I have never had an experience like it, ever.
Trying to find a way to describe it, to capture it, is a writer’s challenge, one I’m struggling with a little bit.
Last night I was one of the 40,000 plus fans at Nationals Park for the final game of the best-of-five National League Divisional Series – that is, the baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I was thinking about the best rock concerts I have been to, how they become symbiotic waves of energy – the band pumping energy out into the crowd, the crowd feeding off of it and adding to it, giving it back to the band. The energy climbs up, up, up. It climbs and then circles back and climbs again. But everyone knows how it will end, the band will play what they are going to play and then it’s over. There’s no worry about the outcome.
A sporting match is fundamentally different because the outcome is unknown. So the energy and noise last night responded to play in this mix of steadily rising waves, arching electric moments, plummeting crashes and lulls of exhaustion.
The game began at 8 pm. It was chilly from the beginning and got colder as we went. The weather made this really feel like October baseball – which is a special thing in its own right. If your team is still playing on 13 October, they’ve had a good season.
So I was moving to keep warm.
And I was yelling, roaring, clapping, whistling – just making human noise. Most people around me were also making human noise. Not constantly but steadily. Some was choreographed – with the big signs encouraging noise and prompting chants of “Let’s Go Nats!” But mostly it was just raw noise.
At a game, when I’m really on it, and locked in, I’m almost mindless or I guess mindful. My mind is full of the game. I’m just watching and not thinking much about anything else. Intense as my gaze is I’m not recording the details but just watching the play and feeling my responses to it.
So I can’t now detail the game accurately without notes but I know we got a run early, and that our pitcher, Max Scherzer, held them scoreless over many quick innings. I know we should have scored more and had the opportunities to do so. I know that they got on the board with a solo home run in the 7th and the manager pulled Max and then the Dodgers piled on some more runs – I think it was 4-1 by the time we batted again. They brought in their closer in the 7th. In the 8th we brought in ours. In the bottom of that inning we scored two runs. In the 9th we got two runners on with one out. They brought in their ace, Kershaw, and he faced our best hitter, Murphy. They pitched to him, rather than walking him intentionally, and got the better of him. He popped out, not deep into the at-bat – this was not the mid-season Murphy. All that stood between us and oblivion was Wilmer Difo. He’s a rookie, just 60 some MLB games all up. But he’s a professional baseball player so he could have done it, could have put the ball into the outfield, to tie the game, but he didn’t.
And all through this the waves of human noise, and the rising and falling of emotion and energy. Maybe it’s me projecting my own feelings onto to the world around me or maybe I am really describing the energy in this park. I don’t know – all I can say is this was my experience.
It was so unlike a rock gig but still all I can compare it to – the rising and falling of the energy and noise was driven by unscripted and not-entirely predictable human actions and reactions. The pitch, the swing, the umpire’s judgement. Dusty’s decision to pull Max. The Third Base coach’s decision to send Werth, who was then out at the plate. A diving catch by Trea Turner. The hopes that rose when Murphy came to bat in the bottom of the 9th – even though they had brought in Kershaw. This was arguably the best batter in the league facing the best pitcher for the chance to play on. That both had recently been out injured added to the thing.
You could almost feel the vacuum, the air rushing out of the stadium, at the worst moments – Werth called out at the plate, Max giving up the homerun, and, of course, the final out.
Everyone has their thing, their own thing in this space. That too is how it’s different from a gig – at a gig you are more cohesive as an audience, the audience becomes its own entity in the same way the musicians on the stage become a band. In the best of these gigs it’s a dance of two partners – band and audience.
But at the ballpark – while we were all in it together and together we created these crashing waves of noise and energy, it is more the conglomeration of 40,000 individual reactions. We each have our own animal way of engaging with and responding to what’s happening. Your willingness to roar and how you roar, its pitch and tenor, the length. And a game like this which was both win or go home and an amazing game in its own right – it would have been a great game at midseason – people are willing to roar and clap and whistle and just make human noise.
Towards the end I was making noise between pitches but during at bats I went very still, I breathed evenly and with attention, I stared at the relevant Nationals player – be it pitcher or batter. Here my friend Atif accused me of praying, which, of course I wasn’t – I was willing, I was giving – sending my energy to the players to be calm and focused and to be successful.
I guess the only difference between what he accused me of and what I was doing was the belief in a deity. I have no deity but I was trying to direct my energy, my calm, and concentration toward my players, to add to their own and make their job easier. I would not have thought that’s how I would finish the day but it was.
And then it was over. I sat for a moment and breathed and felt my shoulders slump and my head drop. Other fans began shuffling past. Everyone in their own pocket of disappointment. It was suddenly very late and it seemed like the tired and cold had caught up with us all. It was just shy of 1 am and the Nationals’ season was over.