- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

A "relationship expert" named Pepper Schwartz is going around the country, cyberspatially and otherwise, telling people of the unmarried persuasion that they can find love at the ballpark. Which is possible, I suppose, if one of today's 3*-hour games doesn't put you to sleep first.

Schwartz dispenses advice chiefly through her kiss.com Web site, appears frequently on radio and TV talk shows and has a string of sex/health academic credentials longer than a Mark McGwire home run. The way she sees it, singles can get to first base with the opposite sex by watching surly millionaires with sticks in their hands get to first base and beyond.

"Some of us were talking a while back about how hard it is to date," said Schwartz, who lives in Seattle, "and somebody said, 'If a guy invited me to the All-Star Game [at Safeco Field], I wouldn't care if he had two heads.' Well, I'm a big baseball fan, too, and that got me thinking."

What resulted was a neat little press kit consisting of a baseball autographed by Schwartz surely a collector's item someday and a box of Cracker Jack. (I imagine peanuts were too expensive to include.) The copy promises that "love can ignite in the center field bleachers as quickly as it can in the box seats behind home plate." Except at Wrigley Field, where the Bleacher Bums are too busy sweating, swigging and stealing caps from the opposing team's bullpen.

"I had a little problem signing those baseballs because the pen doesn't move [like it usually does], but it was so neat," said Pepper, sounding a little love-struck herself. "It was so neat. My people told me I didn't have to sign all the balls that went out, but I said, 'No, I want to they're my balls. Of all the things I ever thought I might do, that was probably never a probability."

Probably not. But we digress. Why, pray tell, is a baseball game a prime place to pitch woo, as well as fastballs, whether you bring someone or meet him/her there?

For one thing, Pepper says, because baseball "is not always action-based," which might be the understatement of this or any other year. So, "it's a good place to talk and get to know another person."

Talk? What about the rock music that pounds out over the P.A. nowadays at nearly all horsehide venues?

"It's not as hard to talk as it is at a bar," Pepper insisted. "Besides, people at a bar tend to be nervous and defensive it rarely brings out the best in anyone."

Unless one's immediate purpose is to develop a state of unconsciousness rather than a relationship. In which case, who needs a ballgame or warm, watery beer?

"People are usually in a good mood at a ballgame," said Pepper. "There's fresh air, and it's easy to talk to strangers. Then if your team wins, you feel great.

"Of course, there's always a chance that your team could lose and provide a depressing ending, but that could happen anywhere."

Although Pepper is talking about going to ballgames almost anywhere outside of Noo Yawk, where people throw batteries, insults and anything else within reach at opposing players, her hometown team certainly would seem to be encouraging good fellowship, if not necessarily love, this season. Through Monday, the Mariners were 32-14 at Safeco. (Unfortunately, perhaps, they also are 40-13 on the road, which means they presumably have been depressing potential lovebirds elsewhere around the country.)

Schwartz doesn't address the rising cost of attending a major league game these days, which can at least approximate the price of an evening spent bar hopping. I can remember not long ago, say 1985, when you could watch the Orioles at Memorial Stadium for, er, peanuts on Three Buck Night. But those days have gone the way of hand-kissing and drive-in movies.

There's always minor league baseball, but that's not exactly the way to make a good first impression. Heck, if you buy your date two $4.50 hot dogs at Camden Yards, she might think you're a big spender.

Really, I think Pepper Schwartz is on to something. Making conversation the first time out can be so difficult, but at a ballgame you can always resort to inside stuff like "no batter, no batter, no batter," "kill the umpire" or, best of all, "hum, baby." I tried the latter once, and when my date began doing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," I knew I had it made.

And look at it this way: It's debatable whether baseball remains our favorite pastime but inarguable that love is. So go for it at the ballpark and, hey, let the peanut shells fall where they may.

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