Along with peanut butter and jelly, buttermilk pancakes and driving on the wrong side of the road, baseball is just something that you have to try while you are in America.
It's unlikley to ever be popular in the UK, but what I can say about it is that it is a good deal more accessible than Premier League football. And I'm not talking about wheelchairs here. A ticket for a game at Tropicana Field, St.Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays costs around $18 dollars. This is roughly £12, a quarter of the price you would have to stump up to see messrs Gerrard, Rooney and Drogba in league action.
And you can't say you are not getting your money's worth. A game of baseball takes around three hours to complete and, unlike other sports this has nothing to do with time-outs. While NBA basketball is hopelessly peppered with stoppages for tactical discussions, baseball has a rhythm more similar to T20 cricket. Nine innings, three outs per inning, and at the end of the ninth (or the bottom of the ninth as the locals would have it) the team with the most runs wins. It's rounders with razzamatazz, but what's so wrong with that?
Happily we visited Tropicana Field at a time when the Rays were going well. They have been pegged back a little since, but at the time of our visit to see them take on the Chicago White Sox they led their division and had the best win/loss record in MLB. They didn't let us down here either, winning 8-5 against an average looking White Sox outfit. Ok, so maybe the result should come at the end of the piece, but this is baseball. The result is not really the point.
Food on the other hand, is. One in three Rays fans seemed to turn up late, and carried with them a turkey leg the size of a baseball bat. Anyone with decent hand-eye co-ordination could easily have carried their turkey leg down to the plate and swished the White Sox pitcher out of the park. Well, they could on the kind of form he was in. I declined the turkey, but instead bought an infeasibly large tray of nachos, smothered with cheese aswell as the traditional baseball diet, a hot dog. The cheese was the thickest I have ever seen or tasted, and was more like sauce. You needed a spade to get to the nachos, but the hot dog went down every bit as well as I had expected.
Hot dogs have other uses at Tropicana Field. Between innings a man would walk around the stadium shooting free t-shirts out of a huge hot-dog shaped gun. What is it with Americans and guns? And hot dogs? And T-shirts. The crowd lapped it up anyway, but alas I have to report that the wheelchair area is too high above the field for any free merchandise to have headed my way. On the plus side, this meant that I was safe from the stray baseballs which regularly find their way into the crowd. Nobody in the history of baseball has ever hit a ball far enough to have been able to hit me on the head that night.
Not even Evan Longoria. The Rays third-base man is no relation to the similarly named actress apparently, but has a sufficiently amusing moniker to entertain the hecklers when he strikes out. On this night he was in terrific form, hitting the ball at least.........ooohhhh, four times, though he did misfield on 'defence' once or twice. Other Rays players who endure persistent name calling are BJ Upton and Reid Brignac. I'll leave the kind of abuse afforded to Upton to your own imagination.
Following the game was the alleged bonus of some live music. Unfortunately, it was provided by Hall and Oates, they of 'Maneater' and 'I Can't Go For That' infamy. Emma's dad, who is a man at the right sort of age to be enthused at this prospect, was the first among us to wilt under the strain of Darryl and John's incessant whailing. He needed to get out, which pretty much meant the rest of us did also. All of which meant leaving behind half a can of industrial strength Budweiser (why is it so much stronger over there?) and heading back towards Orlando. I fell asleep, possibly due to the Budweiser, and can only remember waking up outside the gates of the villa and wondering why it had only taken five minutes to drive 120 miles.