Friday, June 17, 2011

Section 130, Row 23, Seat 4

Were TigerBlog a Major League baseball player, perhaps his favorite part of the experience would be to toss baseballs into the crowd after innings, foul balls and such.

TB would find some little kid - really little, like four or so - and toss the ball to someone next to him or her, hoping that they'd give the ball to the child. He'd do this with great casualness, and he'd get tremendous satisfaction out of seeing the happy kid after the ball was handed over - or give a dirty look if the older person tried to keep the ball.

Certainly that's how it looked yesterday to TB, as he sat at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and watched the matinee between the Phillies and the Florida Marlins.

TigerBlog had an up-close view of the proceedings. Specifically, he sat in section 130, row 23, seat 4, alongside TigerBlog Jr. and his friends Matthew and Jared, all three of whom are lacrosse players with almost no baseball background.

In fact, TBJ probably has the most interest in the game, and the most experience watching it, and he almost never watches baseball.

It's a big contrast to TB, who watched a ton of baseball when he was a kid, mostly the Mets on Channel 9. If you're in TB's age-range, then you know that the games started out with that catchy song "Meet The Mets" and then had the game brought to life by Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner and Lindsey Nelson.

As broadcast teams go, it doesn't get much better than that.

TigerBlog watched the Mets all the time in the late ‘60s and early ’70s, and simple baseball things like ERA and slugging percentage and why you don't make the first out at third base and why the outfielders play so deep in late inning situations became second nature.

TBJ, on the other hand, knows none of that stuff, doesn't have the slightest idea how baseball is played and the intricacies of the game.

Going back one more generation, FatherBlog's team was the New York Giants, even though he grew up in Brooklyn. Back in those days, baseball was woven into the fabric of growing up in New York City.

Anyway, TB got the tickets from Tom McCarthy, the former Princeton men's basketball and football play-by-play voice who now does the Phillies games on television.

Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, and the game yesterday was the third that TB has been to at the stadium. In 1983, when he was a vendor for the Phils, he went to more than 50 games at Veterans' Stadium.

In the first two games that TB went to at the stadium, the Phils were shut out. Yesterday, the Phils did the shutting out, as Cliff Lee pitched a complete-game three-hitter in a 3-0 win for the home team.

To make it a nearly perfect day for the home fans, Ryan Howard hit a line drive home run.

The three teenage boys sat to TB's right; to his left was a lawyer who graduated from Colgate in 2003 and who is getting married tomorrow, sitting with his soon-to-be-father-in-law.

Colgate ’03 guy went to the Princeton-Colgate football game on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium last October and said he liked the stadium very much, though he spent much of his time tailgating.

As TB sat there and watched the Phils game, he kept comparing and contrasting that experience with the Princeton Athletics experience, especially from a fan perspective.

As an aside, most of the exam questions TB had in college started out by saying "compare and contrast" and then went into two different areas, such as, oh, American attitudes prior to the country's involvement in World War I and World War II.

The biggest difference between Princeton and the Phils from a fan experience perspective is that the Phils - and all professional sports teams - bombard the fans from the moment they enter the stadium until they leave. The game never rarely allowed to breath, and there is no down time, as there is either in-game action or sponsored promotions.

It's a never-ending explosion of sounds, music, color, video, audio and everything else.

The giant video board at the park is overloaded with stats during each at-bat, and those stats are updated for the pitchers and hitters continuously. Look at one board, and you see the speed and type of the last pitch. Look another way, and there is the ball, strike and out.

Looking at the big board, it's difficult to process it all pitch-by-pitch, since the board itself is so jammed with information - and sponsor logos.

At the same time, it is a beautiful stadium, and the blue of the seats, the green of the grass and the red of 80 percent of the fans' shirts come together to make a rainbow of color that is nothing short of spectacular, especially on a beautiful mid-June day.

And, of course, everyone loves the Phanatic.

And everyone doesn't love the costs, but that's how it goes these days. The tickets would have been $60, which, considering the location - 23 rows back behind the Florida dugout - seemed pretty reasonable, especially when the same seats at Yankee Stadium would have been $2,500.

TB paid $4.50 for a 20-ounce bottle of soda, $4 for a box of popcorn, $8.75 for chicken fingers and fries - and $15 to park. He could have gotten Princeton football season tickets and still had money left over for that much.

In professional sports, this is how it is, and everyone just makes the best of it.

At Princeton, 33 of the 38 varsity sports don't have an admission charge, and the food costs are minimal. Parking is usually free.

And the experience is much tamer. As the PA announcer at football, TB knows when the corporate sponsorship is getting a little out-of-hand, and he also understands that there is nothing wrong with a little silence during breaks in the game.

Of course, there bottom line at Princeton isn't the bottom line, and there isn't a goal of generating as much revenue as possible. The result is that fans can get a much more peaceful experience.

Still, there is something to be said for both.

TigerBlog goes to a lot of games every year, almost none of which are in professional sports. When he does, the contrast leaps out at him - whereas it was business as usual for Colgate ’03 or the season ticket holders in row 22.

And as much as he prefers the simpler life of games in the Ivy League, he has to admit that it was fun to sit there yesterday and watch Lee dominate the Marlins. It didn't hurt that the game was played in about 2:20.

For awhile, it looked as if Lee had no-hit stuff, and he didn't give up his first one until there were two out in the fifth. He settled for a two-hitter, and to most of the 45,000 fans in the stadium, it was obvious that the Marlins were never, ever going to score on him this day.

For Lee, a two-hit shutout would have to do.

For the rest, including TB, it was more of a perfect game.

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