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athens v sparta

My friend Evan and I went to the Giants game Saturday night. We were given great seats by our friend and co-worker Brent, who has season tickets but couldn’t make it. We sat close to the field, so close in fact that we almost caught a foul ball. A young kid a few seats down from us in our row wound up with the ball, which is how it should be. (At one point later in the game I walked past the kid and he was running his fingers over his souvenir absent-mindedly. I’m sure he’s sleeping every night with the ball stuffed into his pajamas.) Even if we didn’t have great seats, it would’ve been fine – AT&T Park is a beautiful stadium, with its gorgeous brick wall in right field and a view of the bay from the cheap seats.

photo courtesy of antman

photo courtesy of antman

After the game (which the Giants lost – shocker), we took Muni to the Haight. And on the Muni were tons of Cardinals fans. Co-existing peacefully with Giants fans.

Clearly, I am too recent an East Coast transplant because it seemed incongruous to me that Cardinal fans could be allowed to ride Muni unheckled. The last baseball game I’d been to on the East Coast was Yankees-Red Sox at Fenway Park. I kid you not, actual blood was shed, both during the game – a fight broke out right next to me – and afterward, on Lansdowne Street. The SF Muni is not unlike the Green Line trolley in Boston and I can’t imagine Yankees fans after a game riding without deep fear of being dismembered and sold for parts while crammed alongside Sox fans.

Yankees-Red Sox, I realize, is to some extent a special case because it carries the weight of a long-standing historical rivalry between cities. It’s basically our modern day Athens v. Sparta. Baseball is just one of the stages upon which the psyches of these two cities – Boston was once dismissed as “that town” by former NYC Mayor Ed Koch – duke it out for supremacy.

If you’re interested in reading a lyrical, engaging essay about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, a piece that elevates their annual battles to that of Greek tragedy by one of the best baseball writers of our generation, then pick up a copy of Why Time Begins on Opening Day. Author Thomas Boswell is a sports writer for the Washington Post. The essays in this book are somewhat dated, but if you love the game or if you love great prose, you’ll love this collection. I read this and Boswell’s other essay compendium, How Life Imitates the World Series, in the mid-80s and fell in love with baseball writing.

Someone once said baseball must be a really boring game because people spend so much time trying to convince us how beautiful it is. Maybe. But before you decide one way or the other, read Boswell. Or Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, the late John Updike’s piece about Ted Williams’ final game. And then let me know what you think.

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