our trips through the Midwest and Southern states took us to Little Rock, Arkansas, an interesting city and home of the Clinton Presidential Library. The day we visited the ballpark turned out to be a morning game with busloads of school children in attendance. (It was spring and teachers will do anything to get the kids out of the classroom!) Since this was a special occasion, tickets were all general admission. We were told that anyone—other than the school kids—could sit anywhere they wanted. Great! So we headed to our spot of preference in any baseball park—right behind home plate. We were settled in, the game started and a group of people took the row of seats behind us. Not unusual. Then suddenly, a 40s-something man dressed in what looked like clothes straight out of Brooks Brothers (their summer line, of course—it was quite warm) and a $500 haircut demanded that we vacate HIS corporate seats. He didn’t ask politely, he didn’t say perhaps we had gotten the wrong tickets, he didn’t even pretend to be courteous. Instead, when Dan explained that we were told to sit anywhere, he blustered on about how much HE had PAID for HIS season tickets, not to mention the $10,000.00 for the corporate advertising and HE was by God going to sit there! HE didn’t care WHAT the office had said. To say the least, we were stunned. The man was the worst kind of fan: an arrogant bully who didn’t know how to say “please.” Needless to say, we moved our stuff and ourselves back one row and over, out of ear shot of the bully and his entourage—who had stayed uncomfortably quiet while our encounter happened. When we got into our new seats, Dan, miffed beyond his mild manner, went back to the front office to complain. When he returned, he said that the management was refusing to even be bothered with comments or concerns of the fans. Ironically, Dan said, during his attempts to talk to the management he could see a sign in the office with the famous quote, “The buck stops here.” Dan came to the conclusion that is was the “money buck” that stopped there, not the “buck” of responsibility or caring, which seemed apropos since the bully’s corporation was a financial institution.

Actually, the people we ended up sitting next to turned out to be as friendly as the bully was mean. They sided with us and explained that that particular group often acted like they owned the stadium. So, we do have an ambiguous view of the Arkansas Travelers’ Dickey-Stephens Park: although there are people in Little Rock you need to avoid, there are also some fans who could make the trip worthwhile.

Another instance of people behaving badly was when we attended a game at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Our seats were in the front row just next to a staging area where some of the off-duty players sat watching the game and/or keeping the stats. Anyone milling around that area could take different routes to exit from that area, one of them being directly in front of us. We soon found out that this staging area was busier than a turnstile at the World Series. No sooner had one person crossed in front of us blocking the game, than another one would be coming back the other way. And never once was there a polite “excuse me.” We missed half the plays because of someone scooting passed our knees. Ginny got so fed up, she put her feet on the concrete wall in front of us and told people to go the other way, down an aisle of seats, by the way, totally unoccupied. The definitive moment came when she was sworn at by one of the players, and not just a more innocuous curse word, but the “f— you” bomb. Here we were, visitors to their town and their stadium, trying to enjoy an evening of baseball, and one of their own players is swearing at us! It was here that we came to the conclusion that there are just some stadiums where it is not worth your time or effort to confront bad behavior—it is better just to warn people about these places. So, that’s a stadium you don’t need to visit.

Then there was Hagerstown, Maryland. The “Root, root, root for the home team” sign on the front of the stadium should have been a clue to us. What fans need to be reminded to cheer for their own team? We found out.

The Suns stadium in Hagerstown, Maryland was a very different experience for us. Never had we seen or heard such behavior from the hometown fans. Yes, they bad-mouthed the umpires—normal. They shouted at the other team players—not polite, but not out of the ordinary. But when they heckled their own team members, we knew something was wrong. Was it perhaps some trick of the atmosphere? It was 90 degrees at 7 pm, another day of a long heat spell, and heat lightening crackled in the distance. Maybe it was all the ozone in the air. No, said the scout sitting next to us. These fans were like this all the time. Ouch. And as we were getting to leave after the game, the scout said, “God help me, I’ve got two more nights to be here.” When an experienced scout who’s seen many, many stadiums says that, there must be a problem!

Yes, it may be that in our culture, politeness and courtesy seem old-fashioned. In this age of bench-clearing brawls—and we’re not talking about hockey—and when one fan gets killed because of saying the wrong thing to someone, it does seem that the days of politeness are gone. But remember, everyone, baseball is a pastoral game. It’s played in a “park” and players come “home” at the end. Is it too much to ask, then, that we the fans extend some friendly common courtesy to one another? Or are we just being old and fussy?

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