- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The woman behind you won’t stop yammering on her cell phone. The guy to your right uses the bathroom every five minutes. The home team is getting waxed, your $7 beer tastes like warm dishwater and your car is parked in an adjacent zip code, a privilege that only set you back another 20 bucks. Oh, and that stupid mini-blimp never, ever drops prizes in your section.

Otherwise, it’s a delightful evening to be at the game.

Take it from someone who gets free front-row seats as part of his job: When it comes to watching sports, there’s no place like home. And not simply because Bonzi Wells can’t physically reach through your television set to make an obscene gesture and/or hock a loogie. While the NBA implores you to Love it Live and the Washington Redskins boast a 30,000-plus season ticket waiting list, the truth of the matter is that a night at the ballpark is no match for the friendly confines of su casa. Unless, of course, you’re a hopeless sucker for Jumbotron trivia. In which case, you’re beyond help. And probably a good candidate for “Jeopardy!”

To put it another way: Think there’s a reason that premium-priced sports skyboxes look more and more like … a stripped-down version of your living room?

Herein, the case for staying in:

The seat

Good seats? Literally speaking, you won’t find them at the stadium. Instead, prepare to rest your weary bum on metal bleachers, plastic foldouts and wafer-thin cushions that would leave you as shark food if used as airplane flotation devices. And fat chance — pun intended — squeezing in: Provided you’re not built like one of the cheerleaders, you’d be better off cramming into the back seat of a 2-door clown car (remember: the knees tuck under the chin).

At home, on the other hand, you can sprawl out on the sofa. Put your feet on the coffee table. Hop on an exercise bike and pedal away the guilt that comes with laying $100 on the Redskins’ next opponent, knowing full well that you should have bet $350, minimum.

Sure, you could always pick up a seat cushion (Baltimore Orioles, in canvas, $19.90), toss pillow (Washington Capitals, $15.99) and official team blanket (Washington Wizards fleece throw, $34.99) to make your ballpark perch (Baltimore Ravens PSL’s, $500 to $5,000) a bit more cozy. But for that amount of money, why not invest in a La-Z-Boy Dreamtime recliner ($600-plus)? It’s as comfy as a cashmere sleeping bag. Possibly bigger than your current couch. And the heated, fully adjustable 10-motor massage function is bound to take the sting out of another sub-.500 season, not to mention Mitchell Butler getting 10 minutes a night.

Remember: That’s the sort of luxurious touch that the likes of Dan Snyder and Abe Pollin just can’t offer. Er, not that you’d really want them to.

The price

You pay rent, pay a mortgage, pay a cable bill that would make FCC Chairman Mike Powell blush, pay for power that goes out for a week at the first hint of a mild breeze. And now you’re gonna plunk down $200 to spend four hours at a stadium that’s 30 miles from your abode? Never mind Warren Buffet. Suzie Orman would not approve.

Besides, tickets are just the buy-in cost for going to a game, like the two-drink minimum at a strip club. There’s also dinner, parking, gas, tolls. Souvenirs and programs. Replica, alternate and throwback jerseys. Team logo caps. Team logo socks. The beer guy. The pretzel guy. The beer guy, again. Add it all up, and Ted Leonsis may as well go from row-to-row in tassels and a G-string, offering lap dances for greenbacks.

Stay home, by contrast, and the only people with their palms out are your kids. Who will generally leave you alone if you spot them a 20. Well, maybe that and the car keys. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty good deal.

The crowd

Hell is other people. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that, and while it’s a good bet the famed existentialist never wore a Champ Bailey jersey to a road game in Philadelphia, the point remains. Granted, you probably won’t get throttled at the stadium, provided you avoid falling into a penalty box with Tie Domi. But that doesn’t mean you won’t suffer a fan’s answer to Dante’s Inferno in 101 little ways — 102 if you’re sitting next to Mark Cuban.

• The first circle: Nearly decapitating a little kid who’s obliviously weaving in front of your knees, the better to see G-Wiz throw down a trampoline jam.

• The second circle: The beery corporate dude who wants to give you a high-five after every play. Like you want to touch someone else’s dirty, mustard-stained hands during the worst flu season in years.

• The fifth circle: The irritating running commentary from the pigskin expert sitting right behind you, who saves on therapy bills by explaining why the Redskins should have run a draw play on third-and-19.

• The eighth circle: Waiting in line for a soda behind a woman who’s paying for three items separately, followed by a guy who spends five minutes giving the cashier exact change. In pennies.

• The ninth circle: Seeing trashy talk show host Jerry Springer at Chicago’s United Center during the Michael Jordan glory days, a buxom actress-slash-model in each arm. Everyone knows that life is grotesquely unfair. Is there really a need for another reminder?

Also keep in mind that large, overexcited crowds exponentially increase your chances of being trampled to death, crushed under a falling goalpost or trapped in a 2½-hour traffic jam. The latter a far worse fate than the former.

The atmosphere

Too hot? Too cold? Like cocooning in a blanket? Prefer to lounge in your boxers? Lift a single, solitary finger to the thermostat.

