Getting to know about baseball is essential for understanding American culture. That’s what Randy Smith, president of the Alfred Friendly Foundation, once told us during a journalism seminar.
If the sport is indeed a mirror of the culture, Americans are a very relaxed people.
A colleague, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Mark Roth, kindly invited me to see a Major League baseball game for myself. On a warm spring evening, we watched the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Cincinnati Reds.
He also promised to explain the game rules, adding that it may take some time to understand them. But my main aim was just to feel the atmosphere of the event.
In Kyiv, I’ve been to football games (or soccer as the Americans call them) several times. I’ve gotten used to seeing crowds of mostly men, walking along the streets with scarfs and flags of their teams, chanting slogans and showing with their behavior that they were determined to punch someone’s face if things went wrong.
That’s why there are usually very few children at football games in Ukraine, and women are not advised to go there without male company. Football games are rough and nervous events. When the weather is cold, a cloud of cigarette smoke lingers above the stands. By lighting up, the fans try to both warm up and cope with emotional stress.
Unlike football, a baseball game resembles a family picnic or a summer outdoor festival. There were many women and children, lots of food and souvenirs. There was no rush to get anywhere.
Pittsburgh’s baseball stadium is very picturesque — with a nice view to the rivers and downtown skyscrapers. If the visitors spent some time just enjoying the view, they would hardly miss anything. Baseball doesn’t require constant focusing on the field of play. And it’s not fast.
The players were coming onto the field and leaving. The mascots were running all over the stadium. There were many ads, announcements, and contests. The spectators kept talking to each other. Many of them were eating and drinking, chatting and sometimes glancing at the game. There were hours and hours of leisure time.
For all this time my colleague was patiently explaining to me what was happening on the field. I was nodding in agreement, though I didn’t understand much of it. I also kept on asking whether someone received a score. It was confusing and sad for me that despite all the efforts the points were changing slowly and they were not changing in favor of the Pirates.
But the supporters of Pittsburgh’s team didn’t seem sad or aggressive. They didn’t show any intentions to attack the fans of the Reds. The fans were not even separated into different sectors, which would be suicidal at a football game.
The Pirates lost without winning any of the happenings (parts of the game.) Their fans didn’t seem to be bothered at all. The fans started their way back home, walking across the bridge and chatting, relaxed.
My colleague explained me that this game was just one out of 162 games, which that the Pirates were supposed to play over the season. Despite the loss, the team will still have plenty of time to improve later. So, why worry?