Had the great pleasure of attending last night’s San Francisco Giants game with Bert Steinberg, whose license plate says something like “I [Heart] Bsebal.” Everyone who works at PacBell Park (weird to type out that corporate name — what strange times we live in) seemed to know him. Bert has filled out a scorecard for every baseball game he has ever attended — starting in the bleachers in Yankee Stadium in 1927 (the year my mom was born, nearby in Brooklyn). He recently had neck surgery (the stitches will come out next week), so he apologized for wanting to eschew the stairs for the elevator; aside from perhaps a bit of stiffness in his bearing, he moved like a 60-year-old. Often he goes with his son to the games, and sometimes he goes with his wife — but not too often with her, as she tends to get overly nervous in the ninth innings of close games, especially given the propensity of Giants closer Brian Wilson (not the Beach Boy, although that one seems pretty intense, too) to make things interesting with a baserunner or two before finally shutting the door.
This game wasn’t close: the Giants jumped on the Cincinnati Reds’ poor starter for umpteen runs in the bottom of the first inning, knocking him out before he could record a third out. The crowd thus was merry and relaxed for the rest of the game, even working repeatedly to pull off a decent stadium-wide “wave.” The “Kiss Cam” caught couples, who then — being observed on the giant scoreboard by all 32,000+ of us (at least, that was the announced attendance) — felt obliged to kiss. Some did this with gusto, though one young woman demurely presented her cheek to her male companion; to this the crowd started booing good-naturedly (yes, that’s possible), and so, visibly blushing, she let her friend give her a smootch on the lips.
Giants pitcher Matt Cain — who, like his genius teammate Tim Lincecum, has been struggling recently — returned two runs to the Reds, but then the Giants got umpteen more runs and all of us pretty much unclenched. Cain ended up retiring the last 12 batters he faced, which was confirmed by Bert upon a quick examination of his scorecard.
I’d asked Bert to teach me how he fills out a scorecard, and he did his best to do so, but in truth it was a bit complex for me to follow. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by his scorecarding: a young woman sitting behind us repeatedly asked Bert to explain his various scribbles to her. After one of these conversations, I caught him smiling. We were between innings, so it wasn’t about what was happening on the field. Finally, he said, “Oh, to lose 40 years!”
Those 40 years would get him back to about my age — and he’d still have a couple of decades to go to reach that woman. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that we were having fun. In a baseball game, long periods of apparent emptiness are punctuated by brief moments of stunning action: the ball arcs beautifully over the outfield wall; the Giants’ panda-shaped third baseman darts with incongruous grace to his left, spears the ball, and, his momentum still carrying him to the left, makes a perfect throw to first for the out; the scoreboard welcomes home a serviceman just back from duty in Iraq, and the crowd responds with genuine warmth. Two men — one in his middle innings (he hopes) and one somewhat further along in the game — smile because things aren’t always, always, always, so terrible. Sometimes things are nice.