Today I went to a Detroit Tigers baseball game at Comerica Park in Detroit with this assignment in mind. While I was there I noticed many sub-rituals within the larger ritual of the game itself.
From an ethnographic point of view, the baseball game housed many different aspects of environment that were worthy of note. It was a warm, sunny Wednesday, around mid-day, which prompted a high attendance at the baseball stadium. The stadium itself is pretty massive and the decorations outside the park generally are all tiger related, with statues lining the entrances. People of all walks of life attended the game: there was a large mix of races, pretty equal amount of men and women, lots of children, and also lots of older people. Their attire was all similar, almost everyone was in blue or orange with the words “Detroit” or “Tigers” emblazoned somewhere across themselves, and everyone was in warmer weather clothing with shorts, sunglasses, and baseball hats on many attendees. When I got to my seat I was presented with the main attraction of the ritualistic event by the perfectly green, recently mowed field of grass that outlined and protruded from the geometrically sound diamond made out of sand. During the game the loud speakers would play in between the breaks in action, either playing the personally selected warm-up songs for the upcoming batters, playing conventional pump-up sound bits with trumpets, or announcing whatever TV commercial fill-in event was to occupy the attention of the game goers. Also throughout the game came vendors yelling out, trying to sell their products of water, beer, peanuts, hot dogs, ice cream, or cotton candy to anyone willing to pay ballpark prices. The people in the stands carried out their own rituals throughout the duration of the game, either taunting players with a chant, getting everybody to chant in favor of the Tigers, or doing the wave through the stands. One guy sitting right by me made it his own ritual to shout “Good eye!” at any tiger who took a ball at the plate. The players had rituals of their own, I saw many batters at the plate—in between pitches—step back to readjust their batting gloves and make a prayer motion to the sky, the pitchers made the same motions over and over, and every time a team got an out without anybody on base the infield would throw the ball around to each infielder before returning the ball to the pitcher. At the middle of the 7th inning came the 7th inning stretch where everyone got out of their seats and sang the song with “the home team” lyric replaced with “tigers”. Finally, towards the end of the game in the 9th inning, the tigers lost the lead and had only one inning to come back and many of the people who hadn’t left the game already took their baseball caps and turned them inside-out and upside-down and put them on back on their heads to initiate a rally.
Clearly there were many sub-rituals within the greater ritual of the baseball game: people all wore the same stuff, fans chanted similarly, attendees bought the same food products, the players did their own superstitious rituals, the whole stadium sang the same song together, and then many people inverted their headdress to instill supernatural power. To fit these events into Van Gennep’s ritual stages, (1) separation was achieved through entering the stadium in Tigers apparel, (2) the liminal stage could be observed through the game playing itself out along with the chants and 7th inning stretch, and (3) reintegration happened when the game was over and people left the stadium (Lecture 3.3). Another conclusion that can be drawn is that this ritual was an informal rite of communal intensification where the cultural purpose for this event was the strengthening of communal solidarity. Also, people have been fascinated with sport and athleticism since the beginning of civilization, and the observation of masterful athleticism in baseball is cathartic for many people, while at the same time allowing people in mass to stand behind a common cause with their neighbors.
Overall, I think the notion of ritual flew over my head many times when I went to baseball games before, but after learning about rituals and their cultural purpose this unit I cannot help but think about all sporting events in an anthropological manner!