Games

This section will just be a brief note on games I attend in person over each of the next three seasons, with the most recent at the top.

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2022 season

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Friday September 23: Baltimore Orioles vs Houston Astros, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.

This Land is Birdland Great pic of a beautiful early fall evening by Linda Rittelmann

Kicking off fan appreciation weekend, the first pitch was thrown out by the always entertaining (and always fired up) “Fired Up Guy” before Baltimore continued to welcome home former fan favorite Trey Mancini.

The O’s then proceeded to blank the latest AL team to clinch a post-season berth, behind a complete game shutout by Dean Kremer. It was their second CG in three games, and their second straight shutout, after last night’s outing by Kyle Bradish. In beating Justin Verlander, Bradish became just the second rookie in franchise history with 10 K, 0 walks and 0 runs allowed in a game.

The Orioles have now beaten Houston in 4 of 5 games this season, allowing just four runs in total. They are also, however, 1 and 5 against their previous visitors, the Detroit Tigers (see Monday’s game note).

Despite this great performance by the O’s though, the best performance of the evening was happening in Los Angeles…

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Monday September 19: Baltimore Orioles vs Detroit Tigers, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.

and it got worse…

Not a good night for the Orioles in what was, apart from a freakish fourth inning, a reasonably close game. The fact that it eventually ended 11-0 and Detroit’s Tyler Alexander took a no-hitter into the 7th maybe suggests it was a bit more lopsided than it really was. But this was the Tigers’ biggest shutout on the road since July 4th 2000 and they’ve now beaten the O’s in their last six meetings.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Tigers from my time in Ann Arbor (my youngest son’s first ballgame was at the old Tiger Stadium in 1999, its final year, against an Orioles lineup including Cal Ripken) and it was good to see Javy Baez and the legend that is Miggy Cabrera.

Tonight was one of those games where Baltimore’s up and coming young stars just didn’t click. Most of the remaining fans got up to leave when infielder Ryan McKenna came in to pitch his dominant-in-a-HR Derby 65 mph fastball in the final inning.

The O’s are now 76-70 and five games back with 16 to play.

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Saturday August 20: Baltimore Orioles vs Boston Red Sox, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.

Today was one of those days where the ballgame wasn’t remotely important. My girlfriend had what thankfully turned out to be a minor medical situation at the ballpark and I had to bring her home after a couple of innings. Thanks so much to the Orioles’ ushers and First Aid staff, whose efficiency and kindness was really appreciated.

I had a couple of guests along that I was planning to chat with for the project, but that can always be rescheduled. Look out for the people you love.

In the end, the Red Sox got some measure of retribution for Friday night’s monstering, winning 4-3 as whatever wild card message the O’s might have sent hit the inevitable rocks of doubt.

Today was Boog Powell day, in tribute to the Orioles legend and Baltimore icon just after his 81st birthday; it was great to hear him talk about his life and his teammates earlier in the day at the SABR conference.

“If Brooks [Robinson] had played for the Yankees, he could have run for President…” (Robinson was President of the MLB Players Alumni Association for 33 years until earlier this year, when he was succeeded by Jim Thome).

Holding a bat rather than a fishing rod or a pit beef sandwich…

On Sunday morning, the O’s and Red Sox travel to Williamsport, PA where they’ll watch a game in the Little League World Series – this year is the competition’s 75th anniversary – and meet some of the kids before playing in the ‘Classic’ game at 7.05pm.

Again, look after the people you love.

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Friday August 19: Baltimore Orioles vs Boston Red Sox, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.

The calm before the storm

Simply an insane game, as the Orioles outlasted the Red Sox 15-10 in a much-needed win that sends a message to the rest of the AL East.

The O’s scored their 15 runs over the first five innings – the New York Yankees, by comparison, have scored 14 runs in their last seven games, and they’ve been shut out in three of them. (The Yankees still have an AL playoff chance percentage of 99, compared with the Orioles 2; but as someone once said, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.)

Almost lost beneath tonight’s flurry of hits and home runs were the fourth-inning ejections of Red Sox manager Alex Cora and shortstop Xander Bogaerts over a disputed strikeout call; as well as the Camden Yards debut of #3 draft choice in 2019, Kyle Stowers, who had a pretty good night. With the team’s farm system now considered the best in baseball, the O’s are certainly starting to come together offensively.

(Stowers wore jersey number 83 tonight – the last year the Orioles won the World Series.)

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Thursday August 18: Baltimore Orioles vs Chicago Cubs, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.

The Cubs win 3-2 for the second straight day, despite *almost* spectacularly blowing it in the final inning. A tight competitive game, with two homers from Willson Contreras and two Os being thrown out at the plate.

