It was an average Thursday night. The crowd waiting to get into Truist Park was a biblical mass. There were too many people to comprehend.
Everyone was sweating through their undergarments. The smell of human armpit odor was in the air.
It was a sold-out game. Forty-odd thousand baseball fans stood waiting for the sacred gates to open. There wasn’t a frown in the bunch. Almost everyone in this crowd was cheerful.
That’s baseball for you.
At its heart baseball has always been about fun. Plain and simple. At ballgames, most people are glad to be there.
You’ll see kids in jerseys, laughing with each other. Mothers smiling, bouncing babies on hips. Old men with bright eyes, wearing leather mitts that predate the Eisenhower presidency, telling stories about “the Say Hey Kid” and “Hammerin’ Hank” to their grandchildren.
And that’s the beauty of this game. It is one of the only American institutions remaining wherein people of different persuasions, ages and creeds can find a common bond, and boo in unison at the same umpire.
A place where all God’s children can come together and pay $18 for a beer.
That’s probably why I love the game so much. Because there are no divisions in a ballpark. Here, you’ll see all cultures. All classes. All kinds.
Guys who drive Peterbilts brush shoulders with men who drive Range Rovers. Bankers and attorneys stand alongside millworkers and pipe fitters and cheer for the same home run.
A home run which was launched by a 24-year-old Afro-Dominican who earns more money per fiscal year than Pope Francis.
The gates opened.
Children in line started vibrating with enthusiasm. Parents hoisted toddlers onto shoulders. And the throngs began moving toward the City of Joy.
Truist Park, 10 miles north of Atlanta. A 1.1-billion-dollar ballpark and real-estate development that makes Disney World look like a trip to the gastroenterologist. This place is nothing but a fun zone.
Even the guy scanning tickets was having fun. He scanned my ticket and said, “You ready to kick butt tonight, boss?”
“I’m ready to win,” I said.
“That’s my man,” he shouted.
Then he high-fived me.
It was a firm, strong high-five. The kind that you remember for several minutes thereafter.
In real life, you don’t get many high-fives. But you get them in ballparks.
My first beer of the evening was purchased from a vendor who carried a heavy ice chest over his head.
“ICE COOOLD BEEEER!” he shouted to each passerby.
I asked how he liked his job.
“Man, I walk eight to ten miles every game. I run up bleachers all night until my legs burn. I work like a mule. But people are so generous. They tip me better than any job I ever had. I’ll make more money this week than I made all month last year. I love it here. You don’t meet any sad people at a baseball game.”
And he was right. I was looking around and I didn’t find a single long face.
So it was an all-around great night. But frankly I don’t remember much about the game. Not because I don’t love the Braves. I do.
I’ve been rooting for the Bravos since I was a young guy and the Superstation broadcast their games for free.
I loved Dale Murphy, I remember the Sid Bream slide, the 78-pitch game thrown by Greg Maddux, and I recall with fondness almost every time coach Bobby Cox threatened an umpire.
But the reason tonight’s game was so good has nothing to do with nostalgia. Not for me. Tonight’s ballgame was a great experience because I rarely see so many joyous people in one place.
There was the “Kiss Cam,” when the jumbotron showed images of random people in the ballpark kissing.
There was the booty-shaking contest, when my wife and I bounced our hindparts together, high in the bleachers, along with thousands of others who danced to Bill Haley and his Comets singing “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
There were the crummy hotdogs. The overcooked hamburgers. The stale French fries. The tasteless nachos, served in a plastic batting helmet.
And there was the height of the evening.
It happened during the seventh-inning stretch. And it happens at every Braves game.
This anomalous event occurs when 42,000 stand to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
These are ordinary humans. People who disagree on virtually everything within our society. These are people who would rather eat dirt than find common ground.
But tonight, the entire stadium took to their feet, cheered and made music together. Everyone hollered. Everyone knew the lyrics.
Some raised plastic cups into the air as they sang. Little girls sat on the shoulders of old men. Teenage boys bellowed alongside their dads. Strangers high-fived hard enough to break their wrists.
And for a very brief moment on an average Thursday night, everything was okay in America.
And well. That’s baseball for you.