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GROB: Take us all out to the ball game

GROB: Take us all out to the ball game
Young Billy enjoys a little helmet full of ice cream at a Twins game at Target Field this past weekend. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

The best ice cream in the world is eaten out of a miniature baseball helmet at a ballpark.

This is a fact, and it is irrefutable.

Young Billy was actually too young to realize this Saturday at Target Field in Minneapolis, but his grandparents are hopeful that it will stick in his long-term memory somewhere, and there will be a time in his life when he will remember the delicious ice cream he once had at the Twins baseball game.

Actually, all four of the grandchildren were probably too young to appreciate their first ever trip to a Major League Baseball game, but that’s where they all found themselves, accompanied by two sets of parents and one set of grandparents on a warm summer night in mid-June, with the Twins some 14 games out of first place in the standings.

It was hardly Game Six of a World Series — there weren’t going to be any legends created, there wasn’t going to be any baseball history made.

But going to a baseball game isn’t always about the game itself, it’s the experience. There were treats — lots and lots of expensive but delectable treats — like the ice cream helmet, a giant tub of popcorn, soda and beer (for the grown ups) and hot dogs and boxes of candy and peanuts and even little certificates honoring the kids for attending their first-ever baseball game.

There were mascots — funny mascots, who did funny things. There was singing and even a little dancing, cheering and jeering. There was a wave, there was hand-clapping and chanting. Organ music mixed in with heavy rock. And there were foul balls, often headed our direction, along the third base line, near left field. A perfect spot for foul balls.

Grandpa promised young Billy that if one came close enough, Grandpa would surely catch it and give to him to keep. Grandpa would have, too, but the closest one was about 10 rows in front of us, so Grandpa never got the chance.

Grandpa also tried to teach young Billy how to razz the Astros batters, with the age-old “hum-batter-hey-batter-hum-batter SWING batter!” chant, but young Billy wasn’t interested in participating.

The college-aged kids seated in the row behind Grandpa surely enjoyed razzing the Astros batters with Grandpa, though, and enthusiastically joined in with the chant, although they added a few four-letter words that Grandpa — and especially Grandma — didn’t whole-heartedly approve of and hoped that young Billy didn’t pick up on.

The college kids humored the old man in front of them, and asked how many Twins games he’d been to, and if he’d seen any of the old legends play. Of course, they may have been making fun of me, but I’ve gotten too old to really give a damn about things like that, and happily shared my story.

I once saw the great Rod Carew play in the old Metropolitan Stadium, and he reached on a bunt single, stole second base, advanced to third on a ground out and scored on a sacrifice fly. In my mind, it happened yesterday — yes THE Rod Carew, the best hitter of the last 50 years.

I also once saw Mike Cubbage bat for the cycle. They had never heard of him.

I saw Frankie Viola pitch during the 1987 championship season, and saw Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti smack home runs. I saw Jack Morris pitch during the championship 1991 season, and Kirby Puckett hit a home run and steal a home run with a leap at the wall — just like he did in Game Six of the World Series later that year.

I’m not sure they believed me, but it was all true, and they at least pretended to be impressed. I was a sports writer for more than 20 years, I told them. “This isn’t my first trip to the ballpark,” I said.

And although each trip I’ve taken to the ballpark over the years has been unique, much is always the same at a baseball game — any baseball game, from a local Little League diamond to Wrigley Field.

As I looked around Saturday night, it struck me. Here I sit, among tens of thousands of people, and some of us are black, and some of us are white, and some of us are Latino, and some of us are 100 other things. There are liberals here, and there are conservatives. There are Republicans and Democrats and a whole bunch of “none of the above.”

Kids and adults. Boomers and GenXers and Millennials and NextGens and whatever else. Some gay people, some straight people, some “don’t-ask-don’t-tell.” Protestants and Catholics and Muslims and atheists and agnostics and maybe even a couple witch doctors. It is baseball, you know — there’s always some witchcraft at a baseball game.

And everyone was getting along. Everyone was smiling, most of us were laughing, no one was fighting. The handful of Astros fans were being treated “Minnesota nice” by the majority of Twins fans.

And I remembered that for a year, we couldn’t do this. The crowd noise was piped in. The foul balls landed in empty seats. The experience was lost, and it felt like it would never come back.

But it did come back. And for the first time in a long time, I could feel the collective joy of thousands of people, watching a meaningless game but loving every second of it, and loving being around each other, in spite of a million differences.

The “indivisible” part of America is on life support right now, it seems. The “united” part of the United States sometimes feels like a twisted joke. Were we ever really united, over anything? It feels like we’ve always been fighting.

I’m so very tired of fighting, aren’t you?

But hey — if tens of thousands of people can get along fine for three hours at ballgame, we can all get along fine in other places, too. We just have to decide that’s what we want to do.

Sometimes it takes a bloody revolution to light that fire.

But sometimes a scoop of ice cream in a little baseball helmet can do the trick.


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