Tuesday, March 10, 2009

At ballgame, getting money's worth is a matter of opinion

Nationals teammates greet Brad Eldred, who hit the game-winning home run.

Fans celebrate the end of the game.

In an effort to do something constructive with my time off - in other words, to stimulate the economy - I took in a Washington Nationals spring training game against the Houston Astros.

And man, did I pay.

I'm a huge fan of baseball but not of watching it from cheap seats. That's why I sprang for the $20 box seat on the third-base line. That, of course, is after the $5 parking fee.

And that's when one realizes that, in a time of great economic hardship and declining consumer spending, who in his right mind would pay $20 for a ticket to an exhibition game?

Lonely me, that's who.

Yes, I went alone to Space Coast Stadium and sat in the third row for the nighttime game. I didn't drink beer. I didn't eat a hot dog. The only conversation I had was when a woman sitting two seats down said, "Well, that's one way to do it," when I climbed over the seatback from the empty row behind me, the easiest way to access my pricey hard-plastic folding chair. I said, "Yep."

And that was that. Not a word out of me from then on.

With the Nationals scoring five runs in the first inning - including some power hitting - and the Astros scoring throughout the game to catch up, I thought I might be getting my money's worth.

hit_0064When the action slowed - the Nationals only scored one more run in regulation - two drunken fans behind me provided comedic relief. They didn't know each other: One called the other "The Cuban," apparently because he was somewhat Hispanic, and The Cuban called the other "Ankiel" because of the Rick Ankiel Cardinals jersey he was wearing. Their banter boiled down to a bunch of "your mother" jokes and climaxed with The Cuban using Ankiel's cell phone to call Ankiel's mother. I needn't say more.

But like most acts these days, their comedic stylings were profane. They drove off the young family sitting in front of me. "We've got a baby here," another mother said. And after multiple ushers and the sheriff's deputy gave them warnings, the cursing funnymen were kicked out.

After they drove everyone else from my section and after the drunkards themselves were ejected, the reality set in: I had paid $20 for a game in which beer was more important than baseball. Before he left, The Cuban said he paid $8 for a ticket and found an empty $20 box seat, where he carried on his drunken ramblings with another drunken ticketholder.

I had been duped.

But then the Astros scored in the ninth inning, forcing the game into overtime. This is promising, I thought. I was getting more for my money.

Then, in the bottom of the 10th, Washington's Brad Eldred, a native Floridian, cranked a pitch into the left-field cheap seats. The 2-run walk-off homer gave the home team an 8-6 win.

The rest of the Nationals greeted Eldred at home plate, gave him high-fives and jumped up and down. How exciting. Well worth the 20 bucks.

But I couldn't avoid thinking that someone who paid $12 less caught that ball.

Man, I was taken for a ride.

The third-base umpire makes small talk with Astros outfielder Darin Erstad.

Astros outfielder Darin Erstad makes small talk with the third-base umpire.

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