On Sadness and US Cellular Field

by ceeangi

The best and worst part about being a music fan is emotion. It allows you to feel and think and perceive things in a different light—really create an intimate soundtrack to life. So when days are happy and there is a cloudless sky, you can listen to “Victoria” by the Kinks on full-blast with the sunroof open enjoying one of the best bass lines ever written. Or you can remember where you were the first time you heard “If You See Her, Say Hello” by Bob Dylan—lying on the hood of your first love’s car when he took you for a ride late in the evening to the middle of nowhere just to be alone.

But there is also a playlist of songs that should only be listened to alone and in bed with blankets over my head. As an emotional girl, and someone who easily cries, it’s just for the best that those songs do not come on shuffle when in public—waterproof mascara is a lie. It consists mainly of Ryan Adams songs, songs ruined by men I have dated, and songs that have a general haunting quality to them. So I shouldn’t have clicked a link this morning containing “Blue Skies” by Noah and the Whale.

I am not a Noah and the Whale fan. In fact, I know absolutely nothing about them other than someone told me that one of their songs was once used on the OC or Gilmore Girls or Dawson’s Creek or some equally ridiculous television show I would have never watched had it aired even when I was the target demographic.

But against my better judgment, I put on my headphones, clicked the link and started listening to this song, which ensures me that the blue skies are someday going to come and life is someday going to get better. But the singer sort of whines that to me in this condensing emo mocking voice that makes me feel as though I am the only and loneliest person in the world.

And while the song is playing, I’m just sitting at my desk trying not to think (or cry) and trying to look busy even though there is no one around. So I am scrolling through old photos on Facebook and I am hit with an image that on a day like today (with  emotional vulnerabilities saddening my ear drums with songs about blue skies) I wish I could just un-see—US Cellular Field.

Spare me your feelings on this ballpark. Spare me your feelings on the fan base, its location in what you may consider (I do not) an undesirable neighborhood on the wrong side of the loop, and most of all spare me your lectures on the modern ballpark. The fact remains that US Cellular Field easily became home when I lived in Chicago—both places of which are no longer mine.

The photo I stumbled upon was from my last game I attended: a rainy evening against the Kansas City Royals. It is also the last game that I have in my scorebook—and there is a big scribble on one of the pages that is a heart, broken in half, with exclamation points done in pen so harshly that the pen practically tore through the page with its indents.

He drove five hours just to tell me he was in love with me and I rejected him hastily upon arrival.

We had met a few months earlier at a Tigers game…a Tigers meetup, more specifically. A good friend puts together this meetup for a group of fans from SB Nation each season, and it was convenient for me to come to Detroit for a weekend of past-times with strangers from the Internet. Plus, the White Sox were playing and Edwin Jackson was pitching, so it just seemed fateful to make the trip to see an old friend and perhaps meet some new ones.

The gentleman in question sat across the table from me and was perhaps drawn to me for several reasons, none of them sincere. First, I was one of three females. Two, I was likely the only one who was single. Three, I was trolling hard in my White Sox hat because it was sunny and I needed a face shield and a way to show off my adversarial nature.  I think instead of asking my name he actually asked for my Twitter name, which was sort of awkward when he immediately added me and read my timeline aloud.

I would equate the relationship that developed over the next three 32oz beers at Hockeytown and nine innings at Comerica to be largely misunderstood. His way of being kind involved making fun of Juan Pierre, Adam Dunn, and threatening to put chewing gum in my hair. Clearly young and inexperienced with women, his way of showing affection was treating me like we’d met on the playground in third grade. I was expecting him to punch me in the arm during Red Rover and kiss me.

During the game, I won a game-used ball from the Tigers (which might have been rigged through the powers of social media) so when the game ended I had been instructed to report to the memorabilia booth to wait for my prize, rather than walking the four blocks to the hotel bar where the partying would continue.

I said goodbye to the group and assured them I would catch up after I’d collected the ball, knowing that he would decide to wait for me. This was fine, because I wasn’t sure where the hotel was anyway and assumed he could impress me with his navigation skills. While we waited for the baseball to surface from an usher who snuck into the clubhouse to collect the ball post-game, we chatted about life.

