Life on the Berm

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As the Nationals face Atlanta on a warm spring evening in Lake Buena Vista, we’re in Braves country, but there is a smattering of Nationals red throughout the seats. With Stephen Strasburg starting and Bryce Harper playing in center field, there are number 37 and 34 jerseys visible dotting the crowd.

We make our way down the left field line and atop the berm, which wraps around from halfway down the line to left-center field, passing the “All-You-Care-To-Eat” tent (just $25!) on the trip. Among the ushers standing along the top ridge is Debbie H., a self-described snowbird from Highland, Md., who spends roughly half the year in the Orlando area. Although she’s not even a huge baseball fan, she applied for a job working at Champion Stadium last season, and has loved her time here. This is her sixth game of the spring, all of which have been spent on the berm.

“I love it,” she says of her job. “I’m glad I took it.”

She highlights the freedom that the open, grassy space offers to fans, including the ability to shed their shoes and socks, almost like an outdoor concert.

“A lot of people like to be able to lay down, spread out, get some sun,” she says, which is certainly the case this evening, as we are squarely in the sun field for this 6:05 start.

There's plenty of room to spread out on the berm in Lake Buena Vista.

Debbie has also noticed the influx of Washington fans at this particular game. One of her favorite parts of the job is to be able to chat with fans of the different teams that visit Lake Buena Vista each March.

“Some people take their vacation because the Nationals are here,” she explains. “I think it’s really neat that people are willing to follow their teams during Spring Training.”

We make our way to the far outfield end of the berm and shuffle down towards a quartet of fans. The first one we meet is Pat S., who is wearing a Racing Presidents shirt and who is out here celebrating his birthday. Born in St. Mary’s County, Md., he and his wife now live in the Orlando area. While he used to attend 12-14 games each spring, this is his first of 2012. He wasn’t going to miss Strasburg pitch. But does he always sit on the berm?

“Absolutely,” says Pat.

“Everywhere we go,” chips in friend David T., who also lives in Orlando but originally hails from northeastern Pennsylvania. “I like it because I can lounge out and hang out.”

Pat sheds a different perspective on why he likes the view from the grass.

Playing catch in the twilight on the berm.

“I’m an outfielder when I play softball, so this is where I view the game from,” he explains. “Anywhere else to me just looks so abnormal that I can’t judge the game or watch the game.”

As we sit there, Chad Tracy pops a two-run shot over the right-field wall, opposite of where we are sitting. Two batters later, Jesus Flores powers one out to nearly the same spot, leveling the score at 3-3. While a two-home run inning that ties the game would normally be cause for a raucous celebration, the combination of the road environment, the relative insignificance of a Spring Training result, and the relaxed nature of life on the berm make this just another moment in the game to enjoy.

We chat baseball with Pat and David for a while longer and the sun finally dips below the top of the seats on the first base side. In that ideal moment, the sting of the glare is suddenly gone, and the temperature eases a few degrees cooler to perfection, the twilight settling in above us. As we soak in the splendor of the display, Pat draws our attention to the scene unfolding in front of us.

“Does it get any better than this?” he ponders.

In the space between us and the wall, a group of about six kids, boys and girls, ranging several years in age, have gathered and paired off to play catch in the grass. With the contest itself in the background almost an afterthought, the pure joy of the game takes precedence over anything that might be happening on the field. As we thought about Pat’s question, we found it impossible to disagree.

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