At Dodger Stadium
You attend a baseball game once-a-year. You don’t follow the sport or the players. Long ago, when you were a boy, you were a true fan who knew all the statistics and the nicknames, the characters and the storylines. These days, you’re only vaguely aware of who’s starting for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even less aware of who’s playing for the other guys. You have no investment in the outcome of the contest, financial or otherwise.
You go for the spectacle, the grand circus of light and sound and motion, the hordes of humans swathed in blue and white. The players: beautiful in their graceful power. The field: radiating chlorophyll. The night sky: endless yet intimate. The air: redolent of grilled onions and cooked meat. Dodger Stadium itself: an elegant dowager confidently reassured by her place in history.
Being there is a pleasure, a constant offering of sensual enticements.
Except for the advertisements.
Well, not everywhere. The players are not yet stickered with corporate logos, like NASCAR racers.
But almost every place a perspicacious marketer could hawk his goods is now “sponsored,” “branded” or “supported” by those with something to sell. The outfield wall. The scoreboard. The loge-level party boxes. The foul poles.
Yes, the foul poles. If you should chance to look at the gleaming yellow spires towering from the left- and right-field corners – and it’s sort of hard not to throughout the game – you’ll be reminded to Fly a Certain Airline. The message is affixed to a stiff banner that extends a foot-or-two off the pole into fair territory. If, say, Justin Turner or Corey Seager launched a fly ball toward the bleachers and the foul-line and the ball stayed just fair it would collide with the airline advertisement, simultaneously scoring a Home Run and a grand slam of value-added product placement.
We like to tell ourselves that Major League Baseball is “America’s national pastime,” an entertaining exhibition of grown men playing a child’s game. Maybe that’s right. For what could be more American than treating every person in attendance as a potential customer?
At the ballpark, our national urge to consume – whether pig innards served as “Dodger Dogs” or an international airline served as an umpiring tool – is reinforced with every pitch and at every interregnum in the action. Not participating in the commercial charade is only slightly less patriotic than neglecting to stand and applaud for the “Military Hero of the Game.” Few can say exactly why our brave soldiers are currently in Afghanistan or Iraq, but we all know intuitively that their sacrifices make our freedom to purchase stuff possible.
And to Fly a Certain Airline the next time we travel to the Middle East, preferably on non-war-related business.
When you make your annual sojourn to the stadium, you’re reminded at every turn how heartlessly mercenary the sport has become. This brilliant pitcher earns many millions of dollars, and that slugger earn many millions more, and, yet, in the curious mathematics of modern capitalism, they’re probably underpaid. Absent the coddled players, without their numbered presence and exalted skills, most of us probably wouldn’t pay to come to a place where our entire purpose is to cheer on cue and buy whatever’s being sold, whether $6 water, $15 beer or the comforting fiction that our cherished athletic competitions somehow transcend the tacky American imperative to make a profit.