Our interaction was me saying something, him agreeing, then discussing how perfect and exciting he found me. Everything I said was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.  When I told him about my career he acted as though it were important or meaningful (it is not). You’d think I had told him I could cure cancer and solve world hunger, but instead I had told him a little about the writing I do and the places I’d lived.

Some women want to be admired in such a fashion, but I find such adoration off-putting. No thrill of the chase when someone fawns over you so much they trip on the stairs in a ballpark because they are too busy staring at you (that happened). Some might find happiness with a man who is so smitten he does not see the flaws, but I find it boring and predictable. Men  like this want love to be like a fairy-tale more than a woman does—and they tend to jump from the beginning of the story to the last page of happily ever after. I am always terrified that one of these men will turn into the one who proposes after three dates—just because he really felt something.

When the evening ended, he had my Twitter name, but not my phone number. It eventually turned into the occasional gchat conversation, and when he mentioned that he wanted to come to Chicago for a White Sox game and a day in the city before the season ended, I told him that it sounded like a good time, and he should let me know when he was in town.

Sometimes  we all say things like that assuming no one will ever take us up on the opportunity. “Hey, we should totally get drinks sometime!” is the blow off phrase that I have used dozens of times when I hoped I would never have to see that person again—and I think that’s understood.

He asked if he could come to Chicago to use my spare White Sox/Royals ticket with me, and I told him that would be fine. The tickets were a parting gift from someone in the White Sox organization and they were amazing seats that necessitated company. Five hours later he showed up at my front door.

Is it really sane to tell someone they are welcome to drive five hours and sleep on an air mattress in your studio because hotels are expensive? Of course it’s not, but it’s a situation I created for myself and the time between when he left Detroit and when he texted to say he had parked at the elementary school across the street from my apartment, I found myself repeating over and over “You’ve made a huge mistake.”

But he did just drive the width of the mitten state and I should be hospitable.

I decided that we would walk to dinner, which happened in absolute silence except for the awkwardness of each others’ breath as we walked up a hill. I tried to make conversation that seemed appropriate like, “this place on the corner has terrible pizza,” and “here’s the bar where they have turtle races every Friday,” but he seemed too nervous to even realize that I was speaking to him. He was also covered in a sweat that would rival that of Kevin Youkilis in the on deck circle. There was a seriousness about him that I had not seen in our first interaction—he wasn’t going to be teasing me about Juan Pierre’s OPS or sticking Trident in my locks—he seemed pensive, as though he wanted to say something.

And at dinner, he finally said it. Tucked at a high top table in a mediocre bar in Lincoln Square he told me that he had called his friend on the drive to say he wouldn’t be at his birthday party that night because he had to get to Chicago to tell a girl he was in love with her.

Since awkward jackassery is my finest quality most days I looked him in the eye and asked if he’d be having drinks with that girl after we finished dinner—because hearing he had serious feelings for me seemed just as preposterous as letting someone drive five hours for a platonic baseball game. Sometimes no matter how large the red flags, it’s easier to ignore them and assume that there is an innocent intent behind every malicious one.

Telling a girl that you hardly know that you are in love with her is just not something that sane people do and I firmly believe that.  To be in love in the first place is not an act that is reasonable and to vocalize that on a second meeting is a committable offense. Could I have handled myself in a more adult-like manner rather than a joke at his expense? Absolutely. But, there’s only so much one can do to hide their general disgust for these feelings being vocalized—that were founded on absolutely nothing more than a few hours at a baseball game a few vague gchat conversations—that I found it impossible to take kindly to.

Over fish tacos and Abita I told him that I did not see him in that way. In fact, I hardly knew him at all. I cited a list of things I didn’t know about him like his middle name, his favorite childhood toy, and what kind of car he drove as though this was information one needed to make an informed decision on love. In my best “it’s not you, it’s me” attempt, I told him that I could not be the girl that he was ultimately desiring. That was I bad news. That I was a loner Dottie, a rebel. I told him my life was in a constant state of flux that was unsettling. I think I might have also told him that I just was content to be alone, because life is easier that way.

And after breaking his heart, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I took him to a baseball game. I gave him an out and told him that if he did not want to go to the game, I totally understood… but I had tickets and I did not intend to waste them. So we took the train to US Cellular Field, where it started to rain.

