Just before hightailing it out of the furnace that Florida became to take a long, luxurious trip to the relieving cool air of Canada, and knowing I ;wasn't going to be home to celebrate Independence Day, I did one of the most patriotic things I have ever done in my life. I went to my very first baseball game. And I went with a bunch of lawyers. Baseball and lawyers -- the most American combination anyone has come up with since stars and stripes.
I don't know how I managed to go three decades without ever attending a baseball game, but that's the way these things go. There are people in New York who have never been to the Statue of Liberty and people in Daytona who have never thrown up tequila shooters off a fourth-floor balcony -- things that you expect people in those places to do. Actually, I do know why I'd never seen a baseball game. Whenever I passed by it on TV, baseball always looked about as thrilling as waiting in line at the drivers license bureau. They train the cameras on guys who are standing around like their car had broken down and they were just wondering, and doubting, whether anyone was going to pass by to pick them up any time soon.
Line of fire
It's amazing, however, how interesting a game becomes when you find out about the "line drive," which means any minute now, an errant swing could send a cleverly stitched rock flying at your face at something like 90 m.p.h., penetrating your skull as if it were Kleenex. I didn't spend two years in braces to end up looking like an extra in "Deliverance." I paid attention.
The game at Tinker Field was between the Orlando Sun Rays and some team from Alabama who came out, no kidding, wearing black. They might as well have had scars from their ears to their chins after a knife fight with Hoss and Little Joe and shaken their fists at us like the villains always do.
The game was fun to watch when they'd knock the balls out of the park or into the stands, promising the same thrill of potential violence you only usually get with hockey (on the ice) or soccer (in the stands). Sitting in the open-air VIP box (this is a minor, minor league team; I was told it was a good thing they had chairs), we had a good view of the players, too, and any keen-eyed manwatcher will tell you that having a group of tight-pantsed, well-muscled athletes trotting by for your inspection like potatoes on a conveyor belt is the best reason there is to attend a sporting event. The alleged sexism involved in beauty pageants looks like a diplomatic reception when compared with the open lechery of women gazing with juiced-up concentration at athletes and loudly comparing the tightness of this one to the V-shape of that one. Old ball game, indeed.
Which brings us to vocabulary. While everyone has played some form of this game in gym class and therefore has some idea of the scheme of it, there were things I didn't understand. Things like the seventh-inning stretch. You know the American Express commercial where Jerry Seinfeld uses that phrase on a crowd of limeys and it goes over like a lead balloon? I could have been in that audience. I thought it meant the seventh inning lasted longer than the rest of them. And then there was "strike zone." The strike zone is the area between the player's shoulder and groinal areas; if the ball pitched to you is in that vicinity and you don't hit it, it's a strike. This is an incredibly useful term: "Get your hands outta my strike zone. You're out." It is, after all, an area where if you don't pay attention, struck is what you may be.
The Rays stomped the men in black, but not before a couple of scary moments when the ball sailed into the stands not far from us. Thinking it could easily clunk one of us and that I was with a bunch of lawyers I thought, great, we can sue the snot out of them and be set for life. It was then I learned another useful term: "assumption of the risk." Since we were sitting there and knew it was possible to get hit, we assumed the risk would exist, took it anyway and forfeited any right to sue.
Assumption of the risk is a term that should be worked into the vernacular of more people. "Sorry we broke up after two months, but you knew I was shallow and flighty when we met -- assumption of the risk." Or, "Sorry everyone in the office knows you had a sex dream about the Smothers Brothers, but you knew it was too good not to blab -- assumption of the risk." It might prevent a lot of crybabyism and force people to use more common sense.
Lawyers. Using terminology to build a better America.
They say you always remember your first, and I'm likely to always remember my first baseball game. So I didn't really need to be here for the actual Fourth. I got baseball, a summer night, hot dogs, cold beer, lawyers and lots and lots of cheap sexual innuendo. Ain't that America.