I saw a baseball game in Kansas City about 12 years ago. Honestly, I wasn't that interested in the game itself, with Kansas City playing an interleague game with another non-contender. It was a nice day out with friends while I was traveling, and I always enjoy visiting the ballparks of Major League Baseball. Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium (previously "Royals Stadium") is especially nice, one of the best 1970s sports facilities.
I don't remember a whole lot about the game, not even who won. Our group was seated along the first-base side with a fine view of the field. What I remember best is the group of disabled adults seated a few rows in front of us. Among them was one man who was into every play of the game. He had unwrapped the giveaway Royals backpack and wore it proudly with whatever he carried to the game that day stowed inside. With every tag play, he enthusiastically spread his arms in the safe sign after a Royals player dived back to first on a pickoff attempt, slid into second trying to steal a base or advance around the bases after a hit.
Before long, this mentally challenged man had moved away from his group, as close to the action as he could get. Even when the ushers checked tickets partway through the game to make sure everybody was in his proper seat, nobody seemed to care that he moved. As I sat there behind him, I realized something: I was watching the person having the most fun of anybody at that afternoon's game.
Over the years I have been to plenty of baseball games in many locations. I sat nervously watching Jamie Moyer pitch in the 2008 World Series, hearing fans griping with worry about the "cursed" Phillies. I watched opposing teams' fans bicker with each other when two terrible teams met in Pittsburgh. I have seen blowouts, comeback wins and gut-wrenching losses.
But this was the first time I had seen a person enjoy every minute of a baseball game so much. He was overjoyed to be there, enthusiastic about his team (regardless of its record), and glued to the action. I am sure it was the best day of his week, probably the month. He was enthralled by every play. This guy wasn't just the one having the most fun of anybody at that game; he had the most enjoyable experience of anybody I had seen at any game. Sure kids have fun with the game for a while, but they also like the food, the kids' activities and other distractions. On the other hand, adults who are into the game end up making themselves sick if their team loses; others leave early or get drunk on their $8 beers. So, as far as I am concerned, he alone was Mr. Fun.
That same baseball season, my brother and I went to a few other baseball games. We went to a game in Baltimore and saw a great game. The teams went back and forth with plenty to cheer and boo about. We had a great time. Seated near us in our row was a pudgy teen who didn't seem to take part in this. He was quite possibly the least interested fan in the ballpark. About 16, he wore glasses and a brown Nike hat, he sat with his parents barely speaking at all. No matter what happened during the game, he displayed incredible emotional detachment. His only expressions showed he was bored, more bored and apathetic.
As he sat leaning his chin on his hand with his elbow on the armrest, I wondered if he sat at home practicing to look this bored all week. He probably had.
He was there with folks I assumed to be his parents, and he barely, if ever, spoke to them, because he was much too bored for that. He was polite when he excused himself to leave his seat for a while, and when he returned before long. I am sure he was back so fast because the concourse was also much too boring.
Near the end of that season, my brother and I went to a game in Philadelphia where the strangest thing happened. Again, sitting in our row was the pudgy kid with the brown Nike cap. Two random games in two cities, and we're sitting next to the same kid. As you would expect, he's acting as if he's sitting through a tedious lecture about what colors of paint dry the fastest. My brother spied him first, and I turned to look just in time to catch him yawning and adjusting that odd brown cap. Yep, that was him all right.
I was curious what possessed Mr. Humdrum to get out of bed, pull on his favorite headgear and attend a baseball game. Did he yawn this much at hockey or basketball?
Regardless of his motivations, he and the boisterous Royals fan got me thinking that summer because I realized which one I would rather be like. I would like to think that I could find a way, even on my worst days, to be the guy finding a way to have fun rooting for a last-place team. I wish I could let my guard down to have that much fun in three hours.
Despite our best intentions, I think all of us, especially including myself, have spent enough time wearily resting our chin on our hands with a nondescript poker face as the world passes us by. I know I am like the Bored Guy sometimes, but it's high time I toss that brown cap in the fire and strap on my Royals backpack, smile and enjoy the game.