Opposing teams’ fans find common ground
There was little doubt I was in enemy territory.
Everywhere I looked Monday night the light blue color worn by the Tampa Bay Rays was in sight.
There were caps, T-shirts and, yes, jackets and sweatshirts because the temperature had fallen to about 75 and there was a slight wind.
The locals wanted to make sure to stay warm for the game between their heroes and the Minnesota Twins.
To be sure, there were a few Minnesota hats and shirts.
Four older ladies from Minnesota (older than me, anyway) chattered on and on about Joe Mauer as they walked to their seats dressed in shorts and short-sleeve shirts.
I’d seen the same four ladies the day before in Fort Myers at a Twins game and Joe Mauer was pretty much the focus of that conversation also. They were hoping that his wife, who is pregnant and will have twins sometime this year, is worthy of being married to “their” Joe.
This night, however, we were at Charlotte Sports Park, a beautiful minor league baseball park planted in the middle of a rural area near Port Charlotte.
And those ladies, myself and a few other Twins fans were definitely in the minority.
When the Rays took the lead the crowd let us Minnesota fans have it, one man questioning loudly why we had even bothered to attend the game.
One lady, not too quietly, suggested we go back to our 30-degree days.
“It was almost 40 on Sunday,” I countered.
Laughter came from all around, the lady in the row ahead of me saying she’d never even bother to visit a state that had temperatures like that.
Then the Twins managed to take a one-run lead and the Tampa Bay fans weren’t quite as loud.
An inning earlier the lady behind me, a rabid Tampa Bay fan, had asked why I was taking notes and taking pictures.
I explained that I was going to be writing a baseball story for a group of papers in Minnesota.
And that began a baseball conversation that ran for innings between the lady, her companion and myself.
She has been a trial lawyer the past 30 years, has three daughters who are lawyers, and has a love for baseball.
The woman umpired youth baseball and softball for a number of years, even sustaining a broken clavicle in one of the baseball games. It was obvious she enjoys baseball.
Her companion, a co-worker, is even more of a baseball nut, taking at least one trip a year to a stadium somewhere in the U.S. to watch a few games.
Our conversation began when a Twins player got a hit, a play that the lady argued should have been ruled an error. We discussed our respective outlooks on the play, agreed to disagree, and the conversation went on from there.
By the time the fifth inning had rolled around with the Twins holding a 3-2 lead, my new friend got up to get a couple beers. When she returned she announced that she had also ordered a pizza and that I was going to have to help with it because it was a large one.
Ten minutes later her friend went to get the pizza and the first thing he did when he got back was to hand me a napkin and tell me to take a piece. They even offered a beer but I declined, using the excuse that I had to write when I got home.
(That reminded me that an older friend had told me many years ago never to refuse a free beer.)
We continued talking and the Rays tied the game. They had a piece of pizza left and gave it to me to take home for a midnight snack.
Here we had started the night as adversaries and now I was going home with a huge piece of pizza, compliments of my new friends.
It turns out their office is located just a few blocks from where I’m staying so they made me promise to stop by and talk some baseball before going back to Minnesota.
So here I sit, munching on that piece of pizza late at night, writing a column and thinking how wonderful baseball is that it could help forge a friendship over just a few innings.
I’ll make that visit, surprise them with a pizza, and probably talk some more baseball and remind them that the Twins won in extra innings, 6-4.
That’s the way life should be.