Monday, July 28, 2008

Things to Avoid Doing at the Ballpark (If You Don't Want to Be a Jerk)

With the Phillies and their absolute bottom of the barrel, league-worst, most obnoxious fans in town this week, I got to thinking about ballpark etiquette.

Don't get me wrong. There are lots of very kind, polite people from Philly. My in-laws are all from Philly, and they are wonderful people. I frequently go to Nationals games with my Phillie-fan friend David, who is a class act all the way. But unfortunately the reality is that when the Phillies are in town, you basically have to put on your armor and get ready to endure an onslaught of boorish behavior. If I was a Phillies fan, I'd be embarrassed.

So on the travel day I thought I would share my list of the things that mark a rude, class-less fan. I'm leaving out the obvious things like loud cursing or throwing stuff on the field. All these actions are strongly discouraged for Nationals fans and the visiting teams' fans alike.
  1. Cheering injuries. This is the absolute epitome of bad sportsmanship. I was at the Ugly Mug Saturday night during the Red Sox-Yankees game, and there was a group of Sox fans going wild when ARod was beaned, shouting things like, "I hope your hand is broken, you *%@!$." Even given the Youkilis incident, that's shameful. I will use my one and only Green Bay Packers reference of the week here and say that one of my favorite things about Lambeau Field is that there is a virtual stadium-wide understanding that you never, ever cheer for an injury, no matter how disliked the hurt player is, and you always, always give a round of applause when an opposing player gets up from an injury. Even Randy Moss. If and when a drunken lout cheers for an injury, you can often count on the other fans in the section to shout him/her down.
  2. Booing balls and strikes. Arguing with the ref is bad sportsmanship in all sports. The NFL and NBA are worse by far than MLB in this regard, but it's still poor form. The way I look at it, both teams agreed at the beginning of the contest to have that ump crew referee the proceedings. If you have a problem with an ump (or think there ought to be instant replay to reduce the human factor), deal with it before the game starts (meaning take it to the commish during the off-season). But once the game starts, both teams have implicitly agreed that the ump is responsible for resolving judgment calls. They may get some calls wrong. Them's the breaks, umps are human--you knew that when you agreed to these rules. Probably the most absurd instance of booing umps is when any fan not seated directly behind home plate argues balls and strikes. I often sit in the $5-10 seats at Nationals Park and hear fans arguing balls and strikes all the time. Absurd. You can't see the strike zone from there any better than you can read the names on the Vietnam Wall.
  3. Fan interference. First, I'll say Steve Bartman got way too much heat. The Cubs never win because they have run a terrible farm system for 10 decades, not because of Steve Bartman. But too many people thought his error was simply that he hurt his own team, as if it would have been ok to interfere with Miguel Cabrera trying to make the same play. Others just think fan interference is fun and acceptable. It's not. Interfering with a player's effort to catch a foul ball is no different in my mind than a courtside basketball fan sticking out his leg to trip a player. Baseball is the only sport where players can make plays outside the official playing field, so the lines are a little more blurry. But if you sit in those first rows, you are not paying for the right to interfere. You are paying for a fantastic seat, and with that comes a responsibility not to mar the event with your selfish desire to get a free souvenir or draw attention to yourself. Just lean back and get out of the way.
  4. Booing the throw-over. Holding the runner is what good pitchers do. It's good, fundamental baseball to make a couple good pick-off moves when you have a threat to steal on first base. Booing the throw-over is like booing hitting the cutoff man or a successful sac bunt. Fans always say they wish more players would "play the game right," and then they go and boo the throw-over. It happens all the time in every stadium, and I really can't understand why.
  5. Leaving your seat mid-inning. This is a notch below some of these other things, but it's still rude and should be avoided except in true emergencies.
  6. Sitting in the middle of a row with kids. This is basically a guaranteed game-long constant violation of #5. Don't get me wrong. I've got a kid, and we go to a lot of games. But we get an aisle seat, even if it means sitting a few rows farther Important corollary to this is that is you are sitting on the aisle you should offer your seat to the family with kids. Also, this whole rule does not apply if and when attendance increases to the point that seats truly become scarce. Then you get seats wherever you can. But for now, there's no reason why all us people with rugrats can't stick to this.
  7. Throwing your garbage under your seat. I was raised that this was acceptable at the ballpark, that the reason there are ushers is to pick up after you. When it comes to teaching sportsmanship, my dad got almost everything exactly right. This one, he was wrong.
  8. Talking on your cell phone. Sorry, I just hate those things. Turn it off. You're at the game.
  9. Visiting fans disrespecting the home team. We'll finish with this one to honor our guests from the City of Brotherly Love. I can't remember ever being as annoyed at a game as I was last September hearing the Phillies fans chant, "this is our house" in RFK. But it doesn't matter if it's the Nationals or someone else. This season, I've seen the Orioles lose in Camden and the Pirates lose in PNC. Both times, there were fans of the other team heckling the home team and doing their home team's cheers. The national anthem "O" should stay in Camden, and you should never hear the Tomahawk Chop in Nationals Park. Cheer loudly when your team makes a good play, certainly, but this kind of thing is like being invited over for dinner and plopping down on the sofa and unbuttoning your pants.
That's my list. Feel free to offer your own in the comments section.


