Have you ever heard the term "passing?" Until recently, I had not. The way I heard it used, "passing" refers to a situation where you decide not to address something that might offend you. For instance, you are in a conversation with some people--at work let's say--and somebody says something bigoted. It bothers you but you choose, for whatever reason, not to confront it. You change the subject or ignore it altogether. That's called passing.
Most of us encounter these kinds of situations all the time. Two days ago at the ball game, I found myself unable to "pass." I was watching the Yankee game with my cousin and two guys I played high school ball with--one of whom is a good friend. The two jocks started talking about women and baseball and the gist of the discussion was, "Let's make fun of women because they don't have a clue when it comes to sports." I just knew where the conversation was going and it instantly made me uncomfortable, not only because my girlfriend is a devoted fan but because sitting in front of us was a woman who is more knowledgable about the game than most men could ever hope to be.
I caught myself and thought, "Aha, so this is a 'passing' sitation." At first I didn't know how I was going to respond. One instinct was to join them. I had an ideal story. Earlier in the day, my cousin Eric and I were playing stickball on 5th street between first and second avenues. We were pressed for time and only had about ten minutes left to play when a sexy young thing walked towards us. She had been watching us play for a few minutes when she approached me and said, "Can I play?" She was friendly and exceedingly cute. How do you say "no" to that? If I were single, I'd have turned into Charlie Lau and not only let her play with us but I'd teach her how to hit, anything, in the process. But not only am I not single, I don't have wandering eyes like that and am not that tempted to flirt with hot young East Village women. So I told her that it was nice of her to ask but that we only had a few more minutes left and we wanted to finish our game. "But if you ever see us playing down here again, feel free to stop by and you can join us then." I was as friendly as possible and it felt good not to compromise the moment Eric and I were sharing. She looked surprised--not quite comprehending how we could turn such an offer down--and quietly walked away.
Anyhow, I was pleased with how I handled the situation--tactfully but with conviction. Now, I could use this story as a way to join the "He Man Woman Hater's Club" brewing behind me. Screw women, this is our sport, kind of a thing. I turned around to the guys and instead of directly confronting their chauvanism, or joining it, I started talking to them about Emily and how much of a baseball fan she's become. I told them that sometimes Em will ask me what I think is a ridiculously stupid question but other times she'll come up with something simple and logical that I just can't answer. For instance, say the Yankees are at home and have a runner on first. If the opposing pitcher throws over to first more than once the crowd--any home crowd--will start to boo. One day Emily asked, "Why are they booing?" I stuttered and finally had to look at her and tell her I hadn't the foggiest idea why. "Because...that's just the way it is," was the best I could come up with.
My friend Adam was amused by the story and told me I was so right. The conversation shifted and that was that. But it got me thinking about the different, often refreshing sensibilities women bring to a male-dominated world like baseball. Nancy Smith, the woman sitting in front of us, had an opportunity to meet several of the Yankees last summer and she told me that she had a pleasant ten minute conversation with Mariano Rivera. "He's a very nice man," she reported. What did they talk about? Where he lives when he's up here, how much his kids love the winter and the snow. You know, regular stuff. Things that most guys would never think of talking about if they were to ever to meet a baseball player.
I'd be asking him all sorts of questions about baseball, about pitching. I'd never think to talk to him about such mundane things as the weather. The irony is Nancy probably put Rivera more at ease, and had a more intimate, natural conversation with him than I would have in the same situation. She might enjoy being around him as much as any male fan, but even if she was geeked about it, there was probably nothing urgent beneath the surface, no agenda. She didn't "want" a piece of him, she just wanted to chat.
Nancy's story reminded me of something Jane Gross, a former sports writer, once told Roger Angell (from the story "Sharing the Beat," which can be found in Angell's "Late Innings" collection):
"I think women reports have a lot of advantages [over male reporters], starting with the advantage of the players' natural chivalry. We women are interested in different things from the men writers, so we ask different questions. When Bob McAdoo gets traded from the Knicks, my first thought is, How is his wife, Brenda, going to finish law school this year? And that may be what's most on his mind.
Not better, not worse, just different. Sure, there are times when Emily asks a question that has my snotty-ass rolling my eyes. Other times, she'll just floor me with her insights--whether simple or profound. I deliberately use my love of baseball as a way to relate to other men. But some of the greatest fans I know are women. And that's a beautiful thing, bro.