Fan's life along the edge: stay alert, no matter what


It was about 90 degrees outside Camden Yards when the woman fainted.

Or maybe she didn't faint; maybe she just wanted to lay down until her head cleared. In any case, she soon was surrounded by cops and paramedics.

She was shown so much attention, in fact, that I am now convinced the very best place in Baltimore to get sick is at Oriole Park.

Which is a great comfort. As long as you are at Oriole Park.

What happens when you collapse from the heat in neighborhoods far removed from the ballpark, I can only imagine.

I imagine in some of them you could probably lie in the road for a week or two before it came to any official notice. And then you would probably get a parking ticket placed under your shoe.

In any case, the woman at the ballpark is taken away on a stretcher -- she is conscious and talking and a little embarrassed because of all the fuss -- and the guy next to me in the Will Call ticket line says: "Hey, I'll bet that's her husband getting back in line!"

And we look over and both think the same thing: If your spouse collapses at the ballpark and has to be taken away, is there any point in you going to the hospital and missing the game, too?

I mean, all you're going to accomplish is sitting in one of those horrible plastic chairs in some emergency waiting room while your spouse is sedated, and so what really is the point?

Isn't it better for one of you to go to the game so that when your spouse finally comes to in a day or so you can provide a detailed description of the game?

Just a thought.

I know some of you could come up with a whole slew of names to call any guy who gets back in the ticket line after his wife collapses at the ballpark, but I can think of only one: a fan.

In any case, my friends and I pick up our tickets, go into the park and begin hunting for our seats. We keep getting closer and closer to the field until we can go no farther: Our seats are in the front row, just to the side of the Orioles dugout closest to home plate.

I can turn my head and see the entire team sitting there. It is like big screen TV. In my entire life, I have never had seats this good.

And I am in this seat only because my former college roommate, who comes to town once a year, has obtained these tickets through his connections in the sporting world. Or so he says. For all I know he has Orioles owner Eli Jacobs in the trunk of his car.

In any case, I sit down and the first thing I see on the railing in front of me is this bright orange warning sign that says: "STAY ALERT."

The sign warns me that foul balls could do me great harm, which is certainly true considering how close I am to their point of origin.

And this is the trade-off you get by trying to please the fans. In new baseball-only stadiums like Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the public can be placed much closer to the action, and that is exactly what the public wants.

I figure I am about 45 feet from home plate, and there is no screen between me and the action. If a pitcher is throwing a fastball at 95 mph and the batter fouls it off at 150 mph, it will travel the 45 feet to my face in just a little more than one-fifth of a second. (Go ahead and check my math. I dare you.)

How fast is a fifth of a second? It is not time enough to scream. It is not time enough to pray. It is not time enough to call Stephen L. Miles.

Nor would such a call do you any good. If you turn over your O's ticket and read the teeny-tiny print, you will find a sentence that has lousy punctuation but great legal import: "You assume all risks incidental to this attraction, management, the leagues, their agents and players and performers are not liable for your injuries."

On Tuesday, I call the Orioles management and ask them if they have had any increase in injuries in the new stadium from foul balls.

A spokesman tells me they have not. "But you have to stay alert," he says. "That's why we put up all those signs."

And I stay alert for the entire game. I never look away from the batter. I don't let my mind wander. I pay close attention to each pitch.

To me the trade-off is worth it:

I think being able to sit this close to the action is worth the risk of having your skull reduced to a pile of jagged bone fragments.

Call me a fan.

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