The Great American Past Tense #4: Empty Seats Conspire

Baseball can be a strange game. Baseball can be a mundane game. Baseball is a lonely game. Sometimes because of reasons wholly outside the game of baseball, it is all of these things at once. Derek Maine looks at how empty seats conspire to remind us that we are still very disconnected from each other.

A foul ball careens off an empty seat and rolls underneath still more empty seats until it rests against the wall on the third-base line, unclaimed.

On Sunday, July 23rd, 1967, the Detroit Tigers played two at Tiger Stadium. The Yankees won the first, the Tigers the second. Attendance was 34,623, and the 12th Street Riot had begun in earnest. Over the course of five days, 43 individuals would die as a result and 7,231 arrests would be made.

A major league baseball game played in an empty stadium, I can now say having witnessed such a thing, is like a perfectly scaled diorama. The whole thing looks so remarkably clean, tidy. Stadiums are filthy, living things.

On Wednesday April 29th, 1992, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium. Prior to the start of the game, shortly after 3:00 P.M., Sgt. Stacey Koon, Officer Theodore Briseno, Officer Timothy Wind and Officer Laurence Powell were acquitted on the charges of excessive use of force. Prior to the start of the game, around 6:45 p.m., Reginald Denny was dragged from his work dump truck and beaten unconscious. Attendance for the game was 36,639.

Empty seats conspire to make for an unapproachable, loud crowd. It is violent, all of those unfilled sections rising as one unfurled reminder of the distance we often feel from one another, even when we share spaces.

There is a real crowd here today, not simply a symbolic one. Outside the gate, barred from entry, O’s fans decked out in hometown regalia cheer a Chris Davis home run that lands vehemently and apathetically a few feet from where Boog’s Barbecue is supposed to be. You can see fans with their hands clenched around the bars that separate them from the action inside; where they want to be, where they should be. You can hear them, the rising and falling of their octaves, begging to be acknowledged. “I exist. I know I exist. Please, show me that you see me. That you hear me. That you see and hear that I exist.”

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But for a roll of the cosmic dice, I am another thing entirely. In a different city, maybe a different shape altogether. A different color.

May Freddie Gray rest in peace. May his family find peace. May the City of Baltimore achieve peace. May we see each other as we are: beautiful & equal; equally deserving of love, happiness and peace. May our stadiums be filled, all of our foul balls claimed.

Derek Maine takes an irreverent look at the strange, mundane game of baseball and the wonder inherent in even the smallest moments.

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