Usually when I go to games I buy tickets at the walk-up window, but today I bought through MLB’s Ballpark app because of an intriguing giveaway – an “exclusive NFT” of Rookie of the Year possibility, and Os franchise incarnate, Adley Rutschman.

Not sure if something like this has been done before, but it’s the first one at a game I’ve been to. The “exclusive” part meant you had to scan a digital ticket – with $7.25 in additional “fees” on a $27 ticket – rather than buy a physical one, so you’re presumably paying over the odds for something that has no value other than harvesting your data for a third-party vendor.

We’ll see how that turns out…

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Wednesday August 17: Washington Nationals vs Chicago Cubs; Nationals Park, Washington DC.

My first chance to see the Cubs since this project began – and the first time I’d watched them since the end of last season, in the same location and in the first series after the dismantling of the core. It wasn’t pretty then, and now it’s the start of what’s clearly going to be a long road. At least this year they held on to win 3-2, behind a good outing by Drew Smyly.

It’s a rebuilding frame for both teams at the moment – both World Series champions within the past six years – with the Cubs and David Ross trying to figure out what they’ve got to work with, as the Nats head into a post-Soto era just as painful as losing Bryant, Baez and Rizzo.

The uncertainty over Willson Contreras’ contract situation certainly hasn’t helped, but whatever happens, there are two Nats fans who won’t be seeing Willy again anytime soon after an altercation at last night’s game.

Anyway, today was a beautiful day for a ballgame and it’s always fun coming here. A $10 ticket and a $20 beer. Sounds about right in a place where Presidents can, literally, be bought…

A Nats fan about my age, with his elderly father, saw my Cub hat and stopped to chat on the way out, signing off with: “I hope everything goes great for you in your life, except for today.” I’m sure he meant the game.

(I left the park to head back to Baltimore for the opening of the SABR convention – its first in-person gathering for three years. I’ll write a separate post about it later.)

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Sunday July 31: Cincinnati Reds vs Baltimore Orioles; Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH.

No pity in the Queen City as the O’s ambitions of a wild card spot were dented by a series loss to the Reds, dropping the third game of the weekend 3-2. It was only the second time this month Baltimore had lost back-to-back games.

Brandon Hyde switched up his batting order, with Trey Mancini leading off for the first time in four years. (It turned out to be Mancini’s last game as an Oriole – he was traded to the Astros the following day.)

Austin Voth threw five scoreless innings but the O’s bullpen wasn’t able to close the deal. For the Reds, rookie lefty Nick Lodolo, their #1 draft pick in 2019 who had a pretty disastrous outing in the home opener what seems like forever ago, is clearly maturing, pitching six solid innings and getting himself out of a couple of jams.

Brandon Drury’s 20th home run of the season came just ahead of the trade deadline, with the Reds apparently unlikely to extend him after his best major league season.

After an 8-2 win last night, today’s win lifts the Reds out of the NL Central basement. Their next “home” game is Aug 11th against the Cubs at the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa; which is convenient since by then they might need to find some folks hiding in the corn to add to the roster.

Not even beer...

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Friday July 29: Cincinnati Reds vs Baltimore Orioles; Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH.

It was Friday Fireworks night at GABP but, as has too frequently been the case recently, there wasn’t much to celebrate for Reds fans, as Baltimore scored four runs in the ninth to win 6-2.

Imagine bringing little kids to the game and keeping them awake to watch the pyrotechnics – immediately after that gut-punch final inning – then probably hearing on the radio on the way home that Luis Castillo had been traded to Seattle. (Of course, there’s always two sides to the trade argument, the problem is you just have to wait for the proof; kind of like the fireworks.)

As for the Orioles, it was their 23rd come-from-behind victory of the season – more than half their total wins – and keeps them above .500. They’re now 16-7 in July and set for two consecutive winning months for the first time since May and June 2016. They’ll also take heart from an excellent outing by Kyle Bradish, returning from injury.

It was the first time the teams had met in inter-league play since 2017. The Reds have a chance to turn things around on Saturday and Sunday.

As if to put things in some perspective, though, there was a moment’s silence before the game to remember neighbors in Eastern Kentucky, wrestling with the aftermath of devastating floods.

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Thursday July 28: Cincinnati Reds vs Miami Marlins; Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH.

Pete Rose statue by sculptor Tom Tsuchiya was installed in 2017

There’s a guy who stands by the main gates at Great American Ball Park with a bullhorn and tells us all while we’re waiting to buy tickets that we’re going to hell.