Don’t worry: It won’t melt the home ice. Unless of course it’s your spouse. In which case, here’s a suggestion: flowers and take out the trash.

The view

Pop quiz: When was the last time you whipped out a pair of high-powered binoculars to get a better view of what was happening on your television? (And no, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show doesn’t count). Whether you’re watching a wall-sized, high-def plasma monolith or a modest 19-inch set, the average game looks better on TV than it does in person. Hockey excluded. Then again, who watches that?

Take the typical Redskins broadcast. Professional camera operators track the action. Close-ups and reaction shots are plentiful, so you never miss one of Steve Spurrier’s anguished/possibly constipated grimaces. View-obstructing widebodies aren’t an issue, nor are doofuses holding up FIRE DAN SNYDER signs. And don’t think the folks with the priciest seats aren’t aware of television’s sweet bounty — otherwise, luxury boxes would have portholes and periscopes instead of extra boob tubes.

And speaking of that: Between their Joker-ish countenances and Kabuki-shaming makeup jobs, most pro cheerleaders are far more attractive from far, far away. Trust us on this. If you like to watch, stay in your house. Don’t ruin the illusion. You saw what happened to Roy when he got too close to that white tiger, right?

Instant replay

Sure, a Jumbotron will replay that controversial fourth quarter pass-interference call — the one that had you tossing batteries at the field, until the big screen showed that the ref had it right, leaving you to boo a little less vociferously. At home, however, you get six different angles on the play. Plus stat overlays, rules clarifications and the sort of nitpicky, fetishistic frame-by-frame analysis usually reserved for the Zapruder film.

Oh, and all the above goes for a 2-yard, off-tackle plunge in the first quarter, too. Is this a great country or what?

The food

Reach into your fridge. Grab a beer. Pour it in a plastic cup. Now drive over to The Washington Times offices and give us seven bucks. Not a likely sequence of events, is it? Yet that’s essentially what you’re doing every time you shell out for an in-arena brewskie.

This point has been made before. It bears repeating. This way lies madness. How else to explain Anaheim Angels owner Arturo Moreno all but receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for slashing the price of stadium suds from $8.50 to $6.75 a pop?

The chow situation isn’t much better. If stadium food isn’t bad for your wallet, it’s bad for your body. Or just plain bad. Man cannot live on steamed hot dogs and mini-pizzas alone. Especially when said pizza is largely indistinguishable from the cardboard box it comes in.

In fairness, it should be acknowledged that many arenas and ballparks now offer everything from sushi to steak tacos. Of course, you can make these same savory dishes yourself. Or go to a restaurant. Or combine the best of both worlds and have them delivered. That way, you won’t miss a minute of the game. And the tip will cost you less than a ballpark brew dog. Er, did we mention that already?

One more thing: Places like Costco sell both peanuts and Cracker Jack. In giant tubs. Just so you know.

The music

Plainly put, stadium tunes are as grating as they are ubiquitous. Doubly so if the Baha Men are involved.

In your living room, you control whether “Jock Jams” makes it into the CD player; at MCI Center, you’re lucky to leave the building without hearing Vols. 1 through 5. Time was, canned music was confined to halftime. Then it seeped into timeouts. Now, something along the lines of “DUM-DUM … D-FENSE” plays during each and every possession, like the soundtrack to “NBA Live 2004.” Which, if you’re kicking back with your rec room PlayStation, can be turned off.

Think of it this way: If, by some odd occurrence, Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” materializes on your radio, you have the power — nay, the moral obligation — to take swift and decisive corrective action. But if the same thing happens at a Wizards game, you’re stuck watching an old guy play tonsil Pong with his wife.

The choice is yours.

The bathroom

Two words: Urinal cakes. Two more: Urinal troughs.

The remote control

Not merely the second-greatest invention of the 20th century — after the Bullpen Car, of course — but also the ultimate stadium trump card. With the mere press of a button, you can flip through tedious timeouts, skip over dull stretches of play, even turn off a stinker of a game entirely.

Of course, doing so may leave you raking leaves or doing laundry instead of watching the 4 p.m. Bears-Cardinals tilt. But hey — no one ever said home was perfect, either.

FIVE THINGS YOU CAN’T GET AT HOME

TWT presents five reasons to take yourself out to the ballgame:

1. Trampoline jams

Outside of the circus, where else are you going to see an ex-gymnast in a furry suit leap through a burning ring of flaming propane to throw down a two-fisted dunk? That’s entertainment.

2. The Lambeau Leap …

… and the sideline high-five/dive into the stands for a loose ball. The closest you’ll get to your heroes without subsequent legal action.

3. A CO2-propelled T-shirt

Well, not that you’ll ever actually catch one. But still.

4. The 12th man

Sorry, but wearing your lucky team slippers while slouching on the couch won’t help the home team win. Sometimes, you just have to be there.

5. Tailgating

Sure, you could buy your own beer and grill your own chow. But that would take all the fun out of mooching.


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