Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Baseball and Nostalgia

Every year I think to myself, "I really want to head to a college baseball game at Stanford*." Then I pull up the schedule, take one glance at it, and inevitably forget about it again until the next year. Or my life gets in the way of going. But this year when I had that thought, I pulled up the Stanford schedule, saw they had a weekend tilt coming up against the Texas Longhorns, had nothing else on the agenda and thought, "Huh, that could be fun, let's see if we can make that happen."

I emailed Beth and asked her if she'd like to join. Beth is becoming my go to for random sporting events. She was on board. (We've now gone to hockey, baseball, and golf together. And watched the Super Bowl.)

We took the quick, and pastoral (Beth, "This is a really pretty road. Look at us! Appreciating nature!"), 30 minute drive down 280 from my house and rolled on to Stanford's lush, tree lined campus about a half an hour before first pitch. There were quite a few people there, seemingly more of them in burnt orange than cardinal red. I hadn't been to a game at Sunken Diamond in an at least a decade, when I saw first round NCAA tournament games with my dad. So really, this was all new to me.

"What if it's sold out?" Beth asked. I'd considered that. I'd also considered that there was no way that was possible. College baseball isn't the biggest draw in an area where you can be doing a thousand other things in a weekend, let alone have the choice to see several other nearby college teams. But even I was slightly anxious at this point, especially with all the UT fans who had shown up for the game, including the lady with the burnt orange purse, replete with bejeweled hookem logo hanging off it. "We'll go to the mall and grab lunch and do some shopping," I assured her.

We didn't need to worry. We parked, for free!, and walked to the ticket window at the stadium. I took a look at prices. The most expensive seats were going for $21. I talked to the rather brusque gentleman at the window. "Can we get two reserved seats, please?" "The $21 or $12 ones?" "$12, please." He pointed at the map and said, "Pick a section and I'll see what I can do." I took a quick glance and opted for the third base line about halfway down. "Section 9, please." I honestly didn't really care. Hand me two tickets to anywhere and I'm fine with that. That I could stand there and pick was bizarre. "I have 2 closer to section 10 on the aisle, does that work?" I told him it did.

We wandered into the small, but well maintained, stadium. This is the anti-AT&T park. The jumbotron can barely be classified as jumbo and the players maintain their own field, act as their own bat boys. There is one main concession stand selling your usual hot dogs, burgers, and fries. They're not exceptionally cheap, considering. $5 for water seems usurious. BUT! Because this is college baseball, and not LSU college baseball (we'll get to that in a minute), no one is checking bags and bringing seemingly anything you want into the stadium seems pretty okay. I'm basing this on the dad with the 2 year old in tow and the baby in a carrier who had an endless supply of treats and snacks in his backpack. (The 2 year old quickly became our favorite person in the stadium. She was excellent.) Noted for next time. Because Stanford is a Pepsi school that does not sell Dr Pepper. The horror!

We wound our way to our seats. $12 each got us seats that could rival a major league park in comfort, five rows straight back from the on-deck circle. Apparently $21 gets you on the field? We were in the thick of the Texas section, behind the Texas dugout. After the singing of the National Anthem, which was awkward and uncomfortable because the wireless on-field mics kept cutting out on the group of older gentleman singing barbershop quartet style, the entire Texas section remained standing, the UT players faced them, they held up their hookem's and sang all together "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You". Beth and I both definitely had that, "WTF is going on?" look on our faces. The customs of foreign fan bases are always of great amusement to me, and though I had expected "Texas Fight!" I was a bit surprised by this sudden burst of Longhorn pride. (Beth seems to think I knew what was going on. I didn't. I just fake it well. She was right about the concession girl doing math though. I'm awful at math and got to $22 before she did. And I went to a state school.)

The fun of college baseball stadiums is the intimacy. While I always laugh in AT&T park when a fan directs a comment directly to a player, because that shout gets gobbled up in the stadium of 42k, and if you're on the third level it's straight futile, the same is not at all true of college stadiums. With a mere 2,080 in attendance, every heckle from the crowd could be heard by the rest of the stadium and surely by the players. I wonder how they feel about this. Is some random guy screaming in the stands at the ump, as the gentleman two rows behind us and to our left did when he took exception to a balk call, distracting? If the sarcastic clapping and the "Check the scoreboard, Horns!" of the guy clear across the stadium but completely audible to us, bothers the guys on the field or makes them laugh.

