Guest Commentary

Sarah Donohoe: You can’t beat baseball’s traditions

The Royals grounds crew prepares Kauffman Stadium for the World Series.
The Royals grounds crew prepares Kauffman Stadium for the World Series. The Kansas City Star

A 15-year-old informed me recently that nobody wears a ball cap anymore, and she would be horrified to be seen sporting one, especially with the bill facing forward. This teen obviously hasn’t been to a hot dog, Cracker Jack and Star-Spangled Banner baseball game recently. I have.

Until two months ago, when I moved to the Kansas City area, my team loyalties were lavished elsewhere. Now that I’m here, with the Royals in the World Series after a 29-year hiatus, the sports pages and water fountains awash in blue and broadcasters becoming more animated with every game they call, I had to check out the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium and ball club therein. What I found is this:

People at baseball games wear ball caps—bills forward. And tennis shoes. They sing the national anthem exactly as it was written with no wardrobe malfunctions, scrambled words or convoluted chords. Before the song begins, they stand tall, remove their hats and place their hands over their hearts. As a spectator inside Kauffman Stadium with waterfalls framing the flag flying high, I felt proud to be an American, at an American sport, with plain-folk Americans out for an evening of wholesome, all-American, family fun.

The game of baseball has a way of stirring patriotism in one’s soul. It is a clean-cut sport, with the athletes wearing nice-fitting uniforms and patting each other on the backside rather than trying to knock each other over with the brute force of an angry bull. When a double play is successfully executed, the fans cheer with hearty but controlled enthusiasm, and when the umpire calls “ball” when he should call “strike,” we don’t hear lewd obscenities from a drunk in the bleachers two rows behind us. The baseball crowd is laid back, clapping in rhythm to the organ music (which is piped in over loudspeakers when it should be live) and calling out to the batter as if he is the next-door neighbor, “C’mon, Gordo! Bring ’em home!”

The atmosphere inside a baseball stadium has changed since I went to my first game at Wrigley Field 43 years ago. There are electric signs flashing so bright we can’t look at them directly without going blind temporarily. The scoreboard is digitized, and too much rock music blares between batters up, drowning out the happy hum of baseball enthusiasts in the stands.

But some changes have been aesthetic upgrades: At Denver’s Coors Field one row of purple seats, a visual ribbon encircling the entire stadium, marks exactly one mile above sea level. At Baltimore’s Camden Yards, rows of dark green seats are punctuated by two orange ones, marking the spot where Eddie Murray’s 500th home run landed and where shortstop Cal Ripken’s 278th home run bounced, breaking the record previously held by Chicago Cubs’ Ernie Banks. At the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium we admire its rising crown, tumbling waterfalls, and Fireworks Fridays.

In the words of the late, great announcer Harry Caray, “It’s a bee-yooo-tiful day for baseball.” And a ballpark is a beautiful place to be an American. At every game across our homeland, the crowd still stands to sing, “Take me out to the ball game” during the seventh-inning stretch and you can’t beat that for tradition. Best of all, young kids still bring their ball gloves into the stadium, ready to catch a foul ball — or better yet a home run — if one should happen their way. The unspoiled hope of youth, the innocent expectation that when something good comes their way they’re going to be ready for it, embodies the hope of our country. That’s what baseball is to America. Hope.

New Lenexa resident Sarah Donohoe writes a weekly, slice-of-life column for the Estes Park (Colo.) News called The Thunker.