Monday, February 23, 2009

Archive: "The game's true function was to provide material for the man who operated the screen."

Like I said the other day, I recently read In a Narrow Grave, a book of essays about Texas by Larry McMurtry that was originally published in 1968. It includes an essay titled "Love, Death, & the Astrodome," which chronicles a visit he made to the monstrosity not terribly long after it opened in 1965. I got a few laughs from this passage:
The game that evening was between the Astros and the Mets, and it was obvious from the first pitch that most of the fans would not have bothered to sit through such a limp contest had it been taking place anywhere else. Even in the Dome, many of them might have left the game had it not been for the big electronic screen in centerfield. The game's true function was to provide material for the man who operated the screen. Whenever the Mets got a runner as far as second base the screen showed a foolhardy Met being smashed into the dust by a plummeting Astro, after which the word WHOA! appeared and the fans yelled WHOA! Usually this was sufficient to stop the Mets cold.

Later in the game, when the Astros unleashed the full fury of their normally inconspicuous attack, the screen assisted them on practically every pitch. When an Astro got on base there was a blast of heraldic trumpets and a little cavalryman (Teddy Roosevelt?) thundered across the screen, sabre raised. the word CHARGE! appeared, and the fans yelled CHARGE! Sometimes, instead of the cavalryman, a fierce little black bull came on and dashed about. When an Astro performed some particularly daring feat of base-running (like not getting picked off) the screen flashed OLE! and the fans yelled OLE! If the Astros push across two or three runs in one inning the trumpets and the charges and the bull and the cavalryman have the crowd in such a state of frenzy that the one thing they want to do is yell CHARGE! again.

It is fascinating to ponder the possible uses to which screen and scoreboard might be put. Billy Graham, for instance, finds the Dome a good place to crusade -- but would a conversion be the equivalent of a home run or a single? When would one yell CHARGE?


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