He usually only stops when another guy next to him starts drumming on a bunch of upturned plastic buckets. Some Reds fans could be forgiven for thinking they’re at least in purgatory these days, given their torturous relationship with the team’s ownership and, as the trade deadline approaches, having to watch their favorite players on the menu for deeper-pocketed teams.

Pitcher Luis Castillo, the latest subject of trade rumors, was outstanding in last night’s win over the Marlins, in what could prove to be his farewell to Cincinnati.

In today’s lunchtime start, it was hot as hades for sure, and the Reds frustratingly blew a tight game 7-6 in the ninth despite a solid outing by Graham Ashcraft because, it seemed, no-one wanted to play extra innings. And who can blame them?

There was no redemption to be found for David Bell and his team today; which was a surprise, since one of those ‘you always see something you’ve never seen before’ moments happened before the game even started. The oldish guy in front of me for the ticket window fished out an ID card when it was his turn, and I noticed it read “Clergy Pass”. I didn’t know such a thing was even a thing, but it turns out the Reds, Boston Red Sox and St Louis Cardinals are the only three teams in MLB still operating a scheme offering a free pass for pastors.

So no divine intervention this time, but the plan today was to finally meet up with Keith Herrell, who was one of this project’s first Q&A respondents and someone I’d been hoping to meet in real life for a while. It was as much fun as I expected it to be.

You can read our previous conversation, “Big League”, here.

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Monday July 25: Baltimore Orioles vs Tampa Bay Rays; Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.

All we need is one good inning per game…

The O’s got that tonight in the fifth, scoring four runs to lock up the win and bring the team back to a .500 record.

Tonight marked the Orioles’ 48th win of the season, surpassing their total from the 2018 season, a failure that eventually led to the Birds being in a position to draft Adley Rutschman; with the rookie catcher fast making O’s fans forget that a time before him even existed.

Meanwhile, elsewhere there are rumblings…

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Saturday July 16: Brooklyn Cyclones vs Greensboro’ Grasshoppers, Maimonides Park, Brooklyn, NY.

It’s been a long time since I rode the D train out to Coney Island to watch the Cyclones, the Mets’ “High-A” (formerly Single A) affiliate in the NY-Penn League (now the South Atlantic League). I was living in New York in 2001, the team’s debut season at what was then KeySpan Park, the first time professional baseball had been played in Brooklyn since the Dodgers left for the West Coast after the 1957 season (there’s a statue at the entrance of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese).

I’d gone to plenty of games when I lived in Brooklyn subsequently, but I never remember the park being this noisy! A Saturday night in the summer, with the boardwalk rides rolling next door against a constant bass thump just means the Cyclones’ announcer has to shout louder to be heard, in what becomes an ever-spiralling duel of sound.

Add to that the constant assault on the senses, lest you are distracted for even a second by the actual game, and you basically have a Veeckian fever dream; with a juggling stiltwalker on the roof of the home dugout, a marching band between innings, the obligatory truncated on-field marriage proposal and hot dog race, and a raffle for the local hospital where the prizes include some Rachel Ray ovenware.

It’s an unrelenting sugar-rush for sure, but look around and pretty much everyone is smiling. Throw in a bobblehead of a guy who plays a whole different sport but whose dad used to be a coach here, and we all go home happy.

As for the game itself, the Cyclones’ hitters’ early dominance meant they took control against the Pirate-affiliate Grasshoppers by the third inning and went on to win 6-2.

Seriously considered going back on Sunday for Gil Hodges day, but I should maybe give my ears some time to recover.

Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese at the entrance to the Brooklyn Cyclones park

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Tuesday July 12; Cleveland Guardians vs Chicago White Sox, Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH.

Glen Infante’s new mural at Progressive Field of Cleveland’s legendary “barrier breakers”

Guess we just picked the wrong half of the double-header today. After a gem from Shane Bieber in the day’s early start, the Guardians fell 7-0 to the White Sox in the nightcap, leaving the bases loaded twice and once more being the architects of their own downfall.

(Meanwhile, White Sox fans have not been holding back in their recent assessment of manager Tony LaRussa, particularly after the Blue Jays’ Charlie Montoya lost his job…)

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Tuesday May 3; Baltimore Orioles vs Minnesota Twins, Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.

A beautiful night for a ball game and it was a tight one, a back-and-forth 2-2 tie until a three-run homer by Ryan Jeffers in the fifth inning put the Twins ahead for good. They added two more in the ninth to close it out and take their record on the season to 15-9. They’ve now won 11 of their past 12 games.

It was a decent outing for Orioles’ starter Bruce Zimmermann, who brought his season’s sub-1.00 ERA to the table before his command wavered and the bullpen couldn’t keep it close.

