I never liked to watch baseball, but when my friends decided to drive to Memorial Stadium Friday night for the Baltimore Orioles game against the Boston Red Sox, I decided to pack up some No-doz and go.
The occasion was a bachelor party for Eric Pianin, a colleague who will take the plunge next weekend. Tradition has it that grooms-to-be are entitled to a big night out with the boys, so after rejecting my suggestions to visit striptease joints, my friends agreed that we'd take him to watch high-priced men play with bats and balls.
I had never been inside Memorial Stadium; in fact, hadn't been to a baseball game since television made it a boring sport 20-odd years ago. Now the lot of us were laughing and strolling down the stadium aisle, sipping beer and eating hotdogs and looking for seats marked "dugout box."
Turned out that one of the fellows in our party worked for Edward Bennett Williams, owner of the Baltimore Orioles. We're talking front-row seats. Bob Uecker would have been proud.
Immediately, the Orioles star first baseman, Eddie Murray, was spotted warming up nearby. "Hey, Eddie," one of the guys yelled as we assembled near the playing field. Eddie cut his eye toward us and smiled. Later in the game, he blasted a three-run homer, then crushed the bases while we stood to cheer him on.
By the second inning, we were feeling comfortably official, yet giddily aware that we were seated almost on the playing field, and that a line-drive foul ball could kill us. And nobody even had a glove. Yet, I was starting to like this game again.
Being at a real live sporting event, especially baseball (which otherwise can seem so dull), makes it seem like a completely different sport. You can actually participate, wave at players, chant with fans. Curse the ump. And order lots of beer.
A television cameraman was working in a pit near our seats, trying to give home viewers the picture. But there's just no comparison. Small wonder that folk are clamoring for a baseball team here in the nation's capital.
It makes no difference if the team is a winner or a loser -- at least not at first. The Orioles were losing badly Friday night and everybody was still having a ball, booing those overgrown kids who make millions of dollars a year.
Fans love to make ballplayers spit, kick and sulk back to the dugout. And Washingtonians would be very good at this; all they need is a team.
The truth is, we were so inspired while watching the Orioles that some of us thought about starting our own team.
It happened just after the Red Sox's Wade Boggs came to the plate and fired a foul ball right at us. It was as if we had talked about the possibility of this happening so much that, when it did, we just froze in our seats.
All except Peter Perl, another colleague and a real baseball fan, who somehow managed to, first, spot the ball; second, unfreeze his legs, then rise from his seat and face the hurtling object. In what could only have been a moment of divine inspiration, he realized that he had a cup of beer in his hands and could not possibly catch the ball unless he dropped the beer, which is a major faux pas in a baseball park. So he held the cup with his teeth, reached over the guardrail and, with one hand, caught the ball without spilling the beer.
If the Orioles had played like that Friday night, they would have won.
But that's not the point. The point is that baseball can be very, very exciting and that a real live baseball game can make for one heck of an outing. It even fosters team spirit. You just have to see it to believe it.
The only problem for Washingtonians is the distance we have to go to see a game -- 40 miles, and back.
As for our bachelor party, the ride up and back was half the fun. But if we had had a baseball team right here in Washington, we could have enjoyed the game and then gone nightclubbing like boys are really supposed to do on their last night out.