As you walk around the grounds of a pro tennis tournaments, you’ll sometimes see long lines of fans waiting outside courts of nearly empty stands where play is already underway. They’re waiting for a changeover, when the usher lets the crowds file in until the players once again resume play. If the lines are long, it can take two changeovers before a fan makes it to the stands–perhaps as many as five games.
It’s annoying, but I guess the players are especially sensitive to visual distraction. (This same courtesy isn’t extended to qualifiers.) If someone stumbles into the crowd with a cardboard tray of beer and nachos, the player might double-fault as he or she sees the viscous, orange spray of melted cheddar and Colby Jack splash on the laps of the spectators.
I thought this protocol was unique to tennis, consistent with other rules of fan etiquette: keep quiet while the ball is in play; refrain from applauding errors. In short, respect the players.
Now, it seems, this ethos has migrated to baseball, in Philadelphia of all places, a city that once booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game.
Last night, I watched the Marlins pound the National League East Champion Phillies 7-2. My seats were in left field, near the foul poll. In between the second and third innings, I went to the food court for a hot dog and drink. As I started to walk back down the aisle toward my seat, an arm barred my way. “Wait until he’s finished hitting,” the usher said. A small group of us collected behind the usher, waiting to return to our seats. The batter was almost hard to see from our distant vantage point. Would he really be distracted by a head bobbing up and down in the outfield while we looked for our seats?
The wait is only one at bat, so it’s not tennis-like. But it was strange, no doubt about it, especially considering how rowdy the already-seated crowd became as the game wore on and the beer flowed.