My Blog title comes from the lyrics of an American classic song from 1908 called “Take Me Out to the Ball Game“. This Broadway Tin Pan Alley song by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer has become the official anthem of North American baseball, although neither of its authors had attended a game prior to writing the song. Tilzer was born Albert Gumm, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His parents, Sarah (Tilzer) and Jacob Gumbinsky, were Polish Jewish immigrants. He also wrote another American classic song “(I’ll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time” and went on to have a distinguished career in music.
The song’s chorus is traditionally sung during the middle of the seventh inning of a baseball game. Fans are generally encouraged to sing along, and at most ballparks, the words “home team” are replaced with the home team’s name.
Cracker Jacks for those not old enough to remember is an American brand of snack food, well known for being packaged with a prize of trivial value inside. Some food historians consider it the first junk food and because of this song it is forever connected to baseball.
Since 2005, for fifteen years in a row No More Secrets (NMS) has gone to a Seattle Mariners Baseball game the last Sunday in July. This year we were supposed to see the M’s versus the Toronto Blue Jays. The start time is always 1:05pm. Every year my wife and I attend this game with between 40 and 80 people connected to NMS folks: men, women, children, grandparents, extended family, and friends. For the past fourteen years we sat behind home plate in the upper deck. Our first year we sat in the NON-Alcohol section in far-left field. My concerns around alcohol proved to be unfounded. Altogether we have had over 500 different people attend.
Historically for the week preceding our outing I’m on the phone constantly, getting calls of commitment even though the announcement about our game was put out months before. It seems that addicts love to wait for the last minute before deciding and even then, we will have ten no shows, six show up unannounced, and five show up late, leaving me to walk to the will call window. One of the life skills I like to encourage is “mean what you say and say what you mean,” but it is a struggle, especially for the young guys who have never been partnered or are not dads.
Every year we have at least thirty first timers who really do not want to be there. Their first reason is that they do not like baseball and in fact that is true. It has been my experience that sex and love addict men are a different kind of man then say the Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous men. Our men for the most part never played sports as boys or in school. They have extraordinarily little interest in traditional team sports or even the outdoors. The men who have done sports gravitate to individual sports like tennis, swimming, biking, golfing, or playing video games. Team sports are and were for most NMS’ as kids, a non-starter. I would guess maybe 10 to 15% tops were ever connected to any traditional sport or today as adults even read a sports section. Too much testosterone and too challenging, period. This strand of who they are also shows up in August at our annual softball/picnic when it comes to trying to swing a bat or catch a ball. The fear is often palpable.
Due to this almost visceral aversion to professional sports, I must convince them that this event is about connecting with people in recovery and has very little to do with the game itself. As a result, people throughout the course of the game are constantly switching seats and taking walks. For many it’s the first time in their life that they ever attended a pro sporting event. In the end they cannot even tell you who won or if it had any real meaning and yet it has been a great experience of stretching beyond their comfort zone.
I usually spent hours in the days leading up to the event planning a seating chart. I am constantly trying to sit people with their personal support system close to them. I seat parents of young children with other parents with kids. Single men with single men and so forth. It is a challenge, but I think it will help define their experience. Between my general excitement and concerns I do not usually get a good night sleep that day; my internal thought is NO BIG DEAL, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
My trooper of a wife and I always drive down to the stadium area early enough to get our Starbucks and relax for a minute. Breathing is important. Then we walk the four blocks to the NW corner of the stadium where there is a huge three- dimensional -stainless steel baseball glove where we stand and greet our crew, hand out tickets and collect money. It has the taste and feel of an old school dope deal exchanging goods for money on a street corner. In the middle of all this I am taking photos of everyone as they arrive to be kept in an NMS album for everyone to see. It’s a very hectic hour.
I historically do not get to my seat until the second inning. My seat is always in the last of our rows on the end so I can get up and visit with folks and continue taking pictures. Somewhere in the middle of it all I try to actually watch the game. As a perk for buying a group package the team’s management will display a welcome on the big stadium TV screen so in the seventh inning we wait, and there displayed in big letters it says welcome NMS. No one watching knows but us, it’s kind of cool, like an inside joke.
By the end of the fifth inning people start to leave. Parents with cranky kids are usually first. Only the baseball diehards and those lost in deep recovery conversations usually stay to the end. The feedback over the next week is always the same, we had a great time and maybe the M’s won but not usually.
All that is but a memory today as COVID19 has claimed another piece of life, as mundane as this loss is compared to the loss of nearly 150,000 lives in the country. One day we all can pray life will get back to normal, but for now zoom and the phone is the best we can do. Baseball is finally back this week but with new restrictions and zero fans in the stands. Incredibly sad indeed. This will be the first year of my life that I do not see a New York Yankee baseball game in person.
If the isolation and this powerful dis/ease is getting to you feel free to contact me. And remember MISERY IS OPTIONAL!