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July 31, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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Buy Me Some Peanuts and Crackerjacks

A little over a year ago, I found myself sitting among a stand of enthusiastic parents, friends and well-wishers at a high school baseball game in Kansas City. It was an experience unlike any I had enjoyed at a sporting venue before. I have tasted the white-hot flavour of an All Blacks crowd, enjoyed the charming subtleness of a cricket test and endured aching silence at a Manawatu NPC match, but I had never in all my years dealt with such a raucous and passionate group of people at a sports event. And this was high school baseball.

It was the bottom of the fourth inning, and the young man who my friend and I had come to support had been tossed the ball and was in the midst of receiving some rather intense advice from a gesticulating team mate. While I was waiting for play to resume, I peered around the stand and noticed two things:
1) Peanut shells, and
2) Notepads.

I found my attention firmly fixed on these two seemingly irrelevant things, and yet, their significance could not be ignored. If I could sum up the overarching ethos of American sport, I can think of only Peanut shells and Notepads. And here’s why.

American sport is enwrapped in social traditions. The idea of cracking peanuts and eating them while watching a ball game is as natural to an American sports fan as wearing a costume to a 7s game, or rioting after a soccer loss. Food is already such a dominating fixture in American culture that its very relationship with sport is universally accepted as a norm. I have been regaled a number of times by my American friends over the significance of food and sport. “Oh yeah, dude,” one friend said, “Every person weighs about ten-pounds heavier after Superbowl Sunday.” I raised my brow to this, to which my friend replied, “shit, it’s a fuckin’ tradition here!”

Although one could argue that delicious influence of commercialisation has wrapped its salty fingers around American sport, the underlying traditions of “game day” have more or less stayed the same. I cannot think of another sporting culture where food is so paramount to the enjoyment of sport. Drinking beer is unarguably a universal constant for sporting fans worldwide, but no other nation does feasting festivities quite like America on game day. (As my dear friend suculently summed up).

“One time, about four of us got this fuckin’ six-foot sub for the first game of the World Series back in ’04, and it only lasted us until the third inning.” See what I mean?

With this seemingly laid back enjoyment comes a surreal attention to deal that one could argue borders on the anal retentive. I asked my friend why so many people were scribbling on notepads.

“Stats” she replied, her eyes not moving from the diamond.

American culture is nothing if not statistical, with its sports being some of the most dissected in the world. One cannot watch an NFL (National Football League) or MLB (Major League Baseball), game without being inundated with statistics brandishing averages, yards gained, foul balls, home runs, from almost every corner of the screen or field. The basic rules of American sport are easy enough to follow, but should the untrained viewer try to comprehend what he’s watching in light of the barrage of numbers soaring past his head. They’d have good cause to call a timeout of their own.

As food is paramount to enjoying sport, statistics are paramount to understanding it. American sport, particularly football, cannot be discussed properly without employing some kind of statistic. Unlike rugby, where the avid fan is content to splurge his delight over, “the way Jerry Collins fucking nailed that guy!” the football fan will discuss yards gained, time in possession, the number of passes, timeouts… and others within earshot will know exactly what he’s talking about.

The ways in which we enjoy sport across the globe can be broken down into geographic traits, and even further into sporting traits, but one tradition (besides getting pissed), that remains universal across all sports is the desire to win, a fact emphasised by the young pitcher I’d come to watch as he wound up a fast ball aimed strategically at the batter’s kneecap. That unfortunate young man got a trip to hospital, the pitcher got a pat on the shoulder. God bless America.

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