April 6, 2011
Gallardo, Opening Night, and Ballpark Etiquette
Opening Day is special. It comes only once a year and, after looking forward to it all winter, people tend to treat it as the holiday it is. They stay home from work, drink beer, grill out, and have an overall grand time. But holidays aren't all sunshine and rainbows. There's drunkeness, belligerence, and flat-out unpleasantness in just about any large gathering, and, in that, Opening Day takes the cake. After five straight Opening Days here in Milwaukee, I still get a major kick out of the festivities and the official start to the Brewers' season. I can, though understand entirely those who decide to sit it out. "Amateur hour" is an apt description of many of Opening Day's denizens.
The night after Opening Day, unofficially dubbed "Opening Night", is a very different story. With so many fans tapped out from Opening Day - the only day in April where it's perfectly acceptable to start drinking at 9am! - the crowd for Opening Night is always much smaller and more baseball-focused. The spectacle of Opening Day tends to take on a life of its own, so it's a pleasant change of pace to see 20,000 fans there solely to watch the game instead of 45,000 there to get drunk.
It's all the better when your Opening Night starter hurls a gem of a game like Yovani Gallardo did Tuesday night. In a complete-game shutout, Gallardo limited the Braves to two hits all game, spreading them out in the first and eighth innings. He also walked and struck out two - the ball was on the ground almost all night it seemed. As the eighth inning ended, Gallardo had a 1-0 lead with only 97 pitches thrown and the 8-9-1 spots in the order coming up. It didn't take long to figure out that new manager was staying with his ace for the ninth: the Brewers' bullpen was awfully quiet during their half of the inning. The move worked out, as Gallardo made short work of Atlanta and close out the game.
The only thing that could put any damper on such a fantastic evening (besides Prince Fielder's inability to hit the ball farther than 90 feet) happened two feet in front of me during what should have been the game's high-mark. As Yovani battled Eric Hinske and Freddie Freeman to start the ninth, the "gentlemen" in front of me stood up to cheer on Yovani. But this wasn't the standard "everyone stands with two strikes" maneuver. This was the first batter of the ninth inning, and the group were clearly preparing to stand for the full inning. Calls from the seats behind me started immediately, asking in no uncertain terms for the young men to sit down during the game. Gallardo was trying to strike out Hinske, after all, and no one wanted to miss a pitch.
The standing group succeeded in tuning out the fans behind me, ignoring them as they cheered. It helped that Yovani made short work of Hinske. With only two outs to go, people were more comfortable giving in and standing. When Martin Prado grounded out to shortstop Craig Counsell to give Gallardo the shutout and the Brewers their first victory of 2011, the park erupted. Fans cheered, clapped, and high-fived total strangers. The group in front of me were ecstatic. It's not the playoffs, but these games still mean something.
I bring this story up because I'm curious about how others would have reacted in my place. Personally, I see both sides. In an ideal world, when your ace pitcher is coming out to pitch the ninth inning of a 1-0 game, the crowd should rise to their feet and make noise for the full inning, cheering every pitch and otherwise supporting the team as loudly as possible. This is obviously what the group of kids in front of me had in mind. If I knew I wouldn't be blocking anyone's view, I would, without a doubt, stand up to watch the game along with them. But not everyone has the desire or even the ability to stand for long periods of time. As the people sitting in the front row, you have a responsibility to the fans behind you. Standing up in your seats blocks the sight of rows and rows of people. If they don't want you standing there, it's only polite to change your tact.
I've seen this exact same situation come nearly to blows before, but thankfully that wasn't the case tonight. What, though, should the proper reaction have been? Would you have done something different? And how rigid of a "ballpark rule" is this (breach of) ballpark etiquette? I await your input.