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Stateside: It's just not cricket

Stateside With Rosalea

It's just not cricket

By Rosalea Barker

Contrary to last week's bleat, sometimes I *am* where the story is, as happened a couple of weekends ago when I went to my first ever baseball game.

By way of background, I should tell you that I hadn't been to a sports match since the mid '70s, and that was a county cricket match my brother was umpiring in the sleepy East Taranaki village of Douglas, where the greatest danger to the spectators was that they might overindulge in bacon and egg pie, and the worst fate that might befall the fielders was that they'd slip over and land in a pile of black marbles.

Not so at the Coliseum in Oakland on April 19, where I sat only a couple of hundred yards away from an incident that lead to a court case for battery and assault with a deadly weapon. Not that I saw what happened - I was busily watching the light plane that was circling the stadium, reminiscing about flour bombs and friends who once spent a night in Hamilton police cells.

This plane was just one of those that seem to be always up in the air these days protecting airspace, but it had been serving the purpose of helping the local team win the game. Every time my attention was diverted by the plane, the Oakland A's either got one of their team home or got someone in the other team out. Eager to impress my companion that I was a true A's fan, I spent a large amount of time looking at the sky rather than the baseball diamond. It worked. The A's beat the Texas Rangers 12-2.

And so it was that I missed the incident that is still making news two weeks later. Somebody allegedly threw a cellphone at the Rangers' right fielder and allegedly hit him on the head. The Ranger threw the cellphone back into the stadium and allegedly hit someone else on the head. The second person hit didn't press charges; Carl Everett did and the A's fan later had a court appearance (or rather, his lawyer did) that was wittily described by one local columnist. After all, if a cellphone is a deadly weapon then practically everyone in the courtroom was packing heat.

What astonishes me is the 100 percent hit rate these tossers achieved. (I mean that word in its nicest possible connotation, of course.) Bopping an outfielder on the noggin from up in the stands is no mean feat, if you ask me, and the fan should've been given a pitching contract instead of a citation. By contrast, Everett just hit someone at random - and that someone turned out to be a member of the stadium staff, hence all the forgiveness.

Not only that, but by comparison with Chicago's baseball fan antics - they run on the field and assault the umps - our Oakland fan was positively genteel. Nonetheless, Everett called A's fans the most unruly in the US, to which someone I tested this assessment on replied: He's obviously never played the Phillies at home. Which he probably hasn't, because there are two different major baseball leagues in the US - the National and the American. (It's the playoff between the winners of these two leagues that is called the World Series.)

The Texas Rangers and the A's are in the Western Division of the American League, along with the Anaheim Angels and the Seattle Mariners. The Angels were last season's World Series winners against San Francisco Giants. The Mariners are a top-rated team, but one of their best players deserted them a couple of seasons ago for the bottom-rated Texas Rangers, lured by a multimillion dollar contract - as in $21 million in 2002.

Whenever Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) stepped up to the plate he was booed incessantly because, my baseball aficionado friend told me, he'd deserted not just the Mariners but the principles of the game, by going to the Rangers just for the money. And, she thought, Everett wasn't so much annoyed at having a cellphone thrown at him as he was at having to put up with chants of "wife beater", which I assume relates to some previous alleged or proven misdemeanour on his own part.

Lest I leave you with the impression that major league baseball is a boring sport, dominated by money, miscreants, and lack of sportsmanship, I should say that it is very much a family event. We were surrounded by children, all learning to cheer only for their own side, unless the other side did something spectacularly well. Before the game began we all stood for the national anthem, which was sung by an a capella group called the Accidentals, and a small cheer went up at the words, "land of the free".

Via the big screens, we were invited to join in audience participation exercises - designed to coincide with ad breaks, I suppose - that maximized the cheering. At the middle of the seventh innings they exhorted us to stand up and stretch and sing "Take me out to the ball game", and at that point many people chose to go home as the A's were already 10-2.

Coming into the stadium, any large bags you are carrying are searched and eskies are banned. Stalls ringed the outer edge of the stadium, selling beer (including Steinlager) and Jack Daniels in soft plastic cups, pizzas, hotdogs, ice cream, and souvenirs. It was a great place to be on a sunny spring afternoon, learning about the national pastime.

To be fair, a lot of ordinary folk think the major league has gotten way out of hand, especially when players threaten to go on strike because they're not being paid enough. You only have to compare the salary and occupational hazards of a baseball player to the salary and occupational hazards of someone in the forces in Iraq to get the picture.

Oh, and if you think I'm somewhat daft to attribute the A's win to my fascination with a plane, you should know that entire breakfast radio shows have been dedicated to finding out what local fans do to ensure their team's victory - from wearing a special pair of socks to letting the dog sleep on their bed while they watch a game on TV. Hang on, that special pair of socks thing...

PS - the Oakland Coliseum is very antipodean in its decorations. It's home to the Raiders football team, whose colours are black and silver, as well as to the A's (Oakland Athletics), whose colours are green and gold.

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