“You should walk into a ballpark like you walk into a church.”
— Bill (Spaceman) Lee, best-selling author and Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox pitcher for 14 years
Alas, Bill Lee never built his cathedral on Vancouver Island. Seventeen years ago, he was part of a grand plan to erect a replica of Boston’s Fenway Park at Black Creek, but that dream faded like the Expos.
So Lee, on his periodic visits from his farm in Vermont, had to settle for another sanctuary, the Fisherman’s Lodge pub on the River Oyster between Campbell River and Courtenay, where he would join his friend Sy Pederson – long-time manager of the Comox Valley Forestry Union. , sometimes Communist candidate for Parliament, inveterate baseball player – in search of solace, or maybe beer.
Lee would have been happy on Tuesday when the doors finally opened at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria, where the hometown HarbourCats emerged from the Dark Ages, taking to the field against the Port Angeles Lefties for their first game. championship in over 1,000 days.
Just in time, too, given the level of anxiety these days.
Baseball is not like other games. Fans go to other sports venues – hockey rinks, basketball arenas, football stadiums – to pump up the heat, to get the adrenaline pumping, which is why spectators are constantly bombarded with sound systems deafening between the whistles pumping a fork into the light – the socket music that makes conversation impossible. (Typical fan exchange: “I stole your wallet” “I can’t hear you!” “I ran over your cat too.” “Excuse me?” “And I’m having an affair with your best friend.” “Good to see you too!”)
Soccer? In some places, its followers take the emotion to another level, with crowd behavior oscillating between World War III-level violence and exultation at the last car on the ferry. (Remember what happened when the Royal Athletic Park hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup matches in 2007: the exuberant drumming and dancing of the Nigerian fans irritated the stadium’s neighbors so much that tournament organizers were forced to tell the Africans to tone it down, leading to a minor media storm in Nigeria, which led to football authorities there complaining to FIFA, which then overturned the no-drum rule, but not before the whole episode cements prissy Victoria’s image as a Forgotten City.)
Baseball, on the other hand, lowers blood pressure. Cerebral, evenly paced, it forces the viewer to brake at game speed, which is about that of a 1968 Valiant on Oak Bay Avenue. Time slows down. The tension eases. Truly, it’s the perfect game for sleepy, leafy Victoria, a town where even before legalization there were five times as many pot shops as Starbucks, and where indolence is treated less as a sin than a goal of life.
At least, that’s how Victoria was before the pandemic. Over the past two years we have been tighter. “People seem so angrywe say, watching a purple-faced driver lean on his horn, which, in the Before Times, was a sin comparable to wearing white after Labor Day.
Islanders aren’t the only ones feeling the brunt, of course. “In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%,” the World Health Organization reported in March.
Maybe the whole world should go to a baseball stadium, learn to breathe again.
Tuesday night’s game was fun. Al Ferraby sang the anthems and a 10-year-old boy named Josh shouted “play ball”. There was green grass, the crunch of bats, the smell of malt vinegar on fries, and skydivers landing on the field.
When a ball is fouled in the parking lot, speakers play the sound of glass breaking and an advertisement for a body and glass company flashes across the dashboard. The ref’s close calls mention an optometrist (true or false, refs grieve because it’s a rule, just like Albertans and Trudeaus.)
I’m pretty sure someone won the game and there was a score, but I don’t know what it was. Sometimes it’s more a question of atmosphere. Really, in a home opener a few seasons ago, the HarbourCats started this big, flame-throwing right-hander who had a hit in the seventh inning and half the crowd didn’t even notice.
Some people only half-watch the game while engaging in sweet conversations that leave room for drowsiness. (Or maybe they’re freezing to death like Jack Nicholson in The Shining; Royal Athletic Park can get cold.)
Going to a football game won’t solve the world’s problems, but a little spiritual nourishment might put us in a better frame of mind to face them. We all need to calm down.
Thus ends the lesson.
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