I can't go back now. I can't go back to eavesdropping on a guy's cell phone conversation from three sections over. I can't go back to being out-numbered 8 to 1 by Mets fans; to feeling bad for the Marlins Mermaids gyrating on top of the dugout for one drunk guy with a digital camera. I can't go back to Dolphin Stadium for a Major League Baseball game and pretend that the experience isn't a complete joke. I've been to Yankees-Red Sox in Fenway. I was at the World Series in '97 and '03, and none of those was half has much fun as last night's Puerto Rico-Venezuela non-elimination game in the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
Just in my section and the two next to me, I counted 17 percussion instruments and one bullhorn, owned by a Puerto Rican fan three rows down from me who spent the first two innings doing (off)-color commentary that put ESPN's Rick Sutcliffe to shame. (Not that he shouldn't be ashamed already...) I counted three Venezuelan girls in bikini's that made me want to defect on the next plane to Caracas. I counted eight state troopers who tried to get a 10-piece band of high school kids pained yellow, blue and red to sit down so the fans behind them could see, and when they respectfully complied, the Puerto Rican fan beside us yelled, "La Policia estan mi gente!" Though as soon as the cops left, the fans were back on their feet.
At less than half-capacity (25,559), the stadium was louder than a
Dolphins playoff game, with most of the noise emanating from the
heavily-dominant Venezuelans chanting, "Uno, dos, tres!" and
"Heeeeyyyy, Ven-ez-uela, Ooh!" Thirty minutes after K-Rod got Jose
Feliciano to ground out to second, the concrete sprial walkways at Gate
F were overflowing with fans, and the chants were still deafening from
500 yards away.
But unlike that supposedly great rivalry between
New York and Boston, there was no ill-will between fans. Plenty of
bravado and smack talk was traded throughout the game, but all of it
with a smile and a wink. One guy even yelled "Fuck Venezuela"
repeatedly and the Venezuelans just laughed. A drunk Puerto Rican fan
called me a stupid gringo for cheering for Venezuela and then hugged
But the iconic moment happened after Venezuelan catcher
Ramon Hernandez hit a long line drive that either bounced off the
corner of the wall in left-center for a triple or off the folded seats
behind it for a homerun. The umpires conferred, and then disappeared
into the tunnel to make a ruling based on video evidence. (And as I
read this morning, saw nothing because Dolphin Stadium's New York feed
was broken. Are we bush-league or what?) As the players stood around
and one minute turned into ten, the crowd grew into a version of quiet
I'd never heard before at a baseball game in Miami, a noisy quiet, the
inaudible grinding of kinetic energy being stored. I began to feel like
I was waiting for election results, for some kind of Biblical truth to
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descend from Mount Selig, not usually a fountain of ecstasy, but when
the Ump finally emerged and twirled his index finger above his head,
that's exactly what ensued.
I hope Jeffrey Loria and David Sampson were watching.