Two weeks after ending my Lenten abstention from sports exposure, I'm happy to say that I've emerged less obsessive about keeping up with everything. I even let the first two weekend Sox-Yankees games go by without paying too much attention. (They play 19 times a year, after all -before the Apocalypse that is The Playoffs.) However, my wife and I had tickets to last night's game and was that ever a good night to show up at Fenway? We saw something that's happened only five times in major league history - back-to-back-to-back-t0-back home runs by the home team. And Wily Mo Pena, an inconsistent hitter with off-the-charts home run power, was the guy up with a chance to go for five. Alas, he struck out, but I guess I shouldn't be greedy, especially since the night ended with the Sox having finished a three-game sweep of the Yankees - a series in which the Yankees had led in every game.
The thing is, I generally have pretty mixed feelings about going to Fenway. Not only is it annoying trying to find parking (though we had great success last night - a free spot about a 13-minute walk away) and getting in and out of the park (getting from our excellent field-level seats back out to the street at the end took at least 15-20 minutes) and paying $11.25 for substandard dinner for one (horrible chicken strips with soggy fries and a coke), but there's all the other variables any games involves. Will the weather be comfortable or not? (Last night: absolutely perfect. Last game I went to last year: unbearably hot.) Will the team play well or not? (That worked out well last night.) Will there be rude and distracting fans around? (Well, yes, always, but last night we had the compensatory pleasure of seeing two escorted from the premises.) Will the game last a tidy 2 1/2 hours or go on for more than 3 1/2? (Actually, with Sox-Yankees you almost know it will be the latter because both teams are so patient at the plate. I just went to ESPN.com to doublecheck and confirmed that Bobby Abreu saw 29 pitches last night in five at-bats. [UPDATE: He only swung at 8 of them!] He walked twice and struck out three times. That's not so interesting to watch, except when the pressure is at the greatest.)
To be honest, I am stunned that people continue to pay what they do for this sort of entertainment since it's such a gamble. We're very grateful for the family connections that made it possible for us to have great seats last night, but I can't imagine choosing on my own to spend what so many do on a regular basis. (The unruly guys must have spent a minimum of $30 each just on watery ballpark beer last night, not to mention that they were sitting in $105 seats - and they got sent home early.) I'm not saying it's a wasted experience to see your team lose, but sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating on many levels. Having grown up watching baseball and other sports mostly on TV, I'm pretty conditioned to climate-controlled comfort and instant replays, not to mention the freedom to just walk away from a bad game without feeling like a huge investment's been wasted.
Anyway, the other side of this is that when you're at a game like last night where everything comes together (weather, big win, tense drama, incredibly rare historic happening and Dice-K on the mound), it seems to make up for everything else. And the fact that things might not turn out right is so important. We stood there watching the incredibly hot Alex Rodriguez as the go-head-run at the plate in the 9th. With one swing he could've ruined everything - and that knowledge is what made the last out so thrilling. It's a great experience precisely because all 36,000 of us knew it might be a disaster - what could be worse than losing after hitting four straight home runs?
Imagine going to a symphony concert and knowing so little about how the concert will turn out - or even what's on the program. Maybe you'll hear Heifetz sear his way through the Tchaikovsky concerto, but maybe some average violinist will play the Glazunov concerto poorly. Maybe you'll hear a pulse-pounding performance of Israel in Egypt, but maybe you'll have to sit through Haydn's Creation. (Sorry, little personal bias there.) Maybe the concert will be almost over at 90 minutes, but a deceptive cadence will send the program spinning on into extra innings - of Schoenberg!
True, one never knows exactly how a live performance will turn out, but if you go to the BSO, you've got a pretty good idea. Go see the Red Sox and you may see ghastly errors, errant pitches, overaggressive swinging, etc. Or, you might see four home runs in a row. (But maybe hit by the bad guys.) I'm not a gambler, but the appeal here isn't that different - the thrill of the unkown. As devoted as I am to music, I haven't had a lot of shared audience experiences to compare with the sheer bedlam that ensued when Jason Varitek hit the fourth shot over the wall. Of course, that's only happened four other times in history! (Did I already mention that?)
By the way, this historic event can't compare with the time last summer when, in a game with much more on the line, the Dodgers hit four straight home runs with two outs in the ninth innning to tie a game they'd eventually win with a 10th-inning homer. Oh, and J.D. Drew happened to hit the second home run in the sequence last year and this year, playing for different teams of course. This is why I love sports. I'm going to try to think what the musical experience equivalent of that would be. (I'm going to fail.)
One last thing: before the game started, the big story was Dice-K mania since this was his first ever start against the Evil Empire. In the end, he was pretty mediocre and only a side-story, but when he threw his first few pitches, there were literally hundreds of flashes going off all over the park. It was a stunning sight - and almost seizure-inducing.
UPDATE: I can't believe I forgot to mention my favorite little thing about the game. Once the Yankees' starter had given up the four home runs, they were forced to turn for middle relief help to someone named Colter Bean. Maybe he'll become a great and famous pitcher (though he looks like a reject from some softball league), but it's hard to see the Yanks going all the way relying on Colter Bean. It was strangely comforting.