sec314 said...

I agree with you on number 6 and when I placed my order for my season tix at NatsPark, I underlined and emphasized that I had kids and needed aisle seats.....

So of course, we're two seats in. Fortunately, the people on the end are very nice.

There's only so much one can control

Steven said...

Yeah, I have had a similar experience with the day-of-game seats where I'd said, "I don't care where I'm sitting in the section, I just need to be on the aisle" and you get something in the middle.

Obviously that's just terrible customer service, the kind of thing you would expect from the airlines or something.

I hesitated to include #6 at all, mainly because it's just such a lesser sin than the others. But I'm glad you agree.

Sean Hogan said...

The absolute worst thing, in my opinion, is when people come and leave during plays. At a Nats game this year, I got yelled out for saying "bad timing" to a guy who walked through the aisle on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and 2 outs in a 1 run game. So naturally, I went off on the guy for not knowing having any sense of manners regarding other people. May have been a little hypocritical, but way too many people do this. The ushers need to work on this, ASAP.

I'm going to tomorrow's game, and I'm not going to lie-I'm giving the Phillies fans hell. During the Caps-Flyers series, they threw stuff at me, screamed at me, and even challenged me to a fight. Rather than the "innocent until proven guilty" way of looking at Phillies fans, I'll treat them as if they're guilty until they prove me wrong. Which will probably never happen.

Steven said...

I didn't think about ranking them, but from most worst to least worst I'd probably say:

1. cheering for injuries (by far the worst)
2. fan interference (the only one that actually mars the game itself)
3. heckling a team in the home park (the last one in the post)
4. interruptions mid-inning (I agree totally annoying, but for me just not quite as bad as the others)
5. garbage under the seat
6. booing the throw-over (not really that offensive but so so so dumb)
7. cell phone
8. booing balls and strikes--you're caught in the moment, you get carried away. It's kinda dumb, but I'm not really offended by it.

As for your approach to Phillies fans, I'm not sure that's the best way to make friends and influence people, but I wish you godspeed nonetheless :)

Dave said...

I'm with you on everything except #2 and #4.

Sometimes both the home and the visiting batters--and pitchers--get hosed by bad ball and strike calls. I don't see how it's bad sportsmanship for a fan to make his disagreement known. Fan reaction to bad calls is as old as "Casey at the Bat." I don't mean to be harsh, but sitting quietly and politely while a batter or pitcher is getting bad calls is a bit prissy, IMO.

Likewise for throws to first. Of course it shows poor knowledge of the game to boo the first time a pitcher throws to first. But when it happens four, five, six times on a baserunner who is no threat to steal, you bet I will yet something like "Play baseball!" It goes without saying that throws to first are sometimes used by pitchers as controllers of rhythm. Fan reaction also has an effect on rhythm. As a fan, I am part of the game as well. I will play my role in the control of rhythm, just like the pitcher does.

