NEW YORK — Here's the thing. I'm not really a baseball fan. I think that I'm a big fan of the immediate camaraderie of a baseball game, of the instant, if fleeting, friendship between thousands of fans following the track of a ball as it zips across the sky like some tailless comet.
The sorry truth is, it's the peanuts that matter the most. I love baseball peanuts. The ones in paper bags, warm in your hands, salted perfectly. The kind that vendors hawk as they roam the aisles of the stadium: "Getcher peanuts here! Hot, roasted peanuts here!"
I was 5 when I first heard it at Phillies games, where my parents, newly immigrated from Taiwan, tried to understand and pass on to me the great American experience.
I remember the way the peanut vendors kept a sharp eye out for the tiniest hungry look and how they went to great lengths to invent new and fun ways to deliver their goods - tossed behind their backs or between their legs, always way up into the air, always with alarming accuracy, right into your lap. Maybe that was the peanut allure - you can't, after all, throw a hot dog with that kind of grace.
Throughout my American childhood, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and Angel Stadium in Anaheim, my family always left behind a big pile of peanut shells. Mmmmm, peanuts.
At any rate, when my friend Sam called early this season with field-level seats for a Yankees game, I really jumped. I hadn't been to a game in four years.
So I bundled up on one of the chilliest nights of the year to see my very first game at Yankee Stadium. I anticipated warmth from thoughts of a bag of peanuts.
Once at the game, we sank low in our seats, conserving heat. I briefly savored the green grass, the familiar noise of the game - and then I started looking for the peanuts. My hands were freezing.
Sam flagged down a vendor. I looked for the familiar steam rising from the vendor's box, but I didn't see any. Nor was there that white-and-red paper bag that the peanuts come in. There was a plastic bag instead. Somewhere in my head a little alarm bell went off, but I ignored it.
Money changed hands. And then the vendor proceeded to pass the peanuts to Sam. Like it was some sort of underhanded drug deal.
Sam passed me the peanuts. They sat in my lap, cold, previously roasted in some factory and crowded into a horribly garish yellow plastic bag, an embarrassment even to the canned peanuts you find on grocery-market shelves.
My nose stopped quivering. I wrapped my hands sadly around the bag and mourned the loss of a tradition.
I cracked open a peanut. I ate one. Yuck. That was that. I drank cup after cup of hot chocolate and watched as the Yankees half-heartedly trudged to a win over the Texas Rangers. I was so disgruntled that I bellowed at one particularly annoying fellow fan.
At that point, baseball's curious brand of camaraderie seemed of secondary importance. Could you blame me? I'd been stripped of my peanuts, of a childhood's worth of baseball-peanut expectations.
Still, I held out hope: Another friend and I planned a trip to Florida that included a Mets-Marlins game.
In Florida, land of boiled peanuts, they must know for sure the importance of a hot peanut. I'd settle for boiled peanuts.
No such luck.
At Miami's Pro Players Stadium, they don't even have vendors. Instead, teenagers walking around with pads of paper take your order, and then bring it out to you. And the peanuts are still cold. What a crock. The Mets lost.
I'm forced to find a new point to baseball games.
Perhaps I will convert to hot dogs, find a vendor that will stand a couple of seats away and get him to throw it at me.
Does anyone ever do the wave anymore, by the way?
*Yi Shun Lai is a freelance writer.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society