I love that college baseball environment. In fact, I was surprised to discover that I'd forgotten how much I love it. You are closer to the field than you could ever get at AT&T. Sure, the quality isn't quite the same. But we did see two D1 top 25 teams play for $12 on a warm but overcast Saturday afternoon, with probably a few future major leaguers on the rosters. It's hard to beat.

And for a lot of years I didn't beat it. Going to LSU baseball games was a thing I did without even thinking about it. The stadium was steps from my dorm when I was a freshman. Tickets were free with your student ID. During weeknight games, $2 for a hot dog and $4 for a large soda instead of dining hall food, and an excuse to skip studying, was a bargain. I wore my 2000 CWS championship t-shirt this past Saturday as a reminder of how great those games were. And I'm a jerk. As twitter pointed out, too bad I didn't have a 2009 t-shirt. LSU is good at baseball.

Because LSU is good at baseball, Alex Box was always packed. (It has been replaced with a newer, shinier version now. I was lucky enough to visit it in '10 for a St. Patrick's Day game.) It held about 7k people back when I went and on sunny, warm, Louisiana spring weekends, those day games were crowded with both students and old timers. People tailgate for LSU baseball. That's far different than Stanford where, as Beth pointed out, there didn't seem to be any actual students in attendance. (Though there were a few bbqs going in the parking lot.) As I mentioned above, LSU baseball is the most exciting thing going on most weekends in Baton Rouge whereas the Bay Area has a lot more to offer. Still. School pride, y'all! Get some!

Real talk time!: Nostalgia for my own undergrad experience is what I really felt while sitting at the Stanford game. I suddenly felt really, really old. I watched the Longhorn's batters in the on deck circle. Because I am a human with firing synapses I immediately thought, "Those are some good looking guys." My next thought was, "Geezus Christ, what would I even do with a 21 year old? Not that they'd have any interest in me anyway but we'd have nothing to talk about. How'd this happen? How did I get too old for them?"

After that I remembered that once upon a time, a long time ago, in a land far far away, I was a girl who hung out with college baseball players, and even flirted with them in that way that I didn't realize was flirting because I was so freaking oblivious. I may have even made out with one.

And then I just got melancholy. What happened to that girl? Where'd she go? How do I get her back? The maybe pretty, definitely fun, fairly fearless girl who was hanging out with athletically gifted college students? Who knows stories about former LSU baseball players not fit to print? The one who broke my roommate's heart and the other one who may have not really liked girls.

I know there is no going back. That for better or worse I'm not her anymore. I can't flirt with college athletes without seeming creepy. Which is totally unfair because guys my age could. *stomps feet* (Kind of joking. Dudes look creepy when they do it, too.)

I remember being at party full of New Orleans Catholic school guys early in my freshman year and them marveling that my friends and I were only 18 (to their oh so worldly 22 & 23) and geeze how was that possible? I didn't really get what a novelty that was then, that we were so young. We truly knew nothing and had no idea how much was ahead of us and how that time period would eventually feel like a blink that barely even happened. Some distant part of your memory that but for other people sharing the experience that you keep in touch with you'd feel like you were making the whole thing up. The passage of time would make it all hazy and, honestly, a bit rose colored.

I talked it through with a friend when I got home and we came to some sort of conclusion about what was going on. It was the realization of growing up, of being mortal and time passing and life moving forward whether we're prepared for that or not. (Definitely not.) Ugh. I know. It's not like I'm a hundred. It's not even like there's not fun to be had and things to look forward to. (If you could name a few things, that'd be really helpful, because this whole growing up trying to be a fully formed adult thing mostly sucks.) And maybe I need to find a way to reincorporate some of the things I loved about undergrad me into my every day life, the good parts, the parts that are okay to have exist now and maybe to get back to that girl a little bit I need to stop trying so hard to be her or unrealistically missing the parts that probably weren't even that great then. If that makes any kind of sense. Basically: it wasn't perfect then, there are parts I could stand to have back and there are parts I need to let go and I somehow have to strike that balance.

So yes, Beth and I had fun at the Stanford game. Enough fun that I'm considering going next weekend for the series against UNLV. But unlike Beth's experience at the game, the whole environment served to wash me over in a nostalgia I wasn't quite prepared for and force me to face a reality I'm not sure I want.

Maybe the ability to sit outside on a warm afternoon and face both your past and your future while taking in a leisurely paced sport is why baseball gets written about so much in such poetical terms. Just a theory.

*When I was in high school, I had Stanford aspirations with LSU grades. I regret nothing, and have no ties to the school, but my Bay Area allegiance remains with that tree lined campus more than with Cal which is a little too...everything for my taste.

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