The first thing you notice is the field. Grass so green it hurts, bases whiter than a pearl, and base paths made of the finest dirt found on this earth. Yes, a trip to the ballpark elicites feeling only baseball can. There’s the first pitch, first hit, the first out, and first run. There’s the roar of the crowd, the silence of a loss, and the ballad of a sports fan in a non-sports town.
I have been to exactly three baseball games this year. One Minor League game and two Major League games. Each one was great, but I want more. The 130 mile trip to the big league park is prohibitive of many more visits, but that’s not the problem. I have been to many parks in my life and experienced many fans, but only during the postseason have I experienced the passion of a collective faith and desire to win.
In towns like Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago (where I have experienced two games) the energy starts the second the team takes the field. The passion pours from the stands like a free-flowing fountain. The belief that “this year” could be “the year” is a true belief from start to finish. But in many other cities, in many other ballparks, the passion is lukewarm at best.In many other cities, competing, play-offs, and success just isn’t enough. These are non-sports towns and, in some cases, non-sports states. That is where I reside.
I live in a college town in which support of the college teams is based on continued success. Sustained success. I live in a town that sold out its college basketball arena for 20+ years only to see attendance dip after two mediocre seasons and one missed trip to the NCAA Tournament. I live in a town who only recently discovered college football, and only now because of three years of sustained success. I live in a town that once carried a Triple-A baseball club for decades then lost it to dwindling attendance. A town that built the Triple-A ballpark in the most decrepit, desolate, uninhabitable area and yet still wonders why the fans won’t come. I live in a town once proud of its Spring Training teams, a town that once had three clubs during Spring Training and now has none. I live in a non-sports town.
And that’s my own doing. I take full responsibility for that. It just strikes me as strange. People across this country, across the globe, love sports. So to find non-sports towns on our map is rare. To find a place devoid of the joy and madness that sports can bring is strange. So I watch sports on T.V., I watch them on the internet. People like me, sports fans in a non-sports town, gather at the local bars to catch games in sports towns. We sit wishing we were in the stands, wishing we could feel the pulse of excitement with every pitch and every hit. Us non-sports fans cringe at the empty ballparks, we rejoice at the sold out ones. We strive to feel the rush of a collective cheer from 45,000 fans.
So those of you in sports towns, enjoy. Don’t take it for granted. Should your team stumble for a season or two, stand by them. Should you endure losing season after losing season, still fill the park. Baseball, unlike any other sport, needs more sports towns, and perhaps it will take sports fans like myself in non-sports towns to make that happen.