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Minding Your Ks and Outs: A primer on ballpark etiquette

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The resident Emily Post of baseball is back to walk you through the do's and don'ts of ballpark etiquette. Just in time to yell, "Play ball!"

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I am a baseball snob. I admit it. I want to watch the game the way it was intended and because of that, you don’t want to sit near me at a ballpark. Well, unless you’re just as bad as I am. I have rules, expectations for how fans should behave at a Major League baseball game and I’m not shy about them.

I figure that between baseball being back and the Astros having a stellar team that it’s time to revisit some of the rules I’ve posted in the past (2012, 2014).

Every level of Minute Maid Park is going to have more traffic this year. Every  fan will have others in front of them and behind them. Those lean years that were so hard to stomach with all the losses were heaven at the ballpark – fewer people, no lines. We could spread out, stand up, do what we wanted without disturbing someone else’s fun.

That won’t be the case this year. It’s time for us all to suck it up and think of our fellow fans.

#1 – CHEER FOR THE LOCAL NINE

I know you may be from another city. Houston is this great melting pot of a place with people from everywhere. When the Astros are playing your hometown team, by all means, embrace your childhood and cheer for your guys. What about all of those other games at Minute Maid Park? Be an Astros fan.

It’s never fun to be at a home game when the opponent’s fans drown the home crowd out. Cheer for the guys in blue and orange. You won’t die. This year you’ll probably walk away happier and have more fun. It’s just the right thing to do.

#2 – DRINK LOCAL

The price of beer at a baseball stadium has long been a pet peeve of mine. I’ve made my peace with it, mainly because there’s nothing better than a cold brew with your hotdog at the ballpark. We are quite lucky in Houston to have some fantastic local breweries and quite a few of them are readily available on tap at Minute Maid Park. Want a Saint Arnold? No problem. Want a Karbach? You’ve got it. With options like that who wants Bud Light?

You’re paying a premium, so drink a premium beer and support the local brewers. There are many premium beer stands – sections 106, 114, 119, 125, 134, 205, 210, 215, 227, 422 - , a craft beer concession by section 404 and the Saint Arnold’s bar behind the Crawford Boxes. Cheers!

#3 – ENJOY "PLAY BALL!" AND "THAT’S A WINNER!"

This is probably the thing that gets me speared by other fans the most. I think baseball is not as fun when you aren’t there. Funny that. It’s hard to enjoy a game you’re not watching. If you’ve shelled out twenty bucks to park and forty dollars for a beer and a hot dog and popcorn and another forty or fifty on a ticket, show up before the ump yells, "Play ball!"

There’s something magical about the quiet of the first pitch that makes me a bit weak in the knees. And then stay. Yes, games are sometimes slow. Yes, games are sometimes boring. Yes, games are sometimes long. But the greatest thing about baseball is that you can’t predict baseball. A lot can happen in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. The entire game can change in the course of one out. If you just left to get a head start on the exiting crowd, you missed it.

Tomorrow morning at the water cooler, you’ll be cooler if you get to describe, in detail, how Carlos Correa went yard to send Jose Altuve and Tyler White home to win the game. Without the color commentary on how high that ball flew, how close it came to soaring out onto Crawford, how loud the crack of the bat was, the story just isn’t as good. Hang in there. I promise if you do that the times the magic happen more than make up for the times it doesn’t.

***I’m a mom, so yes, I get the concept that little kids can’t always survive nine innings. I used to set up "snack innings" to get mine as far through a game as possible and even now, at 14, she expects a helmet sundae at the end of the 6th inning. I don’t fault a parent with a melting down child for blowing off the last two innings. Been there, done that, glad she’s now a nine-inning fan.

#4 – SIT DOWN!

Here it is. This is the thing that gets me more worked up than Carlos Lee on first base. Please pay attention to when you are sitting and standing at a game. Many ballparks have ushers that won’t allow you to go up or down a section during an at bat on the main concourse. I wish it happened everywhere.

If you need to use the restrooms or grab another beer, by all means, have at it, but time it properly. The best time to get up or down is during the changeover – when the teams are leaving the field to go bat or leaving the dugout after batting to head out on the field. If you can’t wait for that, the best time to get up is between batters. You sometimes have to be speedy, but it’s very doable. When you’ve got your snacks and heading back to your seat just wait a minute or two at the top of your section for the guy in the box to finish batting, then head to your seat.

Doing this accomplishes two things. First, it keeps you safer especially if you’re on the first level. No one wants to get hit by a flying bat or ball. Second, it means the guy behind you (who also paid more than he wanted to for his seat) doesn’t get his view blocked while his favorite player is at the plate. It’s common decency to not impede the view of the people around you.

#5 – KEEP SCORE

This one isn’t a hard and fast rule and I’m not suggesting you all run out to buy scorebooks and starting marking every strike and ball. Although if you do, come sit by me. I love to keep score and still do it with paper and pencil as often as I can.

