‘Take me out to the ballgame’

Standing room only ticket: $40.

Dr. Pepper in a souvenir cup: $4.50

Discovering America’s pastime (and finding out that it’s actually not baseball): priceless.

Now before I have you baseball purists calling for my head on a pike, let me explain how one pastime has supplanted baseball as America’s favorite. This pastime, of course, is going to a baseball game.

Now I know that the distinction between the two may seem slight or even nonexistent, but I assure you, it’s there. And what better place to begin making that distinction, than the Major League Baseball All-Star game played July 13 in Houston.

The game was less of a nine-inning showdown and more of a nine-inning throw down.

There were pre-game street parties and post-game street parties. There were bands playing and celebrities waving. There was one lucky $1 million winner, and 45,000 others who left the stadium feeling like it could have been them.

The “All-star vendors” hawking their wares, the Lance Berkman nesting doll giveaways and the fireworks were as integral to the baseball experience as bunting the runners over or stealing second.

Hometown hero Roger Clemens was shelled for six runs in the first inning, but left to standing applause because somehow, on this All-Star baseball weekend, actual All-Star baseball wasn’t the most important aspect.

If I told you that I ate $10 worth of hot dogs in one day, you would call me fat. If I told you that those $10 bought me only two dogs, you would call me crazy.

But such is life at the stadium.

The doctor who spent $1,000 per front row outfield seat thinks little about dropping $6.75 on a bowl of nachos.

The businessman who jetted in from New Jersey for the game might as well buy both $15 souvenir programs because the covers (but only the covers) are different.

Thousands of other fans showed up hours before the game starts, in hopes of snagging a ball during batting practice or getting an autograph they could sell on eBay.

When many of those same fans turned around to leave with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, I began to wonder if they came for the game at all.

And it’s not as if Major League Baseball itself is oblivious to the changing interests of its fan base. I remember growing up when the slogan for the League was “I love this game.” Now, tellingly, baseball attracts new fans with the phrase “I live for this.”

The “this” that fans live for isn’t the game; it’s the hoopla surrounding the game.

Baseball may be America’s sport, but watching it is America’s pastime.

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