Over the past 15 or so years, I have been lucky to go to lots of baseball games. Of course I can't go to every game the Brewers play. If I did, I wouldn't have time to see my kids, grandkids or my friends. I might not have time to read books, write my fiction or even have dinner with my husband. (Luckily he enjoys going to a game with me occasionally.)
One of the perks of seeing so many games is sharing a love of the game with the regulars, the season-ticket holders, the folks who sit around me and even the friends of the people who sit around me.
The ushers are a part of this community. Getting to know them has been interesting and enjoyable. Many are former teachers who began working during their summer vacations. Their job can be tough, like when they have to shoo a fan from someone else's seat. The rule is firm and enforced. You can only sit in your ticketed seat. If a seat seems to be empty, too bad. The guy who left the seat might return. He or she might have swapped with someone or had to take a child to the restroom.
Over the years, I have gotten to know Kenny, who "minds" our section. Each spring, Kenny, my husband and I catch up on each other's lives. At the end of last season, the glorious one that didn't quite fulfill our dreams, Kenny handed me a photo he'd taken of my son and me at one of the playoff games, jammed among the throngs, waving our towels. It's taped on my refrigerator door.
An usher in the section next to ours always says hi and calls me by name. Recently she asked where I'd been, because she hadn't seen me lately. She was right. I'd been out of town. Several of the ushers who scan tickets at the entrance welcome me back in April, making me feel at home when they wave me in.
The fans enforce the unwritten rules
It doesn't happen often. Most fans bond with the crowd around them, cheering, clapping, teaching their kids how to do the wave and chiding visitors who root for the other team. But now and then, when a fan crosses the line, the group closes ranks against the culprit, as it did a few weeks ago.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, my 11-year-old granddaughter and I were enjoying the game in spite of the weather. The temperature lingered near a 100. Easing into our seats in the sun was like hopping onto a frying pan. Luckily, I remembered the tip I got from Sandy, my buddy who attends EVERY game, going back to the County Stadium days: bring a towel to sit on when it's hot. I brought two.
It only got hotter. The two women sitting next to me were friendly, chatty and delighted with their good seats. They even offered us some ice cubes from their cooler, to cool our heads and wrists.
About halfway through the game, as the visiting team trekked off the field, one of the players indicated he was going to toss a ball into the stands. My granddaughter and I stood to stretch. The player underhanded the ball right at us.
My granddaughter reached for the ball and caught it. The woman next to me lunged for it too, shouldering me aside and yanking the ball from my granddaughter's hand.
"It was meant for me!" she shouted. "That player, he nodded at me!"
My granddaughter yielded. And the fans behind us roared.
"Give the kid the ball!" someone shouted.
Others joined in, screaming their disapproval. I can't remember what they said, but their intent was clear. The woman should give the ball back to the kid.
My granddaughter turned to me and shook her head. She'd never seen anything like that before. She's accustomed to polite people, and until that moment, the woman had been charming.
The crowd didn't let up.
"Give the kid the ball!" the loudest voice bellowed.
Mark, the seat holder who sits in front of me, glared at the woman, shook his head and reached into his bag.
"Here," he said, calling my granddaughter by name. "Take this one."
He shook his head and squinted at the woman once more. Shamed by the crowd, the woman tried to hand over the ball, but my granddaughter shook her head.
"No thanks," she said with a smile. "I have one."
I was proud of my granddaughter, touched by Mark's generosity and gratified by the action of the fans behind me. They behaved the way we hope our communities will behave every day. They didn't need an usher, a policeman or an official. They enforced the rule of being polite, kind and generous, and used their numbers and their voices to shame the violator.
When my kids were young and came home from school sad or angry over an incident with a friend or a teacher, I'd listen to their story, hug them and tell them I love them no matter what. Later, after the emotions had settled, I'd sum up the event as a learning experience. Unfortunately, learning experiences are seldom fun.
I hope my granddaughter will look at her souvenir baseball and remember more than the woman's sad, shocking behavior. I hope the voices of the Brewers fans assuring and honoring civil behavior will be a lasting learning experience.
Anne Stratton is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.