Of course this is a baseball story, but IT'S NOT ABOUT THE PLAYOFFS and IT'S NOT ABOUT THE RED SOX. No, this is about silly baseball, and local baseball, and community without chauvinism baseball, and $5 ticket baseball. This is about a fun summer's evening out at the ballpark. This is about the Saint Paul Saints, the local independent league team.
But even better, yes much much better: This is about MORRIS DANCING between innings at a St. Paul Saints game last June.
I called a team meeting of Ramsey's Braggarts Morris Men a week before our practice season started last winter to drink beer and talk about our concerns and hopes for the team and to drink beer and to discuss possible additions to our danceout schedule and to drink beer. We met in Bob's basement pub and drank beer and thought about what local public gatherings during our dancing season might require the presence of Morris dancers. Our annual schedule was becoming a little stale, and we too often found ourselves dancing in lovely bucolic sites throughout the Twin Cities to an audience of mostly us. Which is great fun and then we go drink beer and sometimes sing drinking songs and sea shanties, but Morris dancing is, ideally, a public ritual act of disorder. And fertility. Where might we best find the appropriate public?
At a Twins game, somebody suggested. Yes, yes, we liked that idea. We talked about dancing in front of the Metrodome before a game. Then somebody said, "No, not the Twins, the Saints!" A consensus of excitement rippled through the room. Of course. The Saints might not know this, but we were the perfect thing for them.
I first attended a Saints game when the Freedom Band (the local gay/lesbian band, for which I played percussion for many years and generally ran things for a few of them) was invited to play The Star Spangled Banner to open a game. I met their pig mascot for the year (Hammy Davis Junior at the time -- this year the pig, Muddonna, was not a live pig but a costumed performer). I learned that silliness and baseball make a lovely combination. ("Attention left field bleachers: Midway Stadium is a No-Wave Zone.") Between every inning there is a 90-second performance of some sort, with a casual relation to an evening's declared and corporate-sponsored theme.
After the team meeting I checked the Saints website. What luck! Tuesday is our usual Morris night, and there were two home games in June on Tuesday nights: Cow Appreciation Night, and Celebration of Stupid Festivals Night. You couldn't ask for a better matchup, on either night really but we decided to go for the latter.
We contacted the Saints and their response was along the lines of "We have no idea what you are but you sound perfect" and they invited us to dance a 90-second gig in the middle of second inning. We worked out a stick dance to "Take Me Out to the BallGame" (that ended with three pairs of dancers missing their clashes, one at a time -- one, two, three strikes you're out). Ultimately we realized we couldn't use the dance, because that music is reserved for 7th-inning stretch. Well of course.
We showed up an hour before the game and danced in the parking lot as people arrived. This was really what we had envisioned; the dancing on the field was gravy. We had more dancers than is required for any individual dance, so I sat out the on-field dance and watched both the team and the crowd. At the end of the first half of the second inning, the scoreboard displayed our logo and six men with sticks ran out on the field, followed by a musician on squeezebox and a technician with a microphone. The team did a quick dance and ran off. The crowd was fascinated. They saw the team appear and start dancing, and while they didn't know what this was it was clear that this was serious. Something real. They grew silent and attentive. It was magic. For the rest of the game, whenever I walked around (in kit), people would approach me and say nice things and ask questions about the dancing.
The Saints staff liked us a great deal, so much that they asked us to dance again in the middle of the fifth inning. This resulted in an experience that should make Robert and John jealous, even if they are not Saints fans in particular. We went to the below-bleachers dugout area behind home plate (I kept thinking of it as backstage) in the middle of the fourth inning, in time to watch a 6-run rally on the part of the Saints. We had a view from behind a grate behind home plate, just feet away. Wow. What an amazing vantage point.
I was part of the second dancing set, and I have two main observations:
- Dancing on baseball field sod is ideal, as it resembles a well-tended English lawn in
the Cotswalds, the spawning ground of this tradition.
- As soon as we ran on the field and blocked up I was overcome with a feeling of startling
familiarity. How could I not have anticipated this?: This felt like playing in the band
The Saints called us the next day and invited us back for Thursday night, but we pointed out that our schedule is set a little further in advance than that but could we dance again next year?
Shortly after we danced the skies blackened completely, and rain began. This became the biggest, fiercest rainstorm of the past several years. I had no work the next day, as my workplace (and much of the area) was without electricity. This in a season of serious drought.
The power of Baseball combined with the power of Morris is not something to be taken lightly.
Squire, Ramsey's Braggarts Morris Men