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Crabs vs. Steelheads

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July 2, Crabs Stadium

The Humboldt Crabs bested the Humboldt Steelheads in both games of a doubleheader Wednesday night. Despite the losses, the Steelheads are shaping up to be a strong baseball team – made up of local college students, the team is full of scrap and quickness.

There were more than 1,000 appreciative fans glad for the Steelheads’ last-minute substitution for the Marin Merchants. This is also an excellent year for the Crabs’ roster and the teams played good fast baseball. Of course, in Crabs Stadium the baseball game is only part of the experience. There is also the oozing melee of youth, parades of the fashion-savvy voguing on top of crushed peanut shells, the old friends and of course the Crab Grass Band. When I brag to out-of-area people about the Crabs, I usually start with the band.

The band has four flutes, a tuba, great percussion, horns galore, and they play awesome tunes. From Steve Miller to Tito Puente's “Oye Como Va” to the closing Black Sabbath number, the Crab Grass Band always adds flavor to the games.

After the last Steelheads/Crabs extra-innings showdown, I decided to cheer for the Steelheads. My reasoning was that the Steelheads actually live here; they have roots and a commitment to this place. I still support the Crabs, just not when they play the Steelheads. Upon hearing that the local players had stepped up to make sure baseball went down on Wednesday night, I was motivated to buy a Steelheads cap and started hollering for them.

I usually sit in the “loud section,” between the band and the beer. And I like to cheer. Live sports are all about participation and interaction in ways that can seldom happen when a television is involved.

I come by my volume honestly — my mother is a skilled heckler who loves baseball with a passion. We’ve been to a few major league games together, and I studied her ability to add wry commentary at full volume and join into every collective cheer. We have very different memories of a Mother’s Day game at Yankee Stadium where I believe she was reprimanded by the usher for her pointed commentary, something I’m quite proud of — she, unsurprisingly, denies this ever took place.

A few tips for those of you who yearn to join the cheering masses:

One: Always accept any cue from the band. If they play the quick horn blasts, get ready to yell, “Charge!” If they want you to sing along with “Sweet Caroline,” just grimace and start singing.

Two: Anyone drunk or inspired enough to stand up and initiate a cheer should get support. There are some limitations: You might not want to encourage these kinds of wayward community spiritual expressions if they are blocking your view or happen during every batter.

Three: Don’t join in with insulting or insipid cheers. I think the level of meanness for college-age baseball players should stop at “whatsamatta with number (insert number of player to be jeered)? He’s a bum!” Remember that whatever not-so-clever cruelty that might be shouted from the stands is likely to get reproduced in Little League games up and down the North Coast.

Four: Use the seating and stadium itself as an instrument. The thumping of hundreds of feet on the bleachers can make a mighty noise. Collective cheering has the possibility for cathartic, even magical moments if we all get louder together.

All of these guidelines left me in a pickle when cheering for the Steelheads. Without a lot of support, I settled in for pro-Steelheads yelps in the brief openings afforded me. Late in the second game, I began getting more boisterous. As the Crabs fans would yell: “Let’s go Crabbies,” I would yell “Steeeeeelheads!” in the pause. This caused my friend Eric, girded in his Crabs T-shirt, to put me in a mild choke hold knocking my barbecue corn nuts to the quagmire below the stands. Regardless of community sentiment (which was clearly for the Crabs), I diligently yelled for the Steelheads through both games.

Baseball is a beautiful sport: the patient smoothness of hits, thwack of balls dead-eyed into mitts, and bursts of drama as players meet briefly at bases. But it is we, the fans, who clap and yell in synergy with the action on the field, who make the games alive.

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