I went to a Major League baseball game in San Diego. For anyone who doesn’t know the first thing about American baseball, the San Diego Padres are not a good team. Not a good team at all. That’s all you really need to know. The Padres (henceforth to be known as “we” because I like choosing a team) were playing the St Louis Cardinals. Balls were hit, a lot more balls were missed, there were ooohs and aaahs, and several hours passed. It went to a few extra innings and eventually we lost the game after almost five hours play time.
We paid $5 for mid-range seats and an all-you-can-eat voucher for the food stalls. That’s not the regular price but my host had printed off old tickets and Photoshopped the date on them, knowing that the guys at the gate never actually scanned the unique code. Instead, they took a quick glance at the paper and clipped a hole in the ticket to say it had been checked. To some people it’s stealing; to others it’s taking advantage of big business and the human desire to cut corners. Like leaving a jar of pickled onions next to the frozen peas. Sort of. My host had been doing the same ticket trick every game for three years. Besides, a few burgers and cokes cost a few cents and the stadium was never full so it wasn’t like we were occupying seats that otherwise would’ve been filled by a recovering alcoholic ex-husband trying to rebuild his life by taking his kids on a nice afternoon out.
Go to a Premier League football game in England and you’ll pay £30 for a standard ticket, £3 for a pie with a suspect-looking brown filling and £2.50 for a program written by a failing sixth-form journalism student looking for extra credit. And when it’s Stoke playing Wigan, you know three things. One, the weather is going to be terrible. Two, the game is going to be awful. And three, you’ll be left with the realisation you could have spent the afternoon cleaning the house with really expensive cleaning products in the hopes you’d get a suck-job off the missus.
As dull as baseball is to the uninitiated, I enjoyed it. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat at any point but my host was a massive stats-fan and filled me in on all the tiny details about batting averages and why that guy was dropped and why a certain coach wasn’t playing a certain player even though he hit three home runs a week ago. That might sound sarcastic but I’m the kind of guy who follows Twitter accounts that tweet facts about Norwich City having scored more goals from direct free kicks than Messi and Ronaldo combined. Hey, I’m quirky, okay?!
There’s also something very social about baseball games. Parents take families, friends go as a group, and everyone knows the stories of “big screen proposals” where a guy’ll crack out his ring and propose to the lucky lady while 50,000 other people watch her squirm on the massive screens overhead.
The next day my host had to work so I set about exploring San Diego by myself.
One of the trolley/tram lines goes right to the Mexican border at Tijuana. I could’ve stepped off the tram and walked right into Mexico, probably with a dramatic sunset behind me and some Mariachi El Bronx starting up in the background. I wanted to do exactly that. I would love to now be able to say to people, “Yeah, I’ve been to Mexico.” But as my US visa had technically expired by this point, I thought that if I left America for Mexico, even for a day, the arrogant, bored customs officials would leave me shafted south of the border. As much as I know I’d enjoy Mexico, I had a bus ticket to Las Vegas in my backpack. And when it comes to ancient civilizations, history and cartel kidnapping risk versus burlesque shows, gambling and skinny dipping with gay guys, there was only ever going to be one winner.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of San Diego as a city. Admittedly, the public transport was clean and efficient and the people were nice and there’s a lot of good to say about lots of other really general things people normally like about cities, but…oh hell, I don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with the place and I’ve never heard anything bad about it from anyone, I just wasn’t overly impressed by the place. Maybe if the only cities in the world you’ve visited are Birmingham and Brussels, you might be impressed by San Diego. But compared to Toronto, Buenos Aires, Edinburgh, Jerusalem or New York, San Diego just doesn’t cut it.
And as I’ve shown in recent weeks, I seem to have made myself an authority figure on parenting. If you’re thinking of raising a family in America, by all means head to San Diego. There’s everything you could want, zoos and parks and great transport, cheap days out at the beach, and, by god, there’s even a baseball team you can use for “family time” and won’t hit the wallet too hard, especially if you cheat and use photocopied tickets.
Edit: my visa had technically expired in that it was past its expiry date, but all J1 visas offer the holder a month’s extra time to travel. I wasn’t remaining in the country illegally.