Like the other commenters, I strongly agree with #5. I have sent many emails to the Nationals this year, begging them to educate people better about when they should take their seats and when not. It hasn't worked yet. In the Infield Gallery, ushers working during the game are as rare as Nationals hits with runners in scoring position. Very frustrating.

Cheering injuries is the lowest of the low. Only a jerk of the first order would do that. I hope we don't hear that this week--but with Phillies "fans" coming to the park, I would not be surprised if it happened.

Steven said...

Dave--I definitely see where you're coming from on #2, and in my last comment I noted that this one would be the least offensive of all the sins. Personally, I say scream your head off cheering your players on, boo bad sportsmanship or effort on the field. Be loud, passionate, even rowdy on those things. I'm definitely not prissy if you go to the game with me. But I just don't like arguing with the umps. It's become epidemic in all sports. Maybe if it was a little less rampant I wouldn't have it on the list. But with every NFL DB having a fit every time they get called for pass interference and every NBA player insisting that they've never committed a foul ever, I've just lost my patience with it.

Steven said...

On the throw-over, I'd be ok if the scenario you describe elicited a grumble from the crowd, but in my experience it usually goes like this: guy on first *is* a threat to steal; first throw-over gets a grumble; second throw-over gets loud boos; third the crowd is falling out of the stands with outrage as if the other team just spiked Zimmy in the nuts.

Dave said...

"[F]irst throw-over gets a grumble; second throw-over gets loud boos; third the crowd is falling out of the stands with outrage as if the other team just spiked Zimmy in the nuts."

Sorry, I have to say that in 16 games at Nationals Park this summer (and I always stay in my seat all nine innings), I've never heard it happen the way you describe. It's usually more like how I described it, in my experience.

Steven said...

Fair enough. I'm probably oversensitive to it. Granted, the fans at Nationals Park are so beaten into submission by the losing that they are rarely if ever falling out of the stands for anything.

Bottom line what pisses ME off when I see some lazy, fundamentally bad pitcher allow runners to just waltz into scoring position. Like Kershaw letting Zimmerman just walk into 2nd yesterday. That shit drives me crazy just as much as Lopez not running out singles. It's the same thing. Just lazy, thoughtless play. That's where I'm coming from. But again it was near the bottom of my list of sins.

sal said...

I've done #7 many a time at games. I'm interested, why is it wrong? I mean, I realize that it's not too much to ask to save the usher a little work by simply throwing your own garbage away, but isn't that their job? Seems like it would be more of a pet peeve than a busch league move like the other items on the list.

Steven said...

Sal--You and me both, but I stopped doing it a while ago when I said something about RFK being dirty and a friend pointed at my trash and said, "yeah, you clearly don't care, why should anyone else?" I thought about it, and stopped doing it.

It's kind of the old school thing to do. I just think it's gross. Attracts vermin. And it smacks of elitism to expect someone else to pick up your garbage off the ground. I know it's their job, but I'd rather have the team spend more money on other aspects of the fan experience instead of having to spend it picking up after grown ups who should be able to pick up after themselves.

You're right it's on a different level than some of these other things. It's not "wrong" like a moral failing. Nowhere near the cheering injuries or the drunken lout shouting *&%#@ all game long. But I just think it's a little rude. Bad etiquette. Dave's probably right that I'm being a little prissy, but that's my feeling about it.

Section 222 said...

Thought provoking and mostly convincing list. A few quibbles. I'm not troubled particularly by fans letting out their frustration at the umps or even booing throwovers. I realize it's futile and usually misguided but big deal. It's not like the umps or the players can actually hear you, so as long as you aren't bothering your fellow fans by being obscene or screaming, I don't see the harm.

Getting aisle seats for kids is a good idea, but certainly not always possible. Tonight I bought a ticket at the gate and the entire upper deck was (supposedly) sold out. In that case, you take what you get, and no, I don't think a guy with his kid should have to sit 25 rows farther back or in a completely different section farther away from home plate just to get an aisle seat.

