It Was Invevitable

May 24, 2011

Just as the sun rises and sets, the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, and the idiot in the mini-van sitting at the green light is on a cell phone, some things are inevitable. That some things are always thus and so brings sense to our chaotic world. Those constants balance the great unknown random nature of our lives giving us a sense of order if at times it is in reality only a mere illusion. Thank heavens sometimes you just know what is going to happen next.

So it was on a balmy Georgia evening that we struck out on an excursion to Atlanta’s Turner Field to watch our Braves baseball team do battle. We lost that night, but that’s neither here nor there. We sat in the lower deck at first base, seats perfect to view the event. I sat next to my wife, who sat next to our daughter, who sat next to her boyfriend. We watched the score go back and forth as the evening progressed. They call baseball the “great American pastime”. I think that “they” are quite correct.

Turner Field is my favorite place to watch a baseball game. I have watched baseball in other venues, but nothing has the same intimate feel of Turner Field. It was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics with a capacity of just over 50,000. It’s not a huge stadium, nor is it a small one, but for me is perfectly sized. The sense of intimacy may be due to how it’s built, but I think it’s more about how games are presented. While I suspect that things are pretty much the same way everywhere, I notice real differences here in the South. For one thing, when folks up North break out the umbrellas it means the rain is beginning to pour. Down here it’s just as likely to be sunny and ninety-five. Up North folks worship the sun, down here we tolerate and survive it. Umbrellas are just as much for sunny days.

Weather besides, and again maybe it’s no different here than anywhere else, but games have a real friendly family atmosphere. It’s not only a matter of Southern hospitality or politeness, but a certain gentility. Understand that I’m not saying that it’s lacking anywhere else, it’s just that here it is so obvious. With that as a basis, so much of what happens beyond the game itself only adds to the intimate feeling of the venue. Central to the fun is the JumboTron. These days all stadiums have JumboTrons. It is essential to offer entertainment above and beyond the game itself to fill in what can be relatively long gaps in the action. There are always extended periods of “dead air” that need to be filled by more than just the ubiquitous organ player playing the theme to “The Addams Family”. So, and again I suppose it’s the same here as everywhere else, but we have fun with the JumboTron. We see on the big screen folks just like us who have their moment in the sun for a brief moment, or, who have the hell embarrassed out of them. There are fun games like the Home Depot tool race and putting couples up on the big screen and not letting them off the hook until they smooch. One of my favorites is when they find folks in the audience who look like celebrities or famous people and supply the appropriate caption. There’s all kinds of hijinx and tomfoolery and it’s all done in the spirit of fun. The audience really becomes part of the game, and maybe this is a bit dramatic, but there is a strong sense of humanity and a feeling of what is good about the world. Folks at peace and having fun. It’s kind of the A Plan.

At any rate, there the four of us were munching on hotdogs watching our Braves get throttled. With things headed well south there were lots of pitching changes with the associated downtime while the new pitcher warmed up. That’s exactly when the center field JumboTron can be a real crowd-pleaser. On this particular evening we were in for a treat. And what a Jumbotron. At 71 feet by 79 feet it was once in the Guiness Book of World Records. Beyond it’s gargantuan size, whoever ran the cameras and coordinates that aspect of the event was really on top of his game that evening, even if the Braves weren’t. The Jumbotron wizard was in rare form. He (I’ll assume it was a “he”) found someone who looked just like Santa, panning to Gerald Ford, and then sweeping across the field to Abraham Lincoln. Around here finding folks who look like Jimmy Carter is like shooting fish in a barrel. Lots of folks look like Jimmy Carter in Georgia and would have been no challenge at all. Heck, he had couples smooching who hadn’t smooched for years. He had folks dancing in the aisles. And better yet, whoever was making the calls had a keen eye for finding families from all walks of life who were just downright happy to be there making one and all just downright happy to be there as well. And then, just as play was about to resume, he hit paydirt.

As the players moved into position for play the camera settled on a mother and son. As the camera zoomed in, their image larger than any screen idol had ever been, the screen was filled by the image of a beautiful Southern woman, a shining beacon of motherhood. Bouncing on her knee was her too-cute-for-words toe-headed son who was maybe all of four years old. Norman Rockwell would been up like a shot and running for his sketch pad to capture the moment. It was pure Americana. It was the kind of scene that makes one feel good about things and believe that all is well and that maybe there is a future. The scene on display was sheer propaganda for the goodness of the human race. As it turned out it was to be more than that.

Andy Warhol coined the term “fifteen minutes of fame”. Whether we will each have that fifteen minutes is very much in doubt, but, this young lad at his mother’s side was going to have his fifteen seconds. As the camera zoomed in further, and the mother realized that they were on screen, she beamed a huge smile. Unbeknownst to her another event was unfolding just below her. Just like that rising and setting sun, and those swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, what was to happen next was inevitable. I have to think that most of the 51,000 folks in the stadium also knew what was going to happen next. The only person in the stadium who most certainly didn’t know was that little toe-headed boy’s mother, I can assure you of that.

So, as the camera zoomed in even further, mother and son filing the screen, that little boy extended the first finger of his right hand. With that finger fully extended it began a beeline course, just like those swallows heading back to San Juan, straight for his right nostril. Mom, still beaming into the camera, had no inkling that a finger/nose docking maneuver was under way and was imminent. She might have sensed it coming. Just before his digit found its target a sudden hush had fallen over the crowd. It was almost as if we were willing that finger upward, holding our breath. It really wasn’t necessary. As I have said, some things are inevitable.

When that finger finally found home the stadium erupted into a roar of applause and cheers the likes of which I have never heard before. It was at that point that mom figured that something might be amiss. The smile on her face faltered. As her instincts kicked in she looked down at her son, his finger firmly implanted in nose. The look on her face had changed from one of pure glee to one of absolute horror. And just to make sure everyone knew what the score was the boy gave his finger, nostril bulging, a good wiggle. With that wiggle the roar of the crowd rose to epic proportions. With the genie out of the bottle all mom was left to do was to reach down and pluck her son’s finger from his nose. Then, as she looked back up in the camera, and I’m sure that many might have been feeling for her, especially the mothers, the look of horror melted away and she broke out into a fit of unbridled laughter. We weren’t laughing at anyone, but all together, 51,000 of us, were celebrating the wonderful innocent act of a little boy who was at a time and place where we had all been before. It was a celebration of the human condition, one to which we could all relate. How amazing that a finger in a nostril could be the source of such a strong human bond. The moment over, the camera moved on.

So, that little boy and his mother had their fifteen seconds of fame. I suspect that they may well have their remaining fourteen minutes and forty-five some time down the road. Sometimes you can just tell.

After that the fireworks that followed the game were a letdown, but, life was good.

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