First, I was surprised that our tickets were only $9. (I think we got special rates because our university, AU, has strong links to the Nationals, who are the DC-based baseball team. Not exactly sure what links or how that came about, but shall investigate that at a later stage. Maybe.)
Then, I was surprised about everything when we got to the park. About swiping our tickets so the gate thing would let us in. About the fact that it feels more like Wimbledon than a football match. Well, okay, it’s nothing like Wimbledon – no green, all artificial – but you know the way you walk into Wimbledon and yes, there’s the tennis courts – but there’s also overpriced food, and Pimm’s, and various other things? The “park” is really a mini village, like that. I was envisaging a couple of hot dog stands, a choice of mustard or ketchup, onions or no onions, and long queues to get to them, but no – loads of different types of food, and queues that weren’t that long. Yes, the food was overpriced – I paid $13.50 for a pulled pork sandwich, which thinking about it isn’t *that* horrific, but the price of the Coke in particular seemed excessive.
I was surprised that the first pitch was thrown way before the game started – if it weren’t for the screens, I would have missed it. I wasn’t surprised about the national anthem being sung – Americans do love to proclaim their Americanness – but I was surprised that none of them joined in. And then, thinking about it again at the end, I was surprised after all, because why sing the American anthem if you’re playing another American team?
I was surprised, too – though by now I perhaps shouldn’t be – about the size of the park. The stadium part itself was huge – a massive pitch, thousands and thousands of seats around it – and a lot of room to manoeuvre around it too. At no stage did I feel crushed or claustrophobic. Yes, the metro was busy on the way there, but not ridiculously so. And inside the park, there was all that space. I felt safe and in no danger of getting lost – which is quite an unusual feat. Basically, everything is in a circle around the pitch – the food lines, the tables you can stand at and make random friends while you eat your pulled pork sandwich, everything – and then steps to rows are clearly labelled so that really, even for me, it is not that hard to find your way back.
I was surprised, at the time of the game: 7.05 pm. 05, really? What’s that about?
Then I was surprised about the lack of fanfare at the actual start of the game. The first pitch had been ceremonial, the national anthem suitably occasiony, but then it started, and it was almost as if no one noticed. There were loads of spare seats; there were people coming and going. It turns out that a baseball game is pretty long – three hours or so – so people apparently tune in and out during that time, wander to get food and beer (no Pimm’s, sadly) and chat to their friends. Almost like having TV on in the background while you iron, or something. But with more atmosphere, and occasional leaps to your feet and shaking of raised fists or red “wonk” tshirts given out by American University, and then – randomly – a song that everyone joins in on half-way through the seventh inning. (There are nine innings, and I was excited to recognise that word from cricket. Basically, baseball is mostly rounders with a bit of cricket thrown in to make it sound respectable, though I think you are not supposed to voice those things. It’s perfectly gentlemanly, anyway, and I approve of this.) People also arrive after it’s started and leave before the end. This surprised me too. It’s all very casual. It lacks the intensity of football, where you are – I imagine – fully focussed from kick off and end up shouting expletives. There’s none of that.
Occasionally, just when you think you’re done being surprised, there’s music. Songs that start out of the blue for no apparent reasons, last just a few bars, then are abruptly cut off. It’s not good for my nerves. I like to gently fade songs in and out.
Anyway, what surprised me most of all, I think, was that I enjoyed the experience. The lack of intensity suits me. The food options, too. And the fact that I could come and hang out there with friends and chat about life, the universe and everything, without feeling the pressure of having to narrow my eyes and focus on a small running man in the middle distance for the best part of two hours.
Also, the Nationals won -wiped the floor with the Cardinals, in fact – and I don’t know enough to know whether to be surprised about that, but I do know that winning is good.