Olivia Carville, 24, is a journalist from The Press, a daily newspaper in Christchurch, New Zealand. She is visiting the United States on a two-week internship with The Seattle Times. Last Tuesday, she went to her first American sports event and it didn’t exactly go as planned.
I am anything but a sports fan.
I can’t read the score of a tennis match, I fall asleep during cricket and I only go to hometown rugby games to watch the adorned horses parade around during the pregame entertainment. Yet my complete ignorance to anything vaguely sporting has never been so publicly displayed as it was last week when I attended my first ever American sports event.
Before the 12-hour flight from New Zealand to Seattle, I was advised to immerse myself in the American way of life. The tips were simple: Eat a bagel, buy some track pants from Abercrombie and Fitch and get to a baseball game. The latter recommendation proved more challenging than I had anticipated.
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When I checked into my hotel last Saturday, I asked the concierge about any upcoming baseball games. He told me the local team was the Mariners, they were playing on Tuesday night and tickets were about $20. As he drew a circle around the stadium on a pocket map, he added: “Don’t expect much.”
Despite his lack of enthusiasm, I was amping for the game. Coming from New Zealand, where the only exposure to baseball is in Hollywood movies, I had rather romantic notions of the sport. As I wandered off toward the stadium I was reminiscing about the momentous scene from the mid-90s hit “Angels in the Outfield,” where the crowd flapped its arms in unison to help the team win the championship.
A few blocks away, I felt comfortable enough to fold up my pocket map and follow the tide of fans.
The colossal stadium appeared, and I asked a friendly traffic cop where to buy tickets. He pointed to a scalper with a cardboard sign hanging from his neck. The scalper must have smelt my naivety. He was yelling at me before I even made it across the road — “I have your tickets, Miss!”— and his spit landed on my cheek. He offered me a $110 seat. I said I wanted the $20 version. We settled on $50. I was feeling rather proud of my haggling skills as I was shepherded into the stadium.
People were pushing and shoving to get through the gates and the place was abuzz. I was navigating my way through the crowd while the players’ names were being announced. I was standing in line at the hot-dog stand when the fireworks went off, and I was asking how to find my seat when the whistle blew.
When I finally found my section, row and seat number, I sat down, put my plastic cup of Diet Coke in the holder and looked out at the field. Lo and behold, a bunch of soccer players were dancing around a football.
“Huh? Isn’t this supposed to be baseball? Where is the bat?” I said aloud.
The American girl next to me looked over and raised her manicured eyebrows. I gingerly continued: “Is this the pre-entertainment for the baseball or something?”
She laughed in my face, nudged the friend next to her, who told the friend next to her. Once the laughter died down, they explained there was a baseball game on at the local stadium down the road, but that I was most definitely at the soccer match.
I tried to scrape together some degree of dignity. “Oh, bugger,” I said. “Well, anyway, now that I am here, who is Seattle playing tonight?”
Once again, hysterical laughter. “This is the national team,” the girl said. “If we win this game, we go through to the FIFA World Cup.”
There was clearly no redemption from this. It was official — I was the most ignorant sports fan in the stadium. I slunk down in my seat and looked around at the swarming mass of red. I did not land myself at just any soccer match, this was the World Cup qualifier between the United States and Panama. It was the first time the U.S. national team had played a Cup qualifier in Seattle since 1976, and I was one of 40,847 crazed fans. Pretty big deal.
I quietly settled in, got myself some junk-food therapy and found it more entertaining watching the fans than the game itself. They yelled, they swore, they spat, they jumped and they blew their horns with ferocity. They abused the referee when their team was disciplined and cheered when the opposing players fell to the ground writhing in pain. They went insane when the U.S. took a shot and chanted in unison to distract Panama players when they were on the attack.
The fervor was contagious. I found myself screaming, jumping and “awwwwing” along with the masses, even though I had no idea what I was yelling about. It was bestial and glorious at the same time.
Yes, I am slightly gutted that I didn’t get to see grown men in tights and knee-high socks playing catch, but I will be returning home with a newfound soft spot for American soccer.
So far, I have bought a bagel, purchased some track pants, but I’m still waiting to get to that baseball game.
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