Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Automotive Display: Game 32 in Bowling Green

Cars seem to be the red blood of Bowling Green, which lies just south of the Bluegrass region in Kentucky.  The Corvette factory in the city provides thousands of jobs for its residents, and the 'Vette museum, which was designed by the brother of good friend Grace Nakamura (an accomplished artist in Whittier), attracts tens of thousands of tourists each year.  In addition, the Bowling Green Hot Rods play in the Midwest League and attract unusually large crowds for A-Level teams.  On this Friday night, almost 4500 fans showed up at the ballpark for the game between the Hot Rods and the Lansing Lugnuts, a contest of mascots that could put the evening in overdrive!
Prior to the game I encountered a number of ballpark firsts on my tour: a give-away night, a legal disclaimer, a ceremonial cleaning of home plate, a musical and visual patriotic display preceding the anthem, and an emphasis on going green: How punny in Bowling Green! 
The green-grass, green seats in Bowling Green.

Before the gates opened a hundred or more fans lined up to be among the first 1000 entrants and to receive a T-shirt with the Hot Rods logo on the front and the names the four promotion sponsors on the back.  When the fans began to file into the ballpark, announcements on the public address system began, as usual, with a welcome to ballpark.  For the first time, however, I also heard a disclaimer about liability.  While other ballparks regularly warn fans with announcements and signs about the danger of balls and bats flying into the stands and possibly causing injury, the opening series of announcements at Bowling Green included a statement that fans assumed the risk of injury from events “incidental to baseball.”   
After warming up my voice in preparation to sing, I still had some congestion minutes before the anthem.  Hoping to clear my throat, I retrieved a water bottle from my satchel and unscrewed the cap.  As I did so, I squeezed the thin plastic and spewed water, narrowly missing me and Hot Rods’ hitting coach Manny Castillo. “Nervous?”  he inquired.  “No,” I replied.  “This is game number 32 this season.”  With that confident remark, I upped the ante for me to perform well.
Sweeping home as a toothbrush promotion.
The pre-game ceremonies featured the choreography not of young ballplayers running onto the field with the starting line-up for the Hot Rods.  Instead, a troupe of 25 girls from Dynamic Dance performed a routine that was followed by recognition of Special Olympians of Warren County.  The final steps in readying the field for play were a ceremonial cleaning of home plate with a large toothbrush sponsored by Destiny Dental, followed by eight participants tossing out first pitches.  After these live activities a short video paid tribute to the Armed Forces.  Accompanying images of American flags waving and Air Force jets flying, the voice of Ray Charles intoned, “America, America, God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”  How could I follow that impressive rendition?  Now I was nervous! 
Since I knew that the recording of “America” was in a different key than I use for the anthem, I paused  longer than usual to get my pitch of D# and hum the descending chord.  All went well.  Coach Castillo said, “Good job,” as I walked past the dugout, and manager Brady Williams and pitcher Chris Rearick gestured approval.  In the stands, a Korean War vet sought me out and said, “Thank you.  I can tell you love to sing it.”  Indeed I do.
With his mother-in-law and wife, Eric joins me for the game.
I also love to share games with friends.  Joining me for this one was Eric Bain-Selbo, his wife, and her mother.  Eric is author of Game Day and God, a stimulating analysis of the religious significance of SEC football.  He is also the editor of The International Journal of Sports and Religion on whose advisory board I sit.  Throughout the game, we talked about our baseball experiences and about the connections between sports and religion, specifically analyzing how the national anthem functions as a consecrating rirtual for civil religion. 
While we enjoyed the heady conversation, we also enjoyed the game.  The Hot Rods narrowly escaped with a 5-4 win, in part because of a base-running blunder by the Lugnuts in the sixth inning.  Representing the potential tying run, K. C. Hobson got picked off third base for the third out on a throw by catcher Lucas Bailey.  You might say the wheels came off the Lugnuts' rally.  Although I hadn’t seen a runner picked off third in my first thirty games, I saw that play on consecutive nights.

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