I've just returned from the home opener of the Albuquerque Isotopes, a highly entertaining affair, despite the fact that it was flipping cold the whole night, and the fact that the Isotopes lost. Still, it was baseball, glorious baseball, played live before me in a beautiful stadium. The trappings of Summer were there, despite being buried under the freakishly glacial conditions, and having spent the past five months looking forward to the opener, I have to say I came away sated.
But damn, it was cold.
We got to the Lab about an hour early, right around the time when they opened said stadium up. The pre-game festivities were exercises in reliable nostalgia, as we milled around the ballpark getting our food, listening to the playlist of oldies that they pump before each game. I had forgotten simply how good those ballpark cheeseburgers are, and as I plowed through mine, I could almost, almost, forget the cold.
And yes, I keep saying it, but it really was cold. Temperature was 48° when we got there, and it was accompanied by a persistent, frigid wind, barreling around the stadium and fully dismissing my winter jacket. It was a cruel fate given to us by the weather, as things were gorgeous last week and look to be even better next week; naturally the hope opener had to come when all that Canadian air was visiting. Since it was the opener, it meant for more spectacle than you usually see, with the teams lining the field, and about a billion first pitches, and a presentation involving Mayor Marty, and the presenting of the colors, and allllll of that. One badly rendered version of the "Star Spangled Banner" later, and we were finally ready to play ball.
I have long held that one of the true wonders of baseball is that no matter how many games you see, with every game you've a good chance of catching something you haven't seen before. For this game, my axiom was borne out during the very first at-bat! After a few pitches, the visiting batter fouled a ball back off the screen behind him. The ball had been fouled back fairly hard, but the screen arrested its momentum back into a lazy arc that carried it to the ground, and arc that was interrupted only when the ball struck the helmeted noggin of the batter standing on-deck. What made it infinitely more entertaining was that the poor guy was pretty much the only one in the entire stadium who didn't know where the ball was going.
There was a lot of offense going around in the early innings, though not a lot of runs. The third-base umpire quickly earned himself the ire of the crowd with a pair of craptastic calls, one in which an Oklahoma runner was called safe at third, despite the technicality that he had been tagged before reaching the base, the other a double-play turned by Oklahoma where the pivot man didn't actually touch second base. So by about the fourth, the crowd, and my section in particular, because we're the ones who like to start this stuff, were starting to ride the umpire pretty hard. My dad, in particular, was already in mid-season form. On the aforementioned third-base play, he ended up screaming for the ump to pull his head out of his ass. Um, whoa. This is, perhaps, what being a life long Cleveland Indians fan will do to you. So things were not looking good for the ump, when intervention arrived in the form of Number Four.
I should explain: Number Four was Oklahoma's third baseman tonight. Through a series of slightly weird plays, he also became the target of more crowd chanting than I've seen raised... well, pretty much ever. The first play was a slow roller that got tapped to the third-base side. Four charged it, but it looked like it was going to go for a hit... until Four wisely let it roll foul and picked it up. No base hit. We fans were displeased. A similar play occurred soon thereafter, a ball that rolled up the line, only this time Four got a little jammed on it. It looked initially as though he was going to let it roll foul again, which it might have done, but then he freaked, tried to field it, and it ended up squirting through and hitting the third-base bag, which meant fair ball, which meant base hit. Good times! And a little while later, Four got eaten up by a scorching grounder that ticked off his glove and vaulted into left field.
Through this combination, somehow, our section completely forgot about the umpire, and started directing all our derision at Four. I can't really explain how or why this happened, it just did. I can pinpoint a few factors, of course. First, the weather. Because of the aforementioned cold, a bulk of the crowd had already cleared out by the fifth, and it's one of those baseball truths that when you start whittling down your crowd, you're going to be left with fans who are generally baseball-savvy, but crazy, and probably a little drunk. And that's pretty much what happened here. Mix in a few college-age guys who were ready to rag on poor ol' Four, and the trap was set. We pretty much spent the rest of the game yelling "Four!" at... well, pretty much at all times when Oklahoma was on the field. Every time they played a musical fanfare, we would punctuate it with a "Four!" As in "du da da du duuu duuuu! Four!" Or, *clap clap clapclapclap clapclapclap clap* Four Four! The chanting metastasized from our section, soon engulfing our neighbors and even reaching the first-base side, though I imagine a great chunk of the crowd had no idea what was going on, and was thus no doubt very confused every time Four came to the plate with everyone chanting his number.
And our mockery did not go unanswered! After a couple of innings had gone by, Four actually tossed a baseball up into our section after taking warmups, perhaps as a peace offering. Lovely gesture though it was, it didn't work. A little while later, he actually turned to look at us; we waved, whereupon he took his glove and gestured, asking if any of us would care to take his place. None of us took him up on the offer, and he dismissed us with a wave of his hand. "I've never seen a major league player react like that!" goggled one of the chief architects of the hazing, behind me. To which I replied: "You still haven't."
In the end, the Isotopes lost, 6-3. A poor way to start the year, but all things considered... I'll take it. Besides, it can only get warmer from here. Right?