I guess I've always been a rebel.
I drive 58 m.p.h. on the freeways. I let the smoke from my barbecue drift over the back fence into my neighbor's yard.
And once, I threw a Frisbee in the stadium parking lot.
That's right. I confess. The temptation was just too great. The cops were over in another section of the parking lot, snuffing out a game of whiffle ball. I saw my chance. I grabbed that thin plastic disk by the edge and tossed it 40 feet. It almost hit a car. I felt so guilty.
But no more. With the help of the city and the San Diego Padres baseball club, I'm learning to behave myself. I've become responsible. I wouldn't dare break the new city ordinance against tossing Frisbees in the parking lot.
The Padres, you see, are doing their best to make certain that baseball games remain fun for the entire family. They've even given out a little rule book for those of us who can't stay straight.
Used to be, on a hot summer day, the guys and I would buy a six-pack of beer at the local market. We'd pour the brew into a plastic jug, stick the jug in a cooler with ice, and head for the ballpark. The beer would last the whole game. Sometimes, we'd even take a sip or two after the 7th inning.
We don't do that anymore. No longer do we succumb weakly to our deviant desire to take beer into the stadium. The Padres and the city--thoughtfully watching out for our welfare--have banned the importation of beverages into the ballpark. We can't even bring in Kool-Aid or orange juice. Good thing, too. You never know when ghouls like me might be tempted to slip something evil in with the fruit drink.
Now, when we venture up to the concession stand to buy a $2 beer or a $1 soda, we are reminded to behave by a big sign that says "EAT, DRINK and BE RESPONSIBLE."
Throwing Frisbees and drinking cheap beer aren't the only nasty habits I had before the Padres helped me break them. And I'm not alone. During the team's first home stand, I saw Padre ushers, security guards and other faithful fans chipping in to make sure we wayward ones didn't stray too far from accepted behavior.
In the 10th inning of a recent game, after more than half the crowd had gone home, three young loyalists wandered down to the plaza level and sat in the third row. Before you could say "Steve Garvey," the cops descended, yanked the guys from their seats and ushered them away. Probably saved those guys from a life of crime.
Another time, a chap leaning over to catch a foul ball dropped his hat from the loge down to the plaza level. Before you knew it, some hoodlums in the plaza lost control of themselves. They tried to hurl the cap back to the fan above. Imagine that! Luckily, before these fools could do much damage, several ushers arrived and confiscated the hat.
Untimely cheering is also a big problem at Padre games. This rude practice can really ruin the show for the folks who like to come and watch a game in peace and quiet. During this past home stand, the Padres were batting in the 11th inning, the score tied. Bases were loaded, and the hitter had a count of two balls and no strikes. I stood to cheer and heckle the opposing pitcher, hoping for a walk that would win the game for the home team.
"Down in front!" came the call from behind me. Shoot. I realized again--too late--that I had let myself slip over that thin line into irresponsible fan behavior. I had rudely stood without considering that those sitting behind me might not share my enthusiasm.
As a native San Diegan, I consider myself lucky that I don't live in a place like New York or Cleveland or Chicago. There, the cops and ushers are busy watching for knifings and muggings in the crowd. They don't have time to make sure that people like me toe the line.
My counterparts in those cities are thus left to wander aimlessly through a game, forced to be responsible for their own behavior with no one to watch out for them. They cheer loudly at exciting moments, drink beer in the 8th inning, and find their way home without the aid of an army of security men. I'm told it's sheer hell.
But then, we all expect more from America's Finest City, not just at the ballpark, but in town as well. I'm sure proud, for example, that our downtown police go all out to keep us safe from jaywalkers. And God knows I'm thankful the Lindbergh Field gift shop won't sell me a pack of gum. If it did, I'd probably just leave it on the floor or stick it to the bottom of some innocent chair in the lobby of the East Terminal.
The Padres' rules for fan behavior, I suppose, are just an extension of a collective philosophy that made this city great. It makes little sense to allow people to take care of themselves when, with some good solid preventive measures, we can ensure that everyone marches to the beat of the same steady drummer.