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See Inside October 2011

Surface Tension

Sit down, you're rocking the stadium



Illustration by Matt Collins

It’s a beautiful afternoon at the ballpark, at which you have plunked down good money to be a spectator. Then it starts heading your way. From off in the distance, other members of the crowd inexplicably sacrifice their individuality and join together to get up sequentially and then briefly raise their arms to the heavens before returning to their seats. The move rolls across sections of the stands. It draws closer and closer. And then you’re engulfed. Whether you took part or just sat there waiting for it to pass, you’ve been subsumed. You have drowned in the Wave.

But now—for the second time in one summer!—a reasonable idea has emerged from Texas. The public address announcer of the defending (as I write this in August, anyway) American League champion Texas Rangers is trying to get fans to stop the Wave. The team, though not officially endorsing a Wave ban, has taken to displaying a warning on the scoreboard that states, emphatically and uppercasedly (printed verbatim):

Surgeons have determined that doing the wave will, yes, will cause tears to the suprapinatus muscle and the infraspinatus muscle from the throwing of individual’s arms rapidly into the air. In addition, any children doing the wave will be sold to the circus. Do not do the wave in the ballpark, doing the wave is safe at pro football games and Miley Cyrus concerts.

(The other good idea to come out of the Lone Star State recently was the decision in July by the Texas Board of Education to reject antievolution supplements to high school biology textbooks. The National Center for Science Education [NCSE] reported that the supplements called “intelligent design” the scientific community’s new “default position,” which is true if by “default position” one means doubled over from Pagliacci-like paroxysms of miserable laughter. The NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau also said that the supplements “are not only laced with creationist arguments, they are also remarkably shoddy, teeming with misspellings, typographical errors, and mistaken claims of fact.” The use of such materials in a biology class would have been an insult to pedagogy and as antithetical to reason as would be, say, a governor who has advocated for secession deciding to then run for president.)

Now, I’m not against the kinds of dynamics that lead to a Wave. Some scientists have likened the Wave to the rapid and intricate movements of flocks of birds or schools of fish—the group acts as a coordinated unit without the benefit of any individual leader. Or, looked at another way, each individual becomes a leader, because its behavior informs its neighbor of the next move immediately after it gets the news from its traveling companion on the other side. Slow-motion videos conclusively show that a turn moving through a wheeling bird flock or fish school looks very much like a wave passing through a fluid, when they are not showing that an umpire has blown yet another close call. 

Speaking of umpires, here’s a realization I had: they’re unnecessary. The obvious calls, for example, when a base runner is out by a mile, don’t require an umpire. And for the incredibly close calls, the so-called bang-bang plays, the standard line is: “It could have gone either way.” The hope here is that technological officiating will soon replace umpires. And any purists who argue that “human error is part of the game” can be comforted by the postgame sight of dozens of fans wandering around the parking lot trying to remember where they left their cars.

Back to the billowing, fluttering, undulating and annoying Wave. As I mentioned at the outset, when I go to a game, I pay to be a spectator. If I’m actually providing entertainment to my fellow fans, well, I want a piece of the gate. Seriously, the world’s most skilled practitioners of their craft are at work on the field, and we mere mortals should pay attention. Texas is correct: keep the Wave in schools of fish and keep creationism out of schools of humans.

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