Back to baseball, and going back to a simpler time

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I took a trip back in time the other day. All it cost was 5 bucks (if you don't count the $2.50 service charge paid to TicketMaster, the company that gives usury a bad name).

The 5 bucks is the price of a seat in the bleachers at Camden Yards.

Being Camden Yards -- the stadium that wants to to suggest a certain aged grandeur without actually going through the bother of growing old, not unlike the 8-year-old who dresses up in her grandmother's clothes -- the bleachers aren't really bleachers. They're regulation seats. Lots of leg room. Comfortable backs. Not exactly what you sat on during high school basketball games while holding hands with Mary Sue Begelman.

In real bleachers, you might bump up against somebody else's )) sweaty body, who might spill his beer on you, whereupon you slug him, whereupon the entire bleacher section breaks out into a fight, whereupon a huge stadium-wide cheer erupts.

Don't come to upscale Camden Yards expecting a fight. You can, however, get decaf cappuccino.

The closest thing we had to rowdiness in the bleachers was this guy from Jersey (that's how he introduced himself: "I'm from Jersey") who kept trying to hit on three young women sitting adjacent to him. The women were so offended that they spent the entire afternoon giggling.

Oh, and there were those kids at the birthday party.

"Dad, we want a drink."

"Another drink? You just had a drink.

"Da-ad."

Maybe I was the only one, but, after about three innings of this, I was inclined to punch somebody.

At Wrigley Field, where bleachers are bleachers and famously so, they're crowded with working-class types, college kids and others who would rather eat goose liver than sit in a sky box. In other words, people who would never do the wave -- but would punch out George Will if he tried to sit near them.

But it wasn't the bleacher seats per se that took me back.

It was the view.

Sitting in the outfield, looking in at the batter, getting the same view that you get on TV, I couldn't help noticing that there was no TV where I sat.

That's sounds weird, because most people don't bring TVs to a game. It's clearly a non-TV event. It's an outdoors thing, the one time where you leave the clicker behind. It's where you get to see real life in real time, and without commercials, other than the advertisements plastered on the outfield wall.

But, from the bleachers, you know better than to think that you don't bring the TV to the game. That's because, from where I was sitting, you couldn't see the giant screen, which is called a JumboTRON and which now dominates the game. It brings TV to you.

The giant screens came to America from Japan, landing first in Los Angeles, which makes sense. Los Angeles is the town that wants you to think that reality begins and ends on a screen.

That was sometime in the late '70s at Dodger Stadium. Now every stadium has one. Minor-league stadiums even have minor-league versions.

We're so used to them at ballgames, their absence is a huge void, sort as if Cal Ripken weren't at shortstop.

Without the JumboTRON, you don't get lineups. You don't get replays (imagine a world without replays). You don't get between-innings bloopers. You don't get paged. You don't get pictures of fans acting goofy in the stands. It's basically like going through life without cable.

And so, Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro hits a shot into the left-field stands that Joe Carter almost catches and that I almost see.

Since I didn't get a replay, I didn't know until I read it in the paper that a fan stole the ball from Carter.

I'm running a severe information and entertainment deficit.

It occurs to me -- this is the way it was in an earlier day, say in the 1950s. You came to a ballgame, and you actually had to watch the game to know what was going on. (You also used to wear a jacket and tie, like it was the opera instead of guys spitting.)

Which may explain why attendance was so low back then. Go to a game today and it's a multimedia affair. But there I was, lost in single-media land, where it was just me and the game -- and the guy from Jersey and the kid who wants the drink.

No wonder they charge only five bucks.

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