What I wish every fan did was learn more about the game. Even after all of these years as a fan, there is plenty I still don’t know about baseball. So, I ask the guy in front of me or beside me when I don’t understand a call or why in the name of all the things good on earth Brett Wallace lasted as long as he did in the majors.

I always say keep score mainly because doing so means you’re going to really pay attention to what’s going on in the game and it helps you understand why the pace of play is the way it is, what the strategy is behind a particular move, or really appreciate an amazing pitching duel. It broadens every fan’s appreciation for the game. And it’s easy to pick up the basic scorecard and a pencil in the store at MMP for a couple of bucks and give it a whirl.

If you already keep score or have deep understanding of the game, be willing to explain something to a less informed fan that asks. I find that sitting with a scorebook generally makes people want to ask me questions. Sometimes they just want to ask how to keep score, but it also implies that you’re well versed on rule as well as on the team and will make some people want to chat you up. Do it! Baseball is a social sport with plenty of time for conversations and even debates on controversies of the game. Be social and kind and help others learn to love the national pastime.

#6 – LOOK UP

I am addicted to my phone. Texts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - they’re all open all the time on mine. But the concourses will be busy, filled with people this season and it’s not always easy to navigate them when you are sober and not distracted, so do everyone a favor and pocket that device while you’re walking around. If you must look at something, step to the side near a wall or railing. When you’re not the one who just stepped on a little kid because you were texting your girlfriend, you’ll thank me for that advice.

#7 – SHOW YOUR SPIRIT

I am the proud owner of about 3,857 Astros shirts. That may be a slight exaggeration, but I honestly own a lot of them. I like them. I wear them all the time. Unless I’m at a baseball game that does not involve the Houston Astros. I’ve never understood the idea that if I’m going to an Astros v. Mariners game, I’ll wear my Dodgers jersey. Um…the Dodgers aren’t playing today, so who are you cheering for? You certainly don’t have to wear the gear of either team playing that day, but steer clear of a random team’s jersey. If you’re donning a Hooks or Grizzlies shirt? You’re safe. I deem all Astros affiliates perfectly acceptable. But if you wear an Express jersey? I’m going to point and laugh.

#8 – CATCH THAT BALL FAIRLY

We have all seen it on television or even live happening right next to us – some forty-something dude steps all over a kid, knocking him down and making him cry in order to catch a foul ball. I personally do not see the appeal of owning a foul ball. It’s not signed. It’s not authenticated. It’s just a dirty baseball that was used at a game. I know I’m in the minority on that point, so if you really want that ball, grab it fairly. And if you grab one fairly and don’t really want that ball, you should hand it to a kid in your area. You just made him or her a baseball fan for life. The game should be fun and getting trampled by a midlife crisis isn’t fun for anyone.

In the past I have lamented about the bringing of gloves to games in order to catch a foul ball or home run. I get it when the kids bring them. I get it less when adults do, but I thought you should all know I’m letting it go. Bring a glove if you want, but know that if you’re over 12, I’m judging you in my head.

#9 – THE WAVE

You didn’t think I wasn’t going to mention the wave, did you? It’s pretty common knowledge that I hate the wave. If you want my thoughts on why, etc. you can read about it in a post from last season.

My opinion about wishing the wave would just disappear aside, there’s a time to do it and a time to steer clear. The wave is an offensive cheer. That means you should only do the wave if your team is on offense. Are we all clear? OFFENSE. That means when they are batting.

If you are participating in the wave and Dallas Keuchel is on the mound and he throws a ball, it was your fault. If he walks a batter or gives up a dinger, it’s your fault. I will hunt you down and chastise you.

#10 – RESPECT THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH

The happiest place on earth is not Disney. It’s a baseball park anytime between April and the end of October. Sunshine, a game of catch, a good hit, a good pitch and a cold drink are the epitome of summer and they can all be seen or enjoyed at a baseball park. When you’re at a game, be happy. Sometimes, when your team is getting the snot beaten out of them, it’s a little tough to put on a smile, but it’s not tough to rein in the bad language the temper tantrums and the taunting of umpires. This isn’t Yankee Stadium, people. We’re Texans. We’re Houstonians. We’re good, Southern people. Behave as such.

I will never forget the Brewer’s fan who screamed "Astros suck!" in my then nine year old’s face at Minute Maid. Doing it didn’t make the Astros a worse team. It didn’t make the Brewers a better team. It made that guy a douche.

I also have experience opposing fans who praise an amazing catch by Altuve or an outstanding pitching game from McHugh, even when their team lost. Remember it’s just a game and a baseball stadium should be the happiest place on earth. So win or lose, keep your composure, keep your cool and don’t be a douche.

_______________

That’s it. Those are simple enough to remember, I think. We should all be able to follow those rules, and make every game pretty enjoyable for everyone. I hope I see you at Minute Maid Park this season and I hope I get to high five you when the Astros make the postseason again. It’s bound to be a fun year of baseball. Go Astros!