Take me out to the ball game

IS there anything more American than baseball?

Until the past four or five years I had never been able to get into the sport proclaimed as "America's Pastime" but now I love it and a trip to the USA wouldn't have been complete without going to a game.

Unfortunately for me the season of my beloved Boston Red Sox ended while I was in the air, with the franchise experiencing its worst season in decades but that didn't stop me from making the city my first port of call.

After landing in 'Beantown' shortly after midnight, I had a good sleep and upon waking it was breakfast, shower and then straight to Fenway Park for a tour.

First used in 1912, Fenway Park is the oldest park still being used in Major League Baseball (MLB), and while it has been upgraded over the years there is still a section of seating behind home plate that are original seats.

Ironically while I didn't get to see the Red Sox play, the day of my tour their manager Bobby Valentine, whose style fractured both players and supporters, got the boot one year into his contract so there were plenty of TV crews and the like hovering around the stadium.

The tour guide, Maury, told plenty of tales about Fenway's past including the reason behind the solitary red seat among a bay of green in the right field bleachers.

It signalled the longest home run hit at the park, which came in 1946 when Ted Williams hit one 502 feet (153 metres) and hit a spectator named Joseph A. Boucher in the head.

As well as being a ball park, it is also a popular concert venue with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond, The Police and Aerosmith performing there in recent times with one sign warning patrons against moshing and other "aggressive antics".

Desperate to see a game I had to wait until I arrived in New York and headed to one of the more modern ball parks, the new Yankee Stadium.

Worth a cool $1.5 billion to construct, Yankee Stadium was opened in 2009 and replaced the old Yankee Stadium, which had served the team for 85 years between 1923 and 2008.

With the Yankees being the arch rivals of the Red Sox, my allegiances were with their opponents on the night, the Baltimore Orioles.

I was severely outnumbered.

They turned up in their thousands in pinstripe white and blue jerseys, most with the name of superstar captain Derek Jeter and his famous number 2 on the back.

Jeter is the biggest star in the city that never sleeps, with fans chanting his name relentlessly every time he steps up to bat.

Despite being 38 and in the twilight of a glittering career, Jeter is still on a contract that averages out to be worth about $17 million a year, down slightly on the 10-year, $189 million deal he signed prior to 2001.

Like so many other sports, watching a baseball game on TV is nothing compared to being there live.

For one, you can actually hear the organ playing all those cliched baseball tunes and you see all the little things you don't on television.

For example, every three innings the dirt diamond linking the four bases gets swept flat by ground staff.

At the end of the sixth inning, the ground announcer plays YMCA over the loudspeakers and the sweepers do their bit by stopping mid-job to do the famous arm movements.

A beer, a hot dog and a pretzel are must-dos at a baseball game and while they don't disappoint, be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for them. The game itself was everything you would expect from a play-off match.

The Yankees were up 2-1 in the best-of-five series at the time but were on the end of a 2-1 scoreline in a match that went 13 innings (a game lasts nine innings unless it's tied at the end) and finished after midnight.

The downside of such a long, entertaining fixture was having to catch a train in the Bronx in the dark of night but with so many glum fans around there wasn't much chance of there being too much trouble.

It's now history that the Yankees went on to win that series 3-2 before being swept 4-0 by Detroit in the best-of-seven series that followed, falling one step short of a World Series berth.

Detroit then went on to be beaten 4-0 by San Francisco in the World Series who were crowned MLB champions for the second time in the past three seasons.

For whatever reason, baseball has never really taken off in Australia but with a growing domestic league and the possibility of three MLB games to be played in Sydney to kick off the 2014 season its popularity could be about to explode.

If indeed the Sydney bid does come off, games won't be played until March 2014 but I would encourage any sport fan to try and snap up a ticket.

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