The unwritten rules of being a fan start with the presumption that you care about what other people think. There are no actual penalties, no baseballs to be thrown at your butt. If you want to wear a glove and don’t mind if other people think you look like a weenie, go for it. If you want to keep the foul ball that landed in your adult hands, by all means.
And if you want to leave a baseball game early, just go.
Baseball games are long! Occasionally, they’re boring. You might have to be up early for work. Maybe the DC Metro is shutting down before the game is over. Maybe it’s cold or humid or maybe your seats are awful. People make fun of Dodger fans for arriving late and leaving early, but those are the people who have never sat in post-Dodger traffic for two hours after sitting in traffic to get there. Make fun of them when they leave early despite having some sort of ultra-necessary futuristic super-tunnel under the city to whisk their cars away, one by one, but not now. It really does suck getting out of there.
So we’re done in a couple paragraphs. If you don’t like the movie, walk out. If a video game starts to annoy you, turn it off. And, by all means, if the men in pajamas are swinging the cylindrical stick in a way that bores you, get the hell out of there.
However, I regret to inform you that there are always howevers.
Rule #1: If you have seats behind the plate or dugout, watch the whole game, c’mon, this isn’t even up for debate
There is absolutely nothing worse than seeing a collared, tieless goon behind the plate, chatting it up for the first six innings, and then disappearing in the seventh. Someone showing up and taking a scarce resource because they have connections, then leaving because they didn’t actually care about it, is a little too on the nose for me. I use baseball as a way to escape this hellworld, not as a way to remember why everything is awful.
If you are privileged enough to enjoy front-row seats, you stay. I don’t care if it’s Twins-Diamondbacks, Steely Dan, or Garfield: The Musical! It’s a mix of polite and self-aware to stick around, but it’s also something of an offering to the front-seat gods, a pinch of salt thrown over your shoulder, lest you find yourself in between jobs and hanging out in the parking lot for the World Series.
Rule #2: If you have kids with you, do what’s best for them
Some kids can hang until midnight. Some kids start expelling cotton candy through their pores and mumbling Latin by the sixth inning. Different families have different needs. Godspeed.
Rule #3: If you do not have a specific reason to leave, six runs is the magic deficit
Cold is a reason. Tired is a reason. Bored is a reason! They’re not always great reasons (pack more clothes, get more sleep, and screw around on your phone like the rest of us), but I won’t pretend that you’re going on fan probation for leaving early for any of these. Sometimes you think you’re in the mood for a baseball game, you get there, and it turns out you’re really not. I do this with pastries at the coffee shop all the time.
But if you’re leaving specifically because your preferred team is getting blown out, there is at least some decorum to follow.
C’mon, you know this is possible, you don’t need me to explain this.
You’re two bloops and a blast away, sit back down.
Literally one swing away, where are you going?
You see, baseball is the sport without a clock, and that is a part of its enduring beauty. One thing people forget is [talks in monotone for 37 minutes without taking a breath].
Yeah, you’re good. Six runs down in the bottom of the ninth is when the win probability dips below one percent. Go get some rest.
Rule #4: You may leave without guilt after the 14th inning or 12 a.m., whichever comes first
This is assuming that you don’t need to be up for work at an ungodly hour, in which case you’re still covered by the intro. If you have to be up early, just go.
This is also assuming that it isn’t a Friday night with a clear schedule on Saturday. In that case, stay until the 37th inning and smear nacho cheese across your bare chest during an out-of-body experience. You have no excuse.
If we’re talking a normal work night (and you’re not an hour or more from the ballpark), midnight is a fine time to push yourself away from the table and say, “That’s enough innings for me, thanks. Boy, am I stuffed!” This is true even if it’s a great game, although most 15-inning games don’t qualify as “great” until something happens at the end.
Just know that you’re bound by Rule 5. You’ve been drafted by it, if you will.
Rule #5: Leave whenever you want ... but agree to be eternally devastated if something awesome happens
There were Dodgers fans who left before Max Muncy’s home run, and I’m sure they had a reason. The unwritten rule, though, is that they still need to be incredibly upset by this. For a brief moment, it felt like the Dodgers were going to win the World Series, were going to storm back and win four straight, just like the 1996 Yankees, and everybody floated out of that ballpark on a zephyr of hopes and optimism.
It was one of the purest baseball moments imaginable, and there were people who missed it because they didn’t have the stamina. That’s fine, but they need to be filled with regret for the rest of their lives.
A formative experience for me was my parents leaving this game in the seventh inning. It was 1984, and the Giants were awful. To give you a taste of the general malaise, just 7,000 people were at a Saturday game. The Astros took the lead in the seventh inning, and my dad said, screw it, I got stuff to do. When Joel Youngblood hit the walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth, we were listening to it on the radio, and I remember where we were, crossing the train tracks near Broadway Avenue.
I remember this because my mom looked at my dad with a stare of withering hatred and resentment that chills my soul to this day. She still talks about it, and I’ll tell you something else: My parents have season tickets, and they almost NEVER leave early now. They’ll text me from their seats at the end of an 8-0 loss to the Padres on a Tuesday night, and they’re there almost entirely because of what Joel Youngblood did to them in 1984.
This is the compact you make as a sports fan. Leave early if you feel like it. Just agree to wonder what-if for the rest of your life when you do it. Anything else is explicitly against the unwritten fan rules.