The Joys of Heckling or Being a Jackass in Public and Getting Away With It

Posted on August 6, 2011

I played baseball as a child for years.  Well, not baseball, actually, softball.  They’re different in many important respects (the good athletes play baseball, the slouches play softball) but identical in one important way:  they are both hopelessly boring to watch and play, unless you are the pitcher or the batter.  Baseball’s popularity is almost impossible to account for, in that most of the players spend literally 99% of the game standing around doing utterly nothing.  And – I should be clear – not standing around waiting for something to happen, like in soccer if you’re a defender and the ball is in the offensive zone.  No.  Standing around doing nothing.  With no possibility of exerting any influence whatsoever over the course of the game.  The pitcher is scratching himself.  The ball is hit into the stands.  The catcher is tying his shoe.  The batter calls timeout to adjust hist stance.  Really.

So what can explain the phenomenon?  Because you spend so much time just standing around, alone with your thoughts, you have considerable time to stew and go mad.  Man being an inherently social creature he cannot help but communicate, even when there is nothing to be communicated.  We wither under silence.  We can’t handle it.  We must affirm our existence and declare it to others.  Unacknowledged we cease to exist.  Let’s ditch the metaphysics:  baseball is the perfect sport for talking junk, so talk baseball players do.  And so I did, when I was a baseball player.  I had nothing else to do so I filled the air with encouragement for my team mates, with the odd little slight of the opposing team.  Nothing serious, though, since I was eleven years old.  I think one of the principal appeals of the sport is the opportunity for both fans and players to run their mouths.

Fast forward many years.  I found myself this past weekend at an Intercounty Baseball League game between the Ottawa Fat Cats and the London Majors.  It was time to talk.  The difference?  This time I was an adult, and I was free to use my powers not to encourage the home side but to devastate the visitors.  Have at thee, London.

To my mind one of the great purposes of spectator sports is to afford one the opportunity to act like a loud mouthed jackass.  Moreover, in my view, it is the obligation of the home fans to make the visiting experience hellacious.  That is what home field advantage is all about, but it can make attending sporting events with non-sports folk a little awkward.  We settled behind the visiting dugout at my urging, stood for the anthem, and hunkered down for some peaceful entertainment.  Seconds before the first pitch I screamed:  “You’re BRUTAL!” at the opposing batter, and the tone was set for the balance of the evening.  My friends shuffled uncomfortably, wondering if they’d have to sit through nine innings of embarrassing crap like this.  The answer:  yes.

I admit, the event swept me up into a haze of hatred and bile spitting.  I told number 6 to shave his pube stache.  I told the pitcher I was in the washroom with his wife.  I called number 33 a coward.  I called number 26 a classless boob.  Some fellow hosers in our section got into the act and rode a guy who kind of looked like Patrick Dempsey.  Some other dudes accosted the butterfingered catcher.  I told him to stop going to Red Lobster.  It was vicious.  It was beautiful.  We were animals.

Slowly but surely my initially timid companions got into the act, amidst laughter at the stupidity of screaming meaningless insults at grown men.  The catalyst for it all was my main man, Cleveland Brownlee.

Cleveland "Cleeeeeveland" Brownlee

At one point he was up in the count, with three balls.  The pitch flew in and Cleve started a breezy trot to first, interrupted by the umpire calling a strike.  He couldn’t handle it.  He twirled around outraged, gesticulating wildly, letting the old man know that we was blind!  Insane!  Incompetent!  Our target had manifested himself perfectly.  I booed him ferociously, and a few other people joined in.  Sharks smell even small amounts of blood in the endless ocean, and the tide ran red.

The next time he was up our entire section rained down boos and jeers.  At a perfect moment, in the midst of a tiny lull, my hard-bargaining companion screamed YOU SUCK at the top of her lungs.  She looked as though she was enjoying being alive, and it brought me great cheer.  Cleveland cracked.  Swing and a miss.  Huge swing and a miss.  Good bye Cleveland.  With every misstep we were ever more rabid.  At inning’s end Cleveland skulked into the outfield, stewing.  We rejoiced.

Then the perfect scenario unfolded.  It was the ninth inning, with the home side up by two runs.  It should have been a quick close out, no worries, London had nothing left in the tank.  But!  As is so often the case in sports the end of the game saw a reversal of fortunes.  London got hot, and started hitting Ottawa’s hapless hurler all over the park.  Hit.  Hit. Steal.  And then a run scores, oh no!  Ottawa’s victory is in jeopardy.  But there was a significant upside to this turn of events:  Cleveland would get one more chance at bat.  I think he was sixth up that inning, which is rather unlikely, but batter after batter he came closer and closer.  With two more hitters to go the entire stadium started chanting his number – THIRTY FIVE.  THIRTY FIVE.  THIRTY FIVE.  He looked directly at me, knowing that I was the main agitator and mimed signing his autograph for me.  I screamed “You’re my favourite player!” at him.  Another batter down.  And another.  And finally, it’s two out, with a man on base.  The winning run is at the plate, and the winning run is Cleveland Brownlee.  The crowd exploded in my favourite sporting phenomenon:  the derisive chant of a player’s name.  Cleeeeve-land (for those unfamiliar the pitch of the name descends by at least six semi-tones on the last syllable).  Cleeeeve-land.  Literally every single of the 2,500 or so people in the house got into it.  Swing and a miss.  Swing and a miss.  His blood boiled, the crowd went crazy, a frenzy of mindless rage and merriment.  Aaaaaand?

Strike three!!  Game over.  I’m certain that the home fans played a not insignificant role in the demise of the hated visitors.  Cleveland then snapped and screamed at the umpire.  Eventually he stalked back to the dugout, still jawing and bellyaching.  Eventually his manager had to physically restrain him and usher him into the dressing room.  It was a job very well done.  One of the other hecklers in my section arose, as did I, and we exchanged important glances.  We leaned over two rows of seats and shook hands, acknowledging each other’s work.  It was very meaningful.  It’s always a good feeling to earn the respect of a member of the hoser fraternity.  In the parking lot some guy came up to me and said “hey man, thanks for the entertainment”.  I felt like a million bucks.  If you’re ever at a sporting event make sure not to sit on your hands.  Trust me.

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