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Image credit: USA Today Sports

Previously in this series: Part 1, Part 2.

JUNE 17

The most frightening thing about being an adult is how easy it would be to disappear. The stakes are different than they were when I was in high school, when my existence was monitored and modulated through the eyes of my parents and the government. Not so anymore. No one is responsible for me except me. I have money in my bank account. No one is legally required to tell anyone if I go somewhere. No one will question my presence alone on a bus, on a train, on an airplane. I could buy a one-way ticket to somewhere far away, right now, on an impulse, and be gone. The strength of this temptation varies, but the possibility is always there, as compelling as it’s ever been: I have at my disposal, in every single moment, all the tools to become invisible.

Invisible is the ideal. Invisible means that you are free from the expectations that come from being seen. Invisible means that you’re saved the humiliation of having your failure observed, the hurt of knowing that everyone sees you suffering and no one cares. Pain makes you hypervisible; pain makes you stand out, exposes you as a botched project, an unfortunate weakness in the design of humanity. It makes people uncomfortable, and it makes them want to avoid you. If you stand on the beach at sunset and cry, people will stand in front of you, taking pictures of the horizon.

***

Standing in the crowd of people in the line for Gate 6 at Rogers Centre, one of thousands wearing blue jerseys and blue hats and sweating in the extreme heat, I am grinning like an idiot. I am so happy. It is hotter out here than anywhere I’ve ever been, and I have crowd anxiety that’s kept me from going to large public events for years, and all around me are loud noises and people making them. A man drumming under a tree, ticket scalpers yelling, groups of friends talking loudly to each other, kids running around and screaming, the sounds of music booming from inside the stadium, where the game will be starting soon. Families—lots of families. It’s Father’s Day. It feels like I’m the only person out of the whole 36,000 who’s by myself. No one here cares about me, and no one knows who I am, and I can’t believe how good this is, how good and safe it feels to be here and be alone. Again.

For today’s game, Samuel Gaviglio vs. Tanner Roark, I am way up high in the 500s, right near the edge of the dome, looming over home plate. The concrete stairs that lead up to section 524, row 17 are terrifyingly steep, and it’s very, very hot, and to make matters worse my single seat seems to be right in the middle of a row full of people. The game is starting in a few minutes, and I don’t relish the idea of trying to worm my way through the aisle, disturbing the people and putting myself at risk of becoming the first person in the history of the stadium to somehow tumble over the rail to my death, to sit in a seat that I’ll in all likelihood be abandoning soon. As Blue Jays staff ace Sam Gaviglio warms up to a Modest Mouse song about people ending the world, I duck into a random unoccupied seat at the end of a row nearby. I figure if someone comes to claim it I can just leave, and if no one does, then it’ll become my seat via naturalization.

The first inning passes without incident, but I am growing antsy, finding it hard to focus on the game, haunted by concern that the rightful owner of this seat is going to appear at any moment and excoriate me for my theft. I also feel like the sunlight is boring straight into my brain, and I’m out of water. When a family of five comes up the stairs and looks pointedly at where I’m sitting, I jump up and trot down the stairs as quickly as I can without feeling like I’m going to topple over.

***

There is a weird edge of desperation seizing hold of me as I circle the 500-level concourse, trying to find one of the water fountains I’d filled up at the day before. I can’t find one, even though I know they must exist, because I was here less than 24 hours ago and didn’t die of thirst. I am absolutely not going to pay another $5.50 for another bottle of water. I have been scammed enough. The location of the free water, though, remains mysteriously obscure.

So I duck into the entrance to one of the 500-level sections, where I can see the field through a rectangle. I’ll stay in one for a batter or two and then make my way to the next. I keep finding new angles on the field that I didn’t know existed, new ways the light falls or new sightlines on the action on the field. And, unlike yesterday, there’s traffic on the bases when I stop and look. Leaning against the concrete wall somewhere in right-center field during the top of the second innign, I watch as the Nats get two runs off Gaviglio; in the bottom of the inning, from somewhere in left-center field, Randal Grichuk gets the Jays a run back. The MLB games I have seen live to this point have been pretty uniformly low-scoring: 2-1, 4-1, the 2-0 miracle yesterday. I’ve never seen a game with this much going on, this much back and forth.

There’s so much action happening that, as someone in motion, I can’t possibly be attuned to all of it. I sometimes miss a hit or a walk or a strikeout while I’m in transit, and I’ll hear the cheers and groans, and I’ll hustle back to somewhere I can see what’s going on. This always makes me feel guilty, like I’m one of those fake millennial fans everyone laughs at, paying no attention to the game because I’m too busy Instagramming or something.

