Rumble in the Bronx

Subway SeriesAt yesterday’s opening game in the annual Yankees/Mets “subway series,” I realized that, in the twenty or so major league ballgames I’ve attended in my lifetime, I’ve probably only made it to the ballpark early enough for the first pitch perhaps once or twice. Yesterday was one of those days — we got there almost forty-five minutes early — and I found myself sitting through the pre-game ceremonies and wondering, “Is the beginning of every baseball game always so militaristic?”

There was an embarrassing pageant of military gung-ho on display, from an absurd, protracted series of daring-do landings by the U.S. Army’s parachute team to the presentation of colors by West Point cadets to — most egregiously — a noisy, ostentatious fly-over during the national anthem by a trio of F-11 fighter planes. There were more mini-ceremonies too, the details of which I didn’t catch, but all of which were received with vigorous enthusiasm by the crowd of 55,303 baseball fans.

How to Wear a Target on Your Back

I know I’m just begging to be labeled unpatriotic by even questioning the presence of uniformed servicemen and the prideful display of military machines at a sporting event. So I’ll say preemptively that I have nothing against those who are risking their lives overseas today and who have lost their lives in the defense of freedom in the past. In that respect I’m happy that they are being regularly honored as a part of our discourse as a nation.

Pride of the Yankees… and Mets

On the other hand, there was something jingoistic and unnerving about yesterday’s display. In its showy, Super Bowl-esque way, it was less about honor than about pride, which made me uneasy. I always bristle when the machines of American might — like F-11s — are held up before the American public to be admired because I feel like I am being subjected to a kind of domestic “shock and awe” campaign.

And with only a little bit of distance from the events, I couldn’t help but wonder how appropriate it was to have such gaudy displays precede sporting events at all. When I was working briefly in Thailand, I remember going to the movie theater and settling down with my popcorn and a soda, only to be compelled to my feet just before the show to honor the Thai king during the playing of their national anthem. This happens at the start of every movie showing in the kingdom, and it leaves Westerners bewildered or sometimes laughing at the juxtaposition of compulsory national pride and simple entertainments. Baseball, too, is a simple entertainment.