We went to see a Reds game last night and sat behind first base. The seats were as close as I’ve ever been to a Major League field. If I walked down a few steps, I would have been on the same level as Joey Votto, the Reds first basemen and my favorite player. More than my favorite player, really. Joey is a bit of an obsession.
At an NFL game, at least the ones I’ve been to, you’re never at the same level as the athletes. You’re looking down on them from above. I think it says a lot that in baseball, you could step across a low wall and be on the field beside the players.
We went with my parents and my dad told a story at dinner about going to see a game in Crosley Field for the first time. He couldn’t believe how green it was. Every time you forget that. You forget that the field is even brighter in person than it is on TV. You forget that baseball is still something that’s worth doing in person. It’s worth it to be there.
It was a small crowd—cold on a Monday night in early May. It didn’t feel like baseball weather yet. There was room to move around and get comfortable in our seats. It felt a bit like we had the place to ourselves.
I watched Joey at first base. He’s why I picked those seats. My mom pointed out the way he keeps his sunflower seeds in his back pocket. He pulls some out between pitches and tosses some in his mouth.
When there’s no one on first, he stands between first and second. He crouches down as the pitcher winds up. Then relaxes if the ball’s not hit. He does this over and over again.
If there’s a runner on first, Joey stands next to him. Sometimes they chat. From our seats, I could watch the pitcher, Amir Garrett, stare at the runner on first before each pitch. I couldn’t see Joey’s face looking back at Garrett. I wonder what his expression was. Did he smile at Garrett? Make some kind of signal of encouragement? Was there a camaraderie? Did their eyes even meet? Or did Joey just have that usual look of intensity, waiting to see if Garrett would try to catch the runner off the base? Poised and waiting and ready.
This is what Joey Votto does in a game. He stands around. He grabs some sunflower seeds out of his back pocket. He throws them in his mouth. He spits out the shells. He crouches down for the pitch. Runs to the base if it’s a hit. Waits for the ball to come to him. Repeat, repeat, repeat, with time in the dugout or at bat in between.
The morning after the game, there’s a guy working on installing a new air conditioner at the church next door. All morning, there’s the sound of his hammering. He’s in a shallow hole he’s dug, banging and then stopping. Banging and then stopping. He sees me from our kitchen window at one point and smiles. He’s young and alone. I think of Joey.
“First base is the loneliest place,” I tell my husband.
“I think the outfield is lonelier,” he says. “There’s no one else around.”
But I disagree. Sometimes you’re loneliest in the midst of people. A base runner, the first base coach. The pitcher staring at you before every pitch.
Sometimes you’re loneliest when so much depends on a small, repetitive thing. Crouch. Watch. Step to first. Stretch out your glove with one foot on the base. Catch.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Joey makes it look easy, but that easiness is a place no one else can go.