PITTSBURGH — The first alert came in the middle of the game.
I was at PNC Park with my brother, my cousin and my cousin’s wife watching the Pirates play the New York Mets when my phone started vibrating with news alerts. There had been another shooting in America — this one in Washington, D.C., outside Nationals Park, where the Nats were playing the San Diego Padres.
The gunfire in the nation’s capital started in the sixth inning of that game. At first some of the people in the ballpark thought the loud pops were fireworks.
Then, because this is America, a country where gunshots are as routine as rain, they realized what was happening. Fans, players and ballpark employees started scrambling to find shelter.
Eventually, after at least three people had been wounded — one of them female fan who was outside the stadium — order was restored, the game was suspended, and everyone was allowed to leave.
Another memorable night in America made possible by our irrational infatuation with guns.
I’ve been to Nationals Park.
I didn’t pay much attention to baseball after the Cincinnati Reds 1970s glory days. (It was impossible to be a teenage male in Indiana in the 1970s and not be captivated by the Big Red Machine.)
Then I had a son who was wild about baseball. In addition to playing the game, he loved to watch it.
So, we started taking father-son trips to ballparks all across the country — major league, minor league, college, it didn’t matter — to see games. Those were special trips, special times.
Particularly when my son was little, it was a delight to see the game through his eyes — to discover it all over again. It was the cliché. Taking my son to baseball games reminded me of going to see the Cleveland Indians play in the old Municipal Stadium when I was barely old enough to walk.
One time, we went to Cleveland for a weekend. We saw an extra-inning game on Saturday night, with plans to see the Tribe play again Sunday afternoon. Because the Saturday night game had gone long, it was close to midnight by the time we got to the hotel, and I got him cleaned up and tucked into bed.
At 5 a.m., he woke up — as excited as if it were Christmas morning — and asked when the game started.
Doubtless, there were other fathers and other sons at that Nationals game when the shooting started. Instead of spending the night talking with their sons about the game and maybe pointing out how players subtly shift their positions and postures depending upon the play, those dads likely were thinking of other things.
Such as, how to shield their sons’ bodies with their own if the gunman came anywhere near them.
Gun advocates tell us this is just the way things must be. Or they argue that this epidemic of gun violence is the result of liberal “catch-and-release” policies.
That argument is nonsense, the sort of stuff spread around to help crops grow.
The United States imprisons a larger portion of its population than any other industrialized nation — a higher percentage, in fact, than authoritarian police states. If it were possible to jail our way out of this disaster, it would have worked by now.
Instead, we live in an America in which we can expect there is always a chance we will be shot in our homes.
On the street.
At the supermarket.
At the workplace.
And now at the ballpark.
As I watched the Pirates game with my brother, my cousin and his wife — a thrilling contest the Bucs won with a walk-off grand-slam two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth — I thought about how many pleasant hours I’ve spent in ballparks, many of them with people dear to me.
And about how many places of refuge and peace have been taken from us because we Americans cannot deal with our gun problem.
And I thought of a quote attributed to our great national poet, Walt Whitman:
“Base-ball is our game: the American game: I connect it with our national character.”
There was a shooting outside the ballpark in our nation’s capital the other night.
One national pastime came together with another.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.