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A View From the Bleachers

The Cheap Seats

A little about me: I'm Matt. I'm a graduate student, I'm married; I also happen to love baseball. I love watching it, playing it, playing video games about it--experiencing baseball. Going to a game is still as much of a thrill as it was when I was a little kid and I got to parade around the warning track with my Little League team one warm summer night at Angel Stadium.

I'm an Angels fan. I grew up watching them play on TV and, occasionally, getting to go to the ballpark. When I first went to a game they were the California Angels. I followed them through the highs and lows, the Disney years, and their first World Series title (as the Anaheim Angels). I was up in arms when their name changed again to The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim--try translating that one. Now we usually just call 'em the Angels or the Halos. The Angels, and baseball, have been with me through everything: the strain of my parents' divorce, the awkwardness of puberty, the celebrations of birthdays and graduations. Baseball was (and still is) something I can talk about with my friends, something I can enjoy with the woman who was my girlfriend, then my fianc?e, and who now is my wife. One day, baseball will be something I share with my children, too.

So, if you're still with me that means you're really bored or I'm at least a decent writer--or both. Why did I share all that? Well, as you might have noticed I'm now a contributing columnist on this wonderful site. I'm also in my second season (which is now, sadly, concluding) as, what those who have termed this before me call, a ballhawk. I snag baseballs... it's more fun than collecting stamps. OK, so to recap: I'm passionate about baseball. I'm a collector/hobbyist/nerd about it and, to go back to the first line of this article, I'm a graduate student. I work for the University of California, Irvine as a TA... and I work and study in their Drama Department. I've made it to more than thirty professional baseball games this season in six different stadiums--snagging more than 100 baseballs in the process. I paid for a field level ticket once but sat in field level seats for at least part of the game almost every time I was in attendance.

Now we're into the meat of my article. If you've ever been to a game I bet you've done it. You've seen some empty seats a little bit closer than yours, still empty in the second inning, period, half... whatever. And you've moved. A little closer to the action, a little more involved with the game. As the clock winds down or the reliever comes into the game to close it down and most of the "fans" have left... maybe you sneak a little closer. You justify it based on a number of things. Is it wrong? Immoral? Am I stealing from my team? If you've never gone to a seat that wasn't yours--good for you, you've abided by the rules. But if you're like the majority of the folks still reading you've cheated, lied, forgotten your moral compass, or you feel you're in the right to occupy a better seat than the one you paid for. Like me.

Don't get me wrong. I certainly am not casting any digital stones here. I'll take it a step further: I've purchased tickets at a discounted price or received some freebie tickets and gone to the stadium fully intending to never sit in my nosebleed seats. Where is the line drawn? How much bending of the rules is OK? And where does the bend turn into a break? And does anyone care (besides maybe the multi-millionaires running the teams we're watching)?

Here's the thing: if I had a million dollars I'd buy season tickets the Angels right down on the field in a good foul ball spot. But right now, I'm a grad student making less than a thousand bucks a month. And, hey, this economy is hurting all the normal, hard-working Joes out there. Does it mean I love going out to a game any less? Of course not, I still love chasing BP home runs, trying to catch a foul ball, cheering for great defensive plays, and booing when a pitcher on the visiting team throws over to first for the fourth consecutive time.

What's a guy to do? Stop going? Am I hurting anyone's feelings? I've never contested the rightful seat holders when/if they show up (in the third inning, most often). I've followed ushers' requests without complaint. When it boils down to it, who am I hurting? The team? Because they should have gotten $70 for that seat and I paid $10 to get in the gates. That's a hard pill to swallow... I guess I'd pay $70 to see the '09 Angels. But I wouldn't pay that to see the '99 Angels that lost ninety-two games. I wouldn't pay that to see the Nationals, who make more errors than the local Pony League team. And team ownership knows that. They charge "appropriately" based on a number of items. An appropriate price for a seat behind the dugout to see the Nationals: $75. The same seat at Angel Stadium: $85-$97. Yankee Stadium? Well, expect to pay at least $500. For five hundred bucks per ticket, you should guarantee me a win, Steinbrenner! The cheapest field level ticket at New Yankee Stadium (as listed on their website) is $95. At the time of writing this article the Yankees have lost fifty-six of their games this year.

If the rain causes a game to be shortened (like, it goes seven innings and then gets called by the umps) do I get a twenty percent discount? Nope. If the game takes two hours and 15 minutes do I get to pay less because it wasn't the average three hour game I'm used to? No way. Baseball, as much as we glorify its tradition and history, is a business like any other, right? So, we should, theoretically, abide by the rules at all times. But Burger King doesn't tell me I can't bring in a backpack with my own bottle of Gatorade. Macy's doesn't charge me $10 for parking. And, really, $32 for a T-shirt or an "authentic" hat?

Wherever you stand on this issue, wherever your line is drawn, that's your opinion and I have mine. I won't judge the guy next to me in the opposing team's gear who just wants to hang out a little closer to where his favorite player is warming up. The point is that baseball and other pro sports are a part of our lives. They are something that we get passionate about... so much so that, on occasion, I've not eaten dinner on a night so I could save my money and get a ticket to the game if that's what it takes, you know? Really, if Mr. Big Shot isn't going to use his primo, up close seat, at least let me sit there for a while and try to catch a foul ball.

Matt Jackson is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.

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