This will be my last in-person game for a few weeks, so I’ll be back in July with a planned schedule for games and conversations through the tail end of the first half, before ramping up for the rest of the season.

(Before I go, I should correct something from my previous Camden Yards post – it turns out there *are* blank scorecards – but no programs – available if you know where to ask. The place to go seems to be the helpdesk nearest the media centre. Everywhere else will just sympathise and apologise profusely.)

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Friday April 29; Baltimore City College vs Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Cold Spring, Baltimore, MD.

You haven’t experienced Baltimore baseball until you’ve been to a City vs Poly game, they told me.

And sure enough, the atmosphere today was exactly what you’d expect from these high-flying, high-achieving rivals – plenty of passion and intensity and support for your teammates when things might not be going your way. It’s baseball at its best and just a great testament to all the kids and their coaches.

This one went to Poly 16-6.

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Thursday April 28; Philadelphia Phillies vs Colorado Rockies, Citizens Bank Ballpark, Philadelphia, PA.

Connie Mack evangelizes across from the ticket window at Citizens Bank Park

The Phillies capped a four-game sweep of the Rockies behind Zack Wheeler and a seventh-inning where the Rockies’ relief committee lost its way completely. The Phils sent ten men to the plate, but despite just a single hit between them (and a spectacular diving catch by Rockies CF Randal Grichuk) four walks, one hit by pitch, and an error meant the home team scored four times and put the game to bed.

It was also “Seniors Stroll The Bases” day, (or “Old Codgers Walk While They Still Can”) with a totally appropriate giveaway…

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Friday April 22; Johns Hopkins vs McDaniel, Babb Field, Baltimore, MD.

JHU beats in-state rival McDaniel in a blowout behind a flurry of home runs, but huge respect to McD outfielder Connor Uhrig, who – with his team already trailing by double digits – slammed into the outfield fence attempting to make what would have been a spectacular catch.

Also, good to see Sidney Lanier retrieving the foul balls hit back over the home dugout onto North Charles.

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Friday April 15; Baltimore Orioles vs New York Yankees, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore. MD.

It was Jackie Robinson Day, but there was precious little inspiration here tonight as the O’s came back to win in extra innings after a largely forgettable four-hours-plus performance by both teams finally ended with Aroldis Chapman walking in the winning run. Both teams struggled with runners in scoring position and there were definitely some plays straight out of Quadruple-A.

Yankee fans weren’t happy, as you might expect, (although I do like the description here of the extra innings runner on second as the “Manfred Man”).

A couple of final notes – It seems that the Orioles have stopped printing programs and scorecards. Big mistake, says the nerd in me, and one more small thing that helps disconnect the modern game from its history. Also, I love Camden Yards and usually it’s a great place to watch a game, but when a lack of vendors and fewer concession staff means it takes at least a full half-inning to queue to buy an $11.50 beer, the user experience in the stands is in danger of matching the quality of the product on the field.

Nonetheless, 30 years of this beautiful park is definitely something worth celebrating.

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Wednesday April 13; Cincinnati Reds vs Cleveland Guardians, Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH.

We’re all at the mercy of the elements – among other things – and after my planned interview guest had to cancel this morning (we chatted later by email – see that conversation here) it also looked like today’s game was going to be a victim of the weather. But despite a 45-minute rain delay and increasingly threatening clouds all afternoon, we managed to get a full nine innings in, unfortunately for the Reds.

Regardless of how long it might have lasted, I’d wanted to see this game as it marked the major league debut for one of the Reds’ eagerly-awaited pitching prospects, Nick Lodolo, who had been their top pick in the 2019 draft.

It went fine, until the second inning.

Lodolo shouldn’t beat himself up too much, though. Everyone has to start somewhere. On this day in 1963, Pete Rose hit a triple off Pittsburgh’s Bob Friend for his first MLB hit after going 0-for-11 since his debut five days previously. The Reds lost 12-4 that day, and four thousand-odd hits later, the shining moment of Rose’s career is enshrined in the floor of the Moerlein Lager House, which now sits where first base was at the old Riverfront Stadium.

One bonus about today was that I got to tell Jack White how much I’d enjoyed his performance of the national anthem in Detroit a few days ago. The guitar player and his band are playing in town tonight and sat through about seven innings in pretty inclement weather. Anything to avoid the soundcheck, I guess.

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Tuesday April 12; Cincinnati Reds vs Cleveland Guardians, Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH.

It’s never a good thing when on the day of a home opener – with all the added significance that holds for this particular city – the team’s President and COO has to apologize for basically telling fans to suck it up if they don’t like what’s happening with the organization.

