In a country as large and disparate as the USA, there’s really only one glue that truly holds the nation together, and that’s sport. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Boston Red Sox baseball fan, or passionately support the Dodgers on the other side of the coast, it’s the overall love of the game – whatever that game might be – that makes America...well, America.
And as a visitor, it really doesn’t matter if you understand the rules or not: just attending a game, be it baseball, football, soccer, basketball or ice hockey, with all the associated razzamatazz that takes place alongside, is a great addition to a holiday on the other side of the Atlantic. It doesn’t need to cost a fortune either.
Just as in Britain, where you’re unlikely to stroll up and get a ticket for a Chelsea-Arsenal football match, it pays to be realistic about what you can get when big name games take place. (Superbowl? Forget about it!) But half the fun of attending a smaller game is that you’ll still get a great atmosphere for a knock-down price.
Take baseball, and more specifically, Minor League Baseball for example: yes, bypass the big leagues and enjoy the crack of the bat, cheerleaders, a cheap beer and a hot dog or four, not to mention friendly locals to explain all the rules and a taste of middle America. The majority of games take place in the summer so it’s a fun thing to do on a warm, sultry evening.
If you’re in New York try MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, and close to Coney Island, which is a great day out from the Big Apple in its own right. Or if you’re in the Deep South, head to Riverwalk Stadium, where the Montgomery Biscuits – no, seriously, that’s their name – play in Alabama. It’s built on the site of a decommissioned railway station and has a lot of character. In Charleston, South Carolina, you could head along to “The Joe” (named after one Joseph P Riley Jnr) to see the RiverDogs play.
Talking of dogs, at the Wilmington Blue Rocks stadium in Delaware, don’t forget to order your bacon and jam-topped hotdog in a doughnut. Honestly, it’s a thing.
But don’t give up on the major players all together: in Canada last September, I turned up at the Blue Jays’ stadium in Toronto, got a ticket there and then for around $35, and saw them play a great game against the Chicago Cubs. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but all the razzle-dazzle made it a fun night out. (Canada and the States have the same major baseball league.)
And wherever you end up, join in the fun: in the middle of the seventh inning for example, it’s customary to get up and stretch and sing along as the organ belts out 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame'. Google the lyrics so you can participate.
In Winter, football is the game. Not to be confused with soccer of course: this is the football that’s not played with the feet.
The same general rules for enjoying as a tourist apply here as baseball – except you need to dress a lot warmer. Although, watch the Miami Dolphins at home in November and you’ll probably need sunscreen not a scarf.
In terms of what’s going on on the pitch, erm, sorry, field, just think of it as two armies trying to fight for territory in a battle, going forward, then backward, then forward again and eventually winning with a touchdown. A battle with lots of padding and cheerleaders.
But that’s all rather beside the point. Unless you know what’s happening, they may just as well be wrapped in aluminium foil and doing the conga. The game is a mere sideshow to the painted fans’ faces, the high-kicking cheerleaders, and the teary-eyed singing of the American national anthem. (Do remember to stand up.)
And the same could go for ice hockey - let’s be honest, you’ve only really come for the punch ups - and NASCAR racing (ditto, a potential high-speed fender bender).
So keep an open mind next time you’re on holiday in North America. Even if you’re not a massive sports fan, attending any kind of game over there is a pure slice of theatre. And you never know, you may just end up liking it.