Thursday, September 6, 2012

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never get back
Let me root, root, root for the home team
If they don't win, it's a shame
For it's one! two! three strikes! You're out!
At the old ball game.

Any baseball fan, or reasonably culturally literate American has already recognized that the titles to my last couple posts, including this one, refer to a great American sporting tradition.

It's called the seventh-inning stretch

While leaning back and enjoying a nine-inning baseball game, typically played at a leisurely three-hour pace, one can get a bit sore and stiff from sitting still so long. So it's a time-honored custom that halfway through the seventh inning, the players pause the game and the entire crowd stands up and takes a stretch break together. 

This stand-and-stretch routine dates way back to the mid-1800s, though its exact origin has been lost to the mists of time. 

Somewhere along the line, spectators began to sing as they stretched. "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," written in 1908 by a man who had never been to a baseball game, became the hands-down favorite sing-a-long during the seventh-inning stretch. Much of the credit for popularizing the tradition goes to Harry Caray, a longtime and dearly beloved broadcaster of Chicago baseball. 

The story goes that Harry would turn off his mic during the stretch and sing along with the crowd from the privacy of his broadcasting booth. But his gusto and enthusiasm for the song caught the attention of the team owner, who promptly had Harry's mic turned back on. The gimmick caught on. For decades, Harry's warm-hearted showmanship of leading the crowd in singing the song during the seventh-inning stretch was a highlight of any visit to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, home of my beloved Chicago Cubs.

Harry Caray is gone from us now, bless his baseball-loving soul, but the tradition of the seventh-inning stretch lives on. I sang and stretched tonight at the Mariners game, and I experienced, as I always do, the swell of camaraderie, good sportsmanship and wholesome fun that sweeps through the crowd as we jump to our feet to belt out the song, and then mill happily together for a few moments after. It always happens like that.

This is one of the many reasons why we Americans are so crazy for our baseball. It's a game of honor, tradition, and good times. Not to mention the peanuts and Cracker Jack.

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