The Core of American Life

Just a couple of weeks ago my American friend AZ suggested we should go to a Pirates game. At first, the idea didn’t appeal to me. “The sport is like rocket science to me,” I said. “I don’t know how to watch a baseball game.”

This is true. My American friends have tried to teach me the sport a dozen times. They drew a diamond on the ground and pointed at the bases; they played baseball video games with me; they shouted and flung their arms as they watched games on TV. But none of the tactics worked. My mind just couldn’t fathom the intricate rules.

The French-born cultural historian Jacques Barzun once said that if you want to know the heart and mind of America, you must first understand baseball. I can’t agree more. Flipping the pages of my old notebook of English vocabulary, I remembered I actually have learned quite a few phrases originated from baseball: to hit a home run, out of the ballpark, big leagues, swing and miss, touch base, strike out…. Not until I lived in America as a student did I realize that Hollywood isn’t an accurate representation of American life; the soul of American entertainment is sports.

Before I came to Pittsburgh, my American friends already gave me a pre-cultural shock warning about the Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and of course, the less-glorified Pirates. I thought, “What? The whole city is just about these three sports teams? What about the climate? What about the people? What about the food? (Coming from a gourmet metropolis in Guangzhou China, food is essential to me.)” No, no, the well known seven courses in Pittsburgh are an Iron City six-pack and a Primanti Bros. sandwich.

Since I am not a sports buff, I was a bit apprehensive going to the ballpark. I was afraid I would sit silently through the game like an Egyptian mummy. Well, it turned out I enjoyed sitting in the grandstand inside PNC Park on a rainy night. The ballpark was illuminated beautifully by the floodlights. The huge screen was showing the good old days of Pirates’ last World Series in the 1979.

Due to the bad weather, the game against the San Francisco Giants was three hours late and started after we had left the ballpark. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to make use of the rain check, a new baseball idiom I learned.

But I did have a good evening in the ballpark. I appreciated feeling the breeze in the open air, listening to the old Pirates games and watching the magnificent skyline of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle in the rain. I guess that is why the Pirates still have so many loyal fans waiting in the rain: it’s not about competition but participation.


Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America