Two weekends ago, J and I went to a sunny Sunday ballgame at Fenway Park, where we saw the Boston Red Sox beat the Atlanta Braves, 9 to 4. It was a perfect day to catch a game at Fenway: hot and sunny with low humidity, the sky offering only an occasional spot of shade from a passing puff of cloud.
The last time we’d caught a game between the Sox and Braves was in 2009, when we traveled to Atlanta to see three sun-soaked games. (You can see photo-sets from those games here, here, and here.) In my two blog posts about those three Hotlanta games, I talked about how interesting it is to watch other spectators watching a ballgame. At any given sports event, there’s action on the field and action in the stands…and at any given sporting event, the action in the stands is often just as interesting as the actual game being played.
At that sunny Sunday ballgame two weekends ago, J and I sat in the outfield bleachers, with a panoramic view of action. One of the most exciting highlights of the afternoon, however, happened behind us when a guy proposed to his girlfriend, hiding a (boxed) engagement ring in their shared bag of popcorn. “Collective effervescence” is the term sociologist Émile Durkheim used to refer to the charged emotional energy shared by participants in a communal experience, and collective effervescence is as good a term as any to describe the buzz in our section of the bleachers as word spread that yes, that happy, relieved-looking young man in a Red Sox jersey had just proposed to that happy, glowing girl in a Braves jersey…and she said yes.
Collective effervescence is also a good term to describe the moment late in the game when fan-favorite Kevin Youkilis ground out a triple and was replaced by a pinch-runner on third base. Rumor already had it that Youkilis was going to be traded, so fans knew that when Youk was taken out of the game, this would be a final farewell. The walls of Fenway Park all but shook with a thunderous ovation as fans bellowed “YOOOOOOOUUUUUUK” from the bottom of their bellies, making it clear that the decision to ship Youk to the Chicago White Sox was made by the management, not the fans. Youk will return to Fenway in his new uniform when the White Sox play the Red Sox later this month, and I’m confident that fans in attendance will welcome him as warmly as we sent him off two weeks ago.
Did I mention that the Red Sox beat the Braves, 9 to 4? The win was almost an afterthought: happy icing on a collectively effervescent cake. On a sunny Sunday, it feels nice simply to sit outside with other folks enjoying a beer, some popcorn, and a leisurely game. At any sporting event, there’s the action on the field and the action in the stands, at at the end of the day, both kinds of action are pretty enjoyable to watch, regardless of who wins. On that hot and sunny Sunday, even if the ballplayers hadn’t shown up, I suspect those of us in the outfield bleachers would have found some reason to cheer.