Play Ball! And Watch That Mouth!
When I was four years old, my father took me to a Yankee game. It was unremarkable, aside from the foul ball that hurtled in my direction, and the pack of grown men who nearly crushed me trying to catch it.
Until that moment our fellow fans were not threatening. Civil, even. We were all routing for the same team. But civility – and scaring the hell out of a little girl – was a small price to pay for a foul ball.
If you’re looking for civility, don’t go to Yankee Stadium.
Don’t get me wrong. I identify as a Yankee fan; I’d really like them to win tonight. It’s the fans that get to me.
If I may paraphrase Billy Witz from the New York Times, Yankee fans have elevated heckling to a vicious art. In “Welcome to Right Field. Beware the Yankee Fans,” Witz quotes Adam Jones, of the Baltimore Orioles: “As an outfielder, you have to have extremely thick skin, because they’re going to let you have it. They’re going to talk about your mama, your wife, your kids. There’s nothing you can do — you just have to wear it.”
Right field is the worst. Two seasons ago my husband scored four tickets in that part of the ball park. At first these seats seemed like an upgrade: They were a stone’s throw from Aaron Judge – the rookie on his way to achieving rock star status. The seats were cushioned! Also, they were well lit, which is great for people like me who bring a book to the game.
Judge was gracious, throwing balls to kids and doffing his cap when the crowd chanted his name. But when the visiting Tampa Bay Rays took the field, the cheers in our section turned ugly.
“Souza, you’re a los-ah!” the guy sitting next to me yelled at Steven Souza Jr., the right fielder for the Rays. Clever, huh? Many other fans seemed to think so, and they joined the chorus taunting the right fielder.
“Is that really necessary?” I asked the guy sitting next to me. He seemed genuinely surprised by my suggestion that it was not very sportsmanlike to heckle a player like that.
“It’s all part of the game,” the guy told me. “We heckle their guys, and our guys get heckled when they play out of town. It’s what everybody does. Haven’t you ever been to a game before?”
I certainly had been to games – just never in right field before. In the upper decks, the fans might get drunk and sloppy. They may be rowdy. But they are too far away to hurl insults at the visiting team members – or their mothers. All they can do is boo.
Not that booing is okay. Booing is forbidden, I tell my kids, unless the player commits a felony or intentionally tries to hurt someone. And booing someone on your own team? I’ve got no patience for those fair-weather fans. When you boo someone on your team who is in a slump, you relinquish your right to cheer for him when he is the hero. Those are my baseball rules.
My appeals to stop heckling players that night in right field fell on deaf ears – or so I thought. Long after I had given up and opened my book, I heard a man sitting several rows behind me stand up to scream – once again – at Souza.
“I’d say a lot more,” he added at the end of his tirade, “But I don’t want to upset the lady in the front, who should have gone to a Broadway show.”
True enough. I do love a night on Broadway.