Amerika und ich, Teil 3

Amazed in America
The ballpark: Place of mystery

By Christian Thiele
Special to the Tribune
Published September 30, 2005
"Basically, it's about hitting a ball and running around."
"Oh, so I know this: It's like tennis, right?"
My colleague Kevin had a difficult mission -- but he was up to the task: Teaching me "Baseball 101." Me, who couldn't tell a pitcher from a batter. And since theory is always best when backed up by practice, we went out to Cellular Field: White Sox vs. Indians.
Germany's favorite pastime is soccer (one lawn, two goals, 22 men and one ball, just FYI). When we go to the soccer stadium, we cheer, sing some songs about our team (usually nice ones) and some songs about the other team (usually not so nice ones). Arriving at Cellular Field, thought that we were at the wrong place, some theater play or a funeral -- so silent was everybody. The Sox, I thought, should immediately dissolve the audience and order another.
If the crowd was on tranquilizers, however, they were losing their effect about two hours into the game: the Sox -- as I learned -- had finally scored two points, and all of a sudden, the audience woke up, clapping, cheering, rising from the seats. I realized that I was attending a sporting event and looked at the billboard.
It read things like: "Rowand .277, 12 HR, 64 RBI." Or "Pitch speed 87." And next to us, there was this man sitting, scribbling something down on his lap -- bored by the game, I figured, doing last Sunday paper's crossword. OK, I thought, might be an accountant who just got laid off, easing his pain over the lost job by going to the ballpark. But then I realized that there were so many people out there taking those notes. Kevin explained to me, these people were keeping track of the game, marking down strikes and outs and everything.
Germans may be bean counters in many a sense, but when we're at the soccer stadium, we actually only care about who's winning -- and, maybe, about who scored the goals, but that's rather something for the sophisticates. When we flip open the after-game day sports section, we want to see some dramatic pictures, read some juicy quotes -- but we don't do this data porn U.S. papers do.
Maybe it's the success thing: Since achievement is so important in American society -- and what better measure for success is there than numbers? -- maybe that's why you find sports statistics so sexy. Anyway, after a sudden outbreak of emotion, Cellular Field fell into silence again, the only thing to be heard was the scrawling of the pencils, so we took a stroll around the ballpark.
I was amazed by the huge variety offered at the merchandise stands. Sure, I can wear my favorite sports team's jersey back in Germany -- at night, in bed, when lights are low and my girlfriend's not at home. But otherwise I wouldn't dare to publicly express my affection for a specific sports team. Too uncool a thing, I suppose. Here, however, just about everybody lets the world know whom his heart beats for -- be it on bumper stickers, coffee mugs or jerseys.
The other day, Michael, the lawyer, explained to me at great length why he "is White Sox instead of Cubs" with the same sobriety of, say, a UN diplomat explaining why he supported the Indian concept for reform of the Security Council instead of the Italian one. (By the way: I'm for the Indian UN plan; I just can't make up my mind on the Cubs-Sox thing.)
As the game progressed, I started grasping some of the basics: that there is a top and a bottom to every inning, that you can be overweight and still be a baseball pro, etc. But at the same time, I was losing my ground on more and more of other basics: Why do pitchers bat in the American League and why do they not in the National League? (Or was it the other way round?) Why is there an American League and a National League in the first place? And who decides upon who's in which?
Kevin couldn't answer those questions and basically said that nobody else could. Maybe those are questions like: Why is the East Coast on the East? Or maybe I just have to come back to the ballpark.

Christian Thiele, who lives in Berlin, has spent the last two months working at the Chicago Tribune as the newspaper's Arthur F. Burns fellow. You can reach him at: cthiele@tribune.com


Anonymous Anonym said...

Schön, dass Du für das indische Reformkonzept bist. Werde ich dem AA melden. Wird das mit Deinem Umzug eine südamerikanische Stimme? rabe.

Dienstag, 11 Oktober, 2005  

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