One of the best things about going to a ball game–most any kind, but perhaps especially a baseball game–is the mix of personalities you see at the park. At Nationals Park, in DC, for three years running, we’ve had the great joy of having a special fan in our area of the upper deck, a little ways up the first base line. He’s a lone figure during the games–except that really, he’s with all of us. This man is probably in his forties, dressed in no particular way, not especially suited up as a fan with jersey and cap. He’s African American, wears thick, dark-plastic-framed glasses, and is a little portly and balding.
He clutches a pad where he keeps stats on the game. And always in his hand he has a cheap ball point pen, with a removable cap. That pen is a critical tool of his avocation.
The man tracks the game closely. And generally, before it’s clear on the stadium PA and before it’s clear on the jumbotron, he announces the pitching changes, for either team. He gets up carefully from his seat, which is a few rows above the upper deck rail. He turns to the fans higher in the stands in his section. He holds the pen, cap end up gripped in his fist, and it is his microphone. He gets us listening: “Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please.” Then he pauses to be sure everyone is listening.
“Now pitching for the Washington Nationals, right hand pitcher, number 36, Tyler Clippard!” Always with the player’s number, whether he’s right or left-handed, and the full name. Not everyone gets what they are hearing, but I’d say half the section, at least, hears and appreciates the information. There’s usually some cheering or whooping from a few in the section to spice up the moment a little.
I have no idea why this man does this great public service, but I am so very glad he does. We missed him on a recent Friday at the Park. We were in the wrong section–a penalty for taking free tickets from a friend. We were too far to hear or see him do his thing. But to our astonishment, on the way out after a sudden-death, 11th inning win at about 11:00pm, he was on the concourse, coming towards us, and stopped me to say, “I hate Pennsylvania.” The Nats had just beaten the reviled Phillies, in a Stadium clotted up with too many Phillies fans. I could only think to say something like, “For sure!” in response.
This man sits in 20-dollar seats, and I’ve yet to be at a game where he is not there, doing his thing. He’s got to be a season ticket holder. The Nationals organization should comp his tickets for life–he’s a joy to have with us, each game, and each pitching change.