A baseball umpire is a lot like an orchestra conductor. Both make crucial, real-time decisions about the course of play; both are absolute, final authorities within their realms.
Coincidentally or not, the conductor of my daughter's orchestra is also an umpire for amateur baseball. A few weeks ago the notion crossed my mind to go see him officiate. Chuck (when wearing a chest protector and mask on the diamond; he's "Charles" in a tuxedo on the podium) suggested a game for me to attend. It was scheduled for 11 July, to be held on the holy ground where Babe Ruth himself first played, a field near the site of the orphanage in southern Baltimore where The Babe spent his early teenage years.
Chuck gave me directions to the ballpark but added the cautionary note:
... I warn you NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER (!) to utter the words "We're friends of the plate umpire's"; if the other spectators inquire if you have a son on one of the teams. just fabricate some line about how you: a) love baseball, b) were interested in a little Ruthiana, c) were visiting someone at St Agnes hospital (across Caton Ave), saw the game going on, and decided to stop by for a while.
On the afternoon of the 11th I got into my wife's car, started the engine, and was about to set off on the drive to Baltimore (perhaps an hour away from here, modulo traffic) when I realized that I had forgotten my floppy hat --- an essential item to keep the sun off my bald pate. I turned off the engine and went back into the house, only to find that Chuck had just phoned. The game was cancelled; another activity had preempted the field.
At that point, however, my jones was in full force, and demanded satisfaction. I checked the online schedule and discovered a game would occur that evening within a few miles of my home. The Reston Hawks were to meet the Silver Spring - Takoma Thunderbolts. Both are members of the Clark Griffith League, a local group that sponsors wooden-bat play by under-21 college kids.
I went, I saw, and I was hooked. The baseball was excellent; a couple of errors were more than counterbalanced by brilliant fielding and sharp hitting. Some minutes before starting time I was worried that I might be the only person in the stands. But soon a few dozen fans materialized, so we ended up with about as many spectators as players.
And there was drama! Tied 3-3 coming into the bottom of the 8th inning the Thunderbolts scored two runs. The Hawks came back in the top of the 9th to hammer in three and gain the lead, 6-5. But in their final turn to bat the home team took advantage of a new pitcher and knocked in two more to win the game.
Since that experience I've been back ... to see an extra-innings loss by the T-bolts to the Vienna Mustangs, and then last night a revenge match as the local boys snuck one home in the bottom of the 10th to beat the same visiting team. A son and I also attended an amateur game at a fancier field, where the Bethesda Big Train plays its home games. It was fun, but the crowd (of over 700) gave me a touch of agoraphobia after sitting among less than a tenth as many for the Thunderbolts.
Moving down the baseball food chain has significant advantages. There's less distance to travel. The stands are closer to the action; one can actually see the players as people. Getting in to an amateur game costs maybe half as much as a minor league ticket (and infinitely less than a major league show). Food and drink are similarly cheaper. Pizzas are delivered from the parlor down the street. When the folding table "concession stand" ran out of peanuts somebody went off to fetch more from the storeroom. The little girl who was helping her mother remembered I had wanted some and brought a bag to me where I sat on the bleachers keeping score.
Most important of all, at a small-scale local affair there's a feeling of connection with the sport and the folks (mostly volunteers) involved. You're actually supporting human beings in their pursuit of individual excellence, and the numbers are small enough for your contribution to make a difference. Kinda nice, in this impersonal world of mega-greed and commercialism ....