[This article first appeared in Christian Initiation 30 (June/July 1998), p. 8]
The fifth-inning crack from Smith's bat launched more than a bloop single to short left. It brought section 308 to its feet for the first time in the game, and gave Mike the opportunity to lament the sorry state of attendance at baseball games.
"Come on, people. Cheer!" he called in vain to the empty seats.
"Where is everybody today? People should be here. If they believe in baseball they should be here."
Dave watched the next pitch. "He hit him!" On the way to first Brown drew another response from the crowd.
They heard a dozen or so fans on the lower level starting rhythmic applause. Rick began to stir. "It's about time we got some excitement here," he said.
Mike thought, "Excitement? You don't need base runners for excitement." The pitching duel of the first few innings had produced a tense, scoreless game. Rick seemed oblivious to the drama, but at least he was there.
Robinson entered the batter's box to a few encouraging cheers. First pitch. "That was not a strike!" Mike disputed the call. A foul tip then ran the count O and 2. "Come on, Robinson."
"It's a shame Paul couldn't come. Where is he, anyway?" asked Dave.
"I don't know. Said he had to get some things done around the house."
"He's missed a lot of games."
"He enjoys the mall more than the ballpark anymore," Mike sighed.
"He's putting on weight, too."
"You can tell people don't believe in Robinson," said Dave, returning to the game. "The crowd has really died down."
"People come late. They leave early. They don't participate. It's worse than Mass,"
Mike grumbled. "If you become a Catholic you should commit to church. If you become a fan you should commit to baseball."
Full count on Robinson still couldn't get much from the crowd.
"What's wrong with everybody, today?" asked Mike. "Two on, one out, people should be screaming for this guy."
Crack! A hot shot over to third. Jones bobbled the ball but got to the bag in time to put Smith out.
"We still got the go-ahead run in scoring position, two on. Come on, guys," said Mike. "Let's do something here."
Up stepped the hitless wonder, Stewart. How different this was from last night's 24-hit game, Mike thought. (Strike one.) Every inning engaged the fans. You shouldn't need hits to enjoy the game. You should feel the tension of every pitch. (Ball one.) You don't have to be a season ticket holder, but when you come to the park, you should pay attention and get involved. The team plays better when the fans are in the game. People don't even sing the national anthem. (Ball two.) You should come to home games early and pick up the thrill of the crowd. You should stay for the end and enjoy your own game of finding the quickest exit from the parking lot maze. (Strike two.) You should listen to away games on radio. Even the late night ones--extra innings and all. Or at least watch the highlights on the news and read the paper. (Fouled off.) If you're going to support the team, you should give it some time. It's a question of loyalty and commitment.
Crack! "There! There!" shouted Dave.
Mike stood up slowly--it's hard to judge the path of a ball that high. "Stewart doesn't hit homers," he said. The left fielder drifted back and lowered his jaw before lowering his glove. The ball continued to sail toward the fence. "Stewart doesn't hit homers," Mike repeated in disbelief. Even Rick was standing up. The ball cleared the wall with room to spare.
Dave saw section 308 standing, shouting, and congratulating one another. "Now, those are fans!" he said.
Brown, Robinson, and Stewart crossed the plate in turn, into the high fives of a raucous dugout.
Rick asked, "What do you guys do when the season is over?" Dave and Mike looked at each other. They thought of the pre- and post-season games, the trading, the draft, the winter debates over league alignment and the designated hitter, the endless backyard games with the kids. . . .
"Over?" they asked. "The season is never over."