My biggest disagreement is with your garbage under the seat admonition. I don't know where you sit, but there are no garbage cans anywhere near my seats. Disposing of my garbage would mean leaving the seats between innings and going down (and back up) a flight of stairs. Can you imagine if everyone who spent a half inning or more standing in line to get a hot dog and a beer then decided to leave their seats to throw out the garbage? Then they get distracted, buy another beer, get back in the middle of the inning and.... you know where I'm heading. Now I suppose I could collect all my trash and try to lug it out at the end of the game, but there are crowds leaving then, and trying to balance trash with anything else you brought in (and maybe keep track of a kid) isn't that easy either. The cleaning staff has to clean after the game anyway, so I just don't see this as a significant problem. Oh, and what about peanut shells??

Finally, one of the great things about going to a baseball game with friends is that you can talk to each other (unlike a movie for example). And I enjoy having a conversation with a stranger about the team or what just happened on field. So someone making a cell phone call doesn't trouble me that much either, unless it goes on for too long or is too loud. Everyone's there to have a good time and to share the experience. That's baseball.

Which brings me to a suggested addition. Obscene comments, chants, or screams. Baseball is family entertainment, and many adults are offended by profanity as well. There's just no excuse for it, even in our anything goes world. Of course, it's usually people who have consumed too much alcohol who do this, and I'm sure not going to suggest that beer not be sold at the game. So go ahead and get ripped, but keep your obscene comments to yourself.

Totally with you on cheering injuries, fan interference, leaving seats mid-inning, and showing disrespect to the home team.

Steven said...

222--in one of my previous comments I ranked them in order from the worst offenses to minor etiquette annoyances. I probably should have done that in the original post but I didn't really think that much.

No question--the profanity goes without saying. I said that in the post--not to scold you for missing it, just saying. Also throwing things on the field. And then being clearly messy drunk shouldn't be necessary. I think you can get toasty without losing control of yourself.

Chatting with strangers is absolutely one of the joys of being at the park. Totally agree. Not sure why the cell phone interrupts that. But it's not that big a deal. More like a pet peeve for me. And really I'm thinking of the cell phone loud-talkers. You know the ones.

On the aisle seats with kids--what you say I agree with. If it's not possible or whatever because it's sold out, then everyone's gotta deal. But I've been at a lot of games where the section is 2/3s empty and I'm the one moving back 2-3 rows because the kids keep climbing over.

On the garbage, I hear you, they should have more trash cans I suppose. You don't have to throw away your garbage immediately or anything--just take it out with you when you get up. Hey--I realize I'm basically in a minority of one on that one, but like I said in a previous comment, I just think it's gross. If we don't want the cockroaches in Nats Park like at RFK, we should pick up after ourselves. I go backpacking for 4 nights and I can pack out what I pack in. I think we can all carry out our empties from 3 hours at the park.

BTW--I'm surprised (and happy) about how much commentary this post got.

Section 222 said...

Fair points all. And as a result of this conversation, I'll probably be a little more conscious of my mess.

I'll admit that by the time I wrote what I said about profanity, it had been a good while since I read the post. Sorry about that. I had just come from the game and there is a particularly loud and obnoxious drunk in my section, fortunately not all that close to me, but night after night it's annoying.

I imagine you got alot of comments because people feel more able to participate in the discussion on a topic they feel they can converse on an equal level with you and have something to offer. The Grounds Crew gets lots of commenters too. Everyone has an opinion about going to the park. Not so much the WHIP of a particular reliever. That doesn't mean lots of folks around enjoying your writing. I'm trying to do my part at NJ to encourage people to stop by.

Steven said...

I imagine you got a lot of comments because people feel more able to participate in the discussion on a topic they feel they can converse on an equal level with you and have something to offer.

This makes me laugh. Don't tell anyone, but I really didn't even start following baseball until the Nationals came. If you quiz me on 1990s baseball you'll be amazed at how little I know.

One of the things I appreciate about blogs like USS Mariner or OMG is that they can disagree with commenters and without trying to make people feel stupid.