Saying “We’re blessed to have fans who care enough to be mad” probably doesn’t fill the fanbase with optimism for the coming campaign at a time when there’s been a groundswell of pressure on ownership following recent trade activity, to the point where a billboard on the outskirts of town simply says #SellTheTeamBob.

Even former players are weighing in as the debate about teams “tanking” raises its head once again. “When … there are no consequences for losing, you’re not held accountable for your performance,” one recent Red said.

And lose they did, as the Cleveland Guardians took this particular instalment of the Battle for Ohio behind a solid start from ace Shane Bieber and eventually scoring double-digit runs for the third straight game.

Even a ceremonial first-pitch by Bengals QB Joe Burrow couldn’t inspire the hometown team, while Cleveland’s name-change doesn’t appear to have affected their intra-state dominance – the last time Cincinnati got the better of their neighbours over the season was in 2014.

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Sunday April 10; Cincinnati Bearcats vs Houston Cougars, UC Baseball Stadium, Cincinnati, OH.

Beautiful day for a ballgame at the University of Cincinnati, who took the rubber match in this weekend series 9-6 over the Houston Cougars. Two years ago, the University moved to change the name of the campus baseball stadium that had been named after former Reds owner and infamous racist Marge Schott, but so far another donor hasn’t come forward to buy the re-naming rights.

When you check-in on Facebook, the location still comes up as Marge Schott Stadium.

Ironically, this week sees the Reds open their season’s home schedule against another Ohio team that just went one better and changed their whole actual name. Of course, the Reds themselves are no strangers to name changes, but as far as the Bearcats are concerned, unlike Schott’s remarks, the stadium remains something of a gray area.

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Sunday March 13; The Citadel vs Siena College, Joe Riley Ballpark, Charleston, SC.

As institutions go, they don’t come much more buttoned up than the Military College of South Carolina, where an iconic public face of tradition, honor and discipline is – like the city of Charleston itself – interwoven with difficult, divisive episodes that can’t help but change the nature of the community and how outsiders understand it.

A far more insignificant turning point – but one that had as much resonance in the context of these nine innings – came midway through today’s outing, when an unfortunate pitching meltdown created a complete reversal, handing The Citadel control of a contest where their opponents should have been free and clear long ago.

Coincidentally, my friend Chris Lamb – who used to teach journalism at the College of Charleston – has a new book out this week about another of those divisive episodes in the city’s past.

The local paper, the Charleston Post and Courier – whose title is proudly displayed on the top of the home dugout at The Joe – recently launched a civic watchdog project called ‘Uncovered’ in conjunction with a number of other local papers that’s well worth finding out about.

One final thing about today’s game in the “you always see something you’ve never seen before” category: in my previous game at Hopkins, the home team’s clearly beloved head coach Bob Babb is in his 43rd season as manager. Pretty cool to get to come to work every day in a place that bears your name. But the coach of today’s visitors, Tony Rossi, has Babb beat by a decade. According to Siena, he’s the “longest tenured head coach in NCAA Division I Baseball history, and the second-longest active tenured college baseball coach at any level, trailing only Division II Bentley’s Bob DeFelice who is in his 54th season.”

They say when you find something you love, you never work a day in your life. Sadly, coach Rossi had way too much work to do today walking to the mound and signalling for yet another pitcher.

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Friday March 4; Johns Hopkins vs Southern Maine, Babb Field, Baltimore, MD.

“From Baltimore, home of the Star-Spangled Banner…” is how the announcer begins proceedings, perhaps innocently turning the page on a legacy of what’s still one of America’s most pressing issues. So we’re off to an interesting start.

My first in-person game of the season, and of this project. And it was great entertainment. The home side jumped out to a four-run lead in the first and looked to be running away, before a spirited comeback by SMU tied it in the 9th and took it 7-5 in 10.

With the big league season still in the balance early in the month, I wasn’t alone in looking around for alternatives, particularly since this project is committed to taking place during these three upcoming seasons. Aside from a sense of potential disappointment, I was actually excited by the prospect of going to Minor League and College games and I expect I’ll continue to do that when I can, simply because the experience is completely escapist when you’re appreciating the context as well as the quality of the play.

In both situations, these kids represent the future of the game – even if they might have very different futures lined up for themselves. Only about ten per cent of college players eventually play professionally.

In practical terms, I thought I’d use this game (and the one that followed, in South Carolina) to get an idea of how difficult it would be to hold a conversation at a sparsely-attended game – how long between innings, how much ambient noise etc. In the end, we’ll make it work.

One of the great things about baseball is that it works on many levels of engagement – you can pay as much or as little heed as you choose to events on the field, until something demands your undivided attention, and that’s up to the players.

So, not unlike American politics…