Balls or It’s Deep: Scenes From the Lower Deck
By Marcella Lynn
It started innocently enough, despite the fact that, out of 50,000 seats, the one man in the stadium who had ever felt my boobs — my family doctor — sat right in front of me. These tickets, 33 rows behind the Jay’s dugout, fell in my lap earlier that day like a fly ball, a lucky don’t-ask-don’t-tell set passed down from a questionable source to my boss Tori (of Tori’s Bakeshop, shameless plug torisbakeshop.ca), who suggested, like every proud Canadian, that we blow off the afternoon.
“I want us to go. Would u be down? Or is it boring?” she texted. We decided it might not be boring, although as a football fan, I had my doubts. At least it was a Game 5, with some stakes involved.
There were no kids seated around us, and we checked, because we were violent yellers. The dude in the row behind said he nearly brought his four year-old daughter, but “I figured, fuck that, and thank Christ.” His thing was to help the Jays batter determine when was a good time to swing. “RED LIGHT!” meant he knew the pitcher was going to throw a ball, or an unhittable strike. “GREEN LIGHT!” meant that the batter could swing away for a surefire home run. His accuracy average was a nonmathematical approximation of maybe (spoiler alert) .010.
The other dude behind us focused instead on the pitcher. During the trolling whole-crowd “HAAAAAAAAMelllllllls!” he accented the second syllable instead of the first, turning what is meant to be a distracting, onerous sound into something almost inspiring, “HammmmELLLLLS!” His other thing was to tell the pitcher to throw either a ball just to get a guy on base, or something that would be hit beyond the far wall of the Skydome. “BALLS OR IT’S DEEP!” is a confusing shout to repeatedly yell across the field, especially as “balls deep” has become such a staple in at least my own personal vocabulary.
My doctor, in front of us, and my age I might add, had brought two of his friends who, like killjoys (because you know they could afford it), weren’t drinking at all. But he redeemed himself when it turned out his smartphone had a SportsNet app that gave us instant TV-quality replays in seconds (and one of his friends redeemed himself by being attractive to my friend). Another dude was turing 21 in 12 days and found the numerical palindrome encouraging, especially as this was his first major league game ever. Another dude was Chris Hadfield.
In a sea of blue, I had accented with a red toque, which to our new friends became a beacon of hope. My head became the lucky rabbit’s foot, constantly shaken, rubbed, the knit covering my eyes.
We’d been bitching about the home plate ump, Dale Scott, all evening anyway. This dude took longer than I’ve ever seen any ump to call a strike or a ball. There was a full two-Mississippi count before he’d point to his decision, like the game hinged on him alone. And he’d had some real questionable calls.
All we saw when it happened was what looked like a knocked aside, dead ball, Odor kind of stumbling home at half-speed, and Scott calling the play dead with three wide waves of his arms. When he sent Odor back to third, we just laid the hate all over him, like get baaaaaaaack, how daaaaaaaaaare you, you stiiiiiiiiiiiink O-DOR.
Which is why, when the ruling changed, when it all changed, we…well, you saw. We lost our shit, balls deep.
Fifteen dollar beers started falling from the sky. At first they looked like rally towels, tied tightly and drenched in water to give them a farther launch. But no, these were whole, full, weighty tall cans, tops popped to add a shower as they plummeted, like comets landing in the outfield. Fifty thousand people grumble-yelling like angry fathers in line at the DMV. It seriously, genuinely felt riotous. I said to Tori, “If this shit gets real, we stay close to Dr. Cantor and his two big friends.” As she had started crushing hard on the one following a lingering, eyes-locked high-five, she readily agreed. And she had an idea.
“Excuse me Doctor,” she said, tapping dude on the shoulder. “Can your magic device show us what happened?”
Then we saw the play like everyone else with a TV did, an incident which had never been seen in the history of the game, that who knew, there was actually an exact rule about, which we wouldn’t learn until we were all home. And I saw things I’ve never seen in baseball. I saw all the umpires huddle. I saw polite Canadians turn wild with the thought that this run, this ridiculous, half-assed, called-off fluke of a play might decide the game, the series, the season. The Skydome PA pleaded with the crowd to remain calm. The uproar grew louder in response. It announced, “The Blue Jays are now playing this game under protest!” and we threw our fists in the air, hollering in unison, and also having run out of beer.
During the seventh-inning stretch, the Toronto Blue Jays forgo “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in lieu of a song called “OK Blue Jays.” It is a jaunty little ditty that we immediately drowned out by the guttural battle cry of 50,000 fans who felt mocked by a lighthearted jingle that in no way paid homage to the palpable retribution curdling in our loins.
The Jays at bat, down a run now. Three Rangers errors. Yelling, toque-rubbing, sweating under the closed Dome, arms in the air, towels spinning. POMPEY SLIDES HOME TO TIE! Sure he takes out the catcher but FUCK THAT GUY! He’s STANDING ON THE PLATE! And then he was called out. And we knew, for sure, Dale Scott wanted the Jays to lose, and wanted us to know the game wasn’t about the Jays anyway, it was all about him, and if there was a riot, it would start in his pants. BALLS DEEP.
Hamels goes out to get a haircut, Dyson comes in.
But then. Donaldson. The only player in the Jays lineup who doesn’t have a rap or hip-hop song announcing he’s up to bat. Instead, Phil Collins over the loudspeaker, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight.” Only this time, it isn’t hokey and hilarious, like his other three at-bats. This time, it speaks to the mood, to the ravenous hunger of fans who have stopped eating, stopped texting, stopped taking selfies, and have not left the stands for more beer. He pops up an easy catch but Odor, OF COURSE it is Odor, who tripped his way into stealing home, who lets the ball drop.
Two men are on base. Only one out. We are cheering more than we have ever cheered, though our voices long blew out. Jose Bautista is up and swinging. “GREEN LIGHT!” the dude behind me shouts, holding my head in a vise between his fists. “BALLS OR IT’S DEEP!” the other dude behind me screams. “JOSE IT’S MY BIRTHDAAAAAAY!” yells the youngest.
Crack. Chin jut. Bat flip. Fucking pandemonium.
I am put in a headlock with my magic toque at the epicenter. We are jumping, we are cheering, we are high five-ing and missing each others hands high five-ing because we are also jumping and we are giving up trying to high-five and we are hugging instead. We are strangers, we are family, we are the fans and we are the Jays and we are even begrudgingly Dale Scott. We are the green light we are the ball we are the deep we are and it’s all of our birthdays. We are 50,000 and we are one.
And the city is one with us. A few outs later and we are on the streets and the traffic isn’t moving. Everyone is honking but not because they want to go anywhere. Dozens of cars perform a two-way Chinese fire drill where these green lights don’t matter, no one moves because we are all high five-ing and have known each other all our lives though we’re meeting on Front Street for the first time. The CN Tower glows blue and the Skydome horn is still sounding and you can hear it from outside the stadium. My toque is on and my head inside is warm and my hands are hot from slapping other hands and my glutes are sore from leaping and my voicebox is pure Patty and Selma and still we are laughing and dancing and now high fives aren’t enough and we all need high tens.
It felt like the Super Bowl. Or the Stanley Cup. Or Olympic Gold against the Russians. Or the triumphant end of war.
But we have another series. And we still have the rest of all of the life of baseball to play. And while I can never expect any other game to live up to one 53-minute inning;
I will put that magic toque back on. Balls or it’s deep, baby. Go Jays.