I gave him the opportunity to leave again (honestly, I wished that he would have because staring into his sad eyes knowing that I had upset his universe by not reciprocating his outburst of puppy love)  but he decided that we could ride out the rain delay in the bullpen bar.

We sat silently in the bullpen bar for what seemed like three hours, though the rain delay was only forty minutes. I watched the television, I counted bricks, I told stories about the night that we watched the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in this bar.

Met with one word answers, I felt remorseful for the fact that I ruined his weekend and assumed he’d be over it by Monday, realizing I was not the girl he was looking for. But the look on his face made me feel that he would have been happier working a shift at his dead-end job at a pool store than sitting in the basement of a ballpark. The fact that someone would rather be inundated with the smell of chlorine tablets than my company drove me to the bar for another drink, and left me searching my cell-phone for any neutral ally that might be at the game.

I have never been so happy to see the grounds crew remove the tarp from the field. Somehow I thought changing venues from the bar to our seats could change everything—that we’d magically have things to talk about after the first pitch, but it didn’t happen. I spent seven innings buried in my scorebook, pointing out things of significance to my seat mate, who was brooding and temperamental.

He did not care that Carlton Fisk wore #27 with the Red Sox and its inverse with the White Sox. I pointed to the spot where Scott Podsednik hit a home run in 2005 World Series and he liked me even less. My  olive branch offering of nachos served in a plastic helmet  was not only rejected, but spawned a judgmental conversation about ingesting carbs and processed cheese.

I have never been so unhappy to be in a ballpark before for reasons much bigger than him. I had just finished graduate school and I knew that I would be leaving Chicago if I could not find a job there. With the season coming to a close, my discomfort shifted from the awkward date I’d somehow inadvertently created for myself to the fact that the ballpark I had called home for the last three years would be changing to a ballpark I saw once a season at best.

There is a montage of US Cellular field that plays in my head. There’s a rotating cast in my favorite black uniform tops and pinstripe pants, and songs playing in my head, most of them at-bat music like Gordon Beckham’s interesting choice of “Your Love” by the Outfield. Scenes include:

My first game was on a weeknight I attended with a classmate on a whim after mentioning our professor looked like Hawk Harrelson.

Tailgates, fireworks, and first kisses.

A game with a stranger who is now one of my best friends and seatmate for countless games thereafter.

The Frank Thomas statute dedication.

Missing Mark Buerhle’s perfect game because of a work commitment.

Making cup pyramids on the patio during the 2-hour unlimited food/drink pre-game celebrations with good friends.

The Fan Fest day where I sprinted towards the outfield wall full-speed and jumped to catch an imaginary ball before it jumped over the fence.

Watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup on the Jumbotron.

Days alone in the Upper Level with nothing but a scorebook and journal taking notes on the game I loved so much.

The game where the White Sox were destroyed by the Yankees, messing up my scorebook twice when they batted around.

And then the montage fades and I’m left sitting in the rain with someone whose feelings I have hurt and I am watching Southpaw run on the field in his rain jacket. While the mascot does joyous cartwheels and splashes in puddles, I have a stomach ache from too much beer and memories.

I excuse myself from our seats and I walk up to the concourse, and I stand against the railing filling in boxes of my scorebook, hoping it brings clarity. I watch him in his seat, sitting alone, and I draw a picture of a heart broken in two on the upper right hand corner of my page, so I have a way to remember in which game it was exactly that I felt like a horrible person for not reciprocating feelings to a guy that I’m sure really is wonderful, but just isn’t for me.

I tuck the book into my messenger bag and pace back and forth between the Italian sausage stand and Dippin’ Dots, wondering what I can do about everything. What can I do to make the Tigers fan happy, what can I do about staying in Chicago, what can I do to make the rain stop, and what can I do to enjoy my last game at the ballpark that quickly became home and the frame of reference for which all spring and summertime decisions had been based on for three years.

I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I walked to my favorite spot in the ballpark, sat down in an available seat and snapped a photo, which is the one I saw this morning. I sat there for two innings with my feet propped up on the arms of the seat in front of me, curled into the baseball seat fetal position, in the light rain realizing that all of the things I had wanted were right in front of me (the city, the ballpark, and a boy) and once again, I messed them all up.

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