But who cares? I’ve been experiencing Blue Jays baseball in one way for my entire life. I’m here, now, having an entirely new experience of something familiar, something that I love and that has brought me more happiness than almost anything else. I can experience it whatever way I want. There is no camera choosing where I focus, no one narrating the events of the game in their language. I can choose where I want to look and what I want to focus on and where I want to be. There’s no one I have to prove myself to, not even me.

***

Some things you don’t get from the TV broadcast:

  • There are little pieces of cottonwood fluff drifting through the air. I don’t know where it all comes from, how the wind could carry it high enough to get over the walls of the stadium. Occasionally some of it will catch the light.
  • Standing in certain places in the lower decks of the stadium, it looks like you’re watching the game in widescreen. Standing in certain places in the upper decks, you feel like you can see the entire sky.
  • When a home run is hit directly in front of you standing in one of the widescreen places, your entire field of view becomes the silhouettes of people leaping up, arms raised.
  • A game-used Troy Tulowitzki postseason jersey costs $1,250. I consider buying one of those infield dirt relic vials, but the volume doesn’t justify the price.
  • Standing in line to get an iced capp, watching on the screen as the Nationals tie it up off Joe Biagini in the sixth inning, an elderly man in front of me shakes his head. “Giabini,” he says. “Why him?” I nod.
  • My typical reaction to having someone make physical contact with me in a crowd is to jump away and apologize. Sometimes, though, the person bumping you in the elbow is actually someone you bumped into at the airport two days earlier. 36,000 is fewer people than you think it is.
  • Watching back-to-back home runs live, especially back-to-back, late-inning, go-ahead home runs, is nothing short of unbelievable. There are a few seconds where you can’t bring yourself to believe that it’s actually happening.
  • It is very difficult for me to show positive emotion in public. There is a large part of me that has been beaten into a belief that it is dangerous for people to know if I’m happy—that to be happy with no reservations, even for a few hours or a few minutes, will invite punishment. I am very happy here, and I am not hiding it. No one is punishing me. No one even notices, really, because they’re happy, too.

***

There are times when I think my experience of life has been diminished by how limited it has been. I know people who travel internationally every year, to the point where it’s a commonplace experience for them. People who go on road trips across North America, backpacking in India. I took a creative non-fiction workshop this year, and so many of the pieces were about traveling. It seems like a singular experience, the kind of thing interesting people do and think about.

The experiences in my life I think about most often are experiences of enclosure. I am not interesting. I have been forced to be familiar with a lot of small spaces. Closeted, institutionalized, compressed by fear, places with locks on them. The idea of going to lounge on a beach in Bali was so absolutely absurd that I never even bothered dreaming about it. My dreams fit into tiny spaces, too: into the 11-inch rectangle of my old, broken laptop, where I watched the Blue Jays play in 2015. My tiny, boring ambitions of being an anonymous face among thousands, watching one of 162 baseball games played in a season, kept me going when all I could see were walls.

The Blue Jays win, 8-6, sweeping the series. In a year when they haven’t exactly put together a lot of consecutive wins, they won every single game they played while I was in the city. I don’t know it as I weave my way through the crowd streaming out of the stadium, but when I return home there will be bad things waiting for me. More small spaces, body and mind tearing themselves apart. Right now, though, I have just seen my favorite team win a home game. I am not dead. I am invisible, and I am alive, and the world is huge and new to me.

I could have chosen to disappear. I chose to go watch the Blue Jays instead.

***

There’s someone playing music in a park again as I walk from the subway station to my friend Peyton’s apartment. The sky is endless, pale with light from the sun, somewhere over in the west.

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7/06
This has been a beautiful series. Thanks so much for sharing it.
Brian Koop
7/06
I don't know quite what to say about this, It goes beyond sports commentary and analysis. It is wonderfully written and affecting. You are not alone in attending Jays games solo (although I live downtown in Toronto so it's simple for me) and your description of it hits home. Thank you for this series of articles.
ggdub
7/06
Thank you for writing this. Feeling down today myself for no good reason. Reading this brought me back to the joys I feel every time I head to a major league stadium. Picked me up when I needed it.
Michael McKay
7/06
Rachael -- I just wanted to thank you again for this series -- so honest, so filled with genuine feeling for baseball and your perception. I hope we will see you again on this site.
Peter Graves
8/01
I missed this series when it ran but am so glad I caught it today. Thank you. Beautifully written and deeply affecting. Your writing may be the best thing on this site. Baseball is transcendent in a way few things are and you capture that in your pieces.

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