El béisbol

May 22, 2011

I’ve been to two baseball games in the last week. I’d been itching to go to a game for over a year and just never seemed to find the time, so when Roly told us the National Championship finals were happening and he wanted to take us I had to go. I don’t care about sports at all, but for some reason I just really love going to baseball games. Go figure. I knew that any sporting event in Latin American was going to be more lively, shall we say, than any in the U.S., but I didn’t really know what we were in for. Los Santos and Bocas del Toro were playing, and Bocas hasn’t won a championship in 53 years. Driving to the game was an experience in and of itself. We crammed way too many people into three cars, and then we parked said cars on the side of the highway near the stadium. Apparently Rod Carew Estadio Nacional doesn’t have a very big parking lot, so this is a completely normal practice. This was the first time in my life I’ve ever walked on the expressway (with traffic still moving in particular). We made our way through the throngs of orange and green clad fans, and waited about three different places for our “chaperones” to get the tickets sorted out. When we finally made it inside the stadium we found ourselves in a sparsely decorated concrete maze, following closely behind our local hosts trying not to get lost in the crowds. The stadium didn’t have actual seats, just concrete risers, which I thought was actually kind of nice. It made moving around easier at least.

The first game we went to was crowded, but the Bocas side of the stadium was a bit sparse, so we had plenty of room. The second game, however, was absolutely packed. There was barely room to move once we got inside. It was the final game of the National Championship though, so that’s to be expected. It was interesting going to a baseball game with people who know all of the players, getting the inside scoop on who played for who, who went pro, etcetera. One of the most interesting (and different) things that I noticed was the musical presence at the game. There was a band, with drums and horns, and a small dance troupe as well. We all got up and danced with them at one point, which was fun. That is something that you never see in the States (unfortunately). Beer at baseball games is also cheap; $1 beer all the time. That would also explain why they’re all so willing to throw their beer at the drop of a hat. I doubt they’d be so eager to chuck it into the air if it cost $3 or $4. Since our side of the stadium wasn’t as full during the first game we didn’t really get to experience the beer shower at its best, but the final game was another story. We’d all been pretty well doused by the end of the night. It’s light beer at least. I can’t imagine getting showered with Guinness. Bad calls, runs, anything can instigate a beer shower. You just have to make sure to dodge the plastic cups that follow. There wasn’t quite as much dancing during the final game, probably due in part to the density of the crowd, but it was still a much livelier audience in general than those you find at the games I’ve been to in Kentucky.

We also had an interesting bunch of beer hawkers around us. From what I could tell there were about three of them working one section of the stadium and getting into frequent arguments about something. I couldn’t really figure out what was going on, but it had something to do with getting the best price for a cooler of 14 beers. These were the only ones who seemed to be having issues, though, so they may not have been directly associated with the stadium. I at least assume that food/beverage venders are working for the stadium and therefore not in competition with each other. Maybe these were “black market” beers, unlicensed beer hawking gang wars if you will. The cops did have to step in once or twice at both games, although not because of the beer venders. There were a couple of fights that broke out among the spectators in the stands.

Los Santos ended up winning in the final game, continuing Bocas 53 year losing streak, but being in the middle of such a big game was pretty incredible. I just don’t think I’ll be able to feel the same way about North American baseball games again.

On Tuesday night, our first real night here, we all went out on the Chiva Parrandera. We’d been told about this Chiva by numerous people, all of whom said it was pretty amazing, but I still wasn’t really sure what to expect. At 7:00 pm when I looked down from our fifth floor balcony to the street in front of the hotel, the I was confronted with it: a painted bus covered in racing neon lights. Now, I’ve been in limos with crazy lights on the inside ceiling and all that, but never have I seen a bus that looked like one of those bizarre deep sea fish; just like the ones on the t-shirt I had when I was six, a big, bioluminescent land-fish. And who can resist the enticing lighted lure of the angler? None of us. We all piled onto this bus donning Chiva Parrandera t-shirts and mylar masks, pressing ourselves like thirty sweaty sardines into this tin can (I’m on a roll with the fish metaphors right now).

All of the seats had been replaced with narrow metal benches running along either side of the bus, and a DJ booth had been set up in the back. We started moving. As we pulled away from the curb the music started blaring and the hot, sticky dance party began. We toured the city, stopping for a bit in a large parking lot (for those of you who have never had a parking lot dance party, try it), and then made our way back to the hotel. The whole thing lasted about three hours, and I pride myself on the fact that I never stopped dancing the entire trip… stone cold sober.

Obviously the idea of a mobile dance club is a strange one for us to begin with. This is not something you see roaming around the States. I really think we should though. It’s a great concept. It was interesting watching the reactions of passing traffic also. In Louisville, when the Pool Party Express (a horribly deceptive party bus) drives down Bardstown Road people react, whether out of amusement or with disapproval. The passersby here were remarkably unfazed. They didn’t even seem to really notice the busload of raucous youth in the lane next to them. Later in the evening we got a little more reaction from people in other cars laughing and honking (of course) but that was about it.

The other thing of note was the dancing ability of the few panameños that were with us. Now, of course it’s expected that latin americans dance better than those of us from the States, but the combination of standard club dancing and things like the Pasa Pasa or the popularity of the Electric Slide, yes the Electric Slide, were interesting. I’m interested to see what the dance floors at the clubs look like (plus I’m ready for a little participant observation). The standard schedule for going out is not one I’m cut out for though. Much like Europe, no one goes out until 10:00 or 11:00 at the earliest really, and then they stay out until the wee hours of the morning. I’ve met those hours a couple of times and we are not good friends. The lack of siesta really makes that schedule untenable as far as I’m concerned. The Spanish know what they’re doing on that score.