‘Pokemon Go’ helped me meet 100 new friends at a baseball stadium

A baseball stadium outside regular operating hours ranks as only the fifth-weirdest place I’ve visited since Pokemon Go was released a week ago. The Durham Bulls opened up their downtown ballpark to allow trainers to walk around and catch Pokemon. We could have done it at home, or in our own backyards, but this wasn’t about actually catching them — it was about the experience. We were players of the same game, inside a stadium and none of us were athletes.

It’s hard to know what to expect when you approach this kind of promotional event. Minor league affiliates routinely use wacky giveaways or special theme nights to boost attendance, but the Bulls didn’t tie this to a game. The feeling of ennui poured over me during the drive to Durham, N.C. What if it was just me and three middle-aged guys walking around the outfield of an empty stadium catching Pidgeys? As much as I hoped the event would be amazing, my expectations were low.

Then I arrived.

Scores of people teemed around the entrance to the stadium and the surrounding streets. Routinely you’d see a group take off, running down a side alley to catch a rare Pokemon that just popped on their map. Every Pokestop in the downtown area had a lure on it, an item used to attract Pokemon. I overheard an overjoyed little girl who was unable to contain herself, "I’ve never seen so many Pokemon at once, mom! OH MY GOD I JUST GOT A DUGTRIO!"

The box office was busier than it had any right to be for 10:30 am on a Tuesday morning. Three lines were perpetually full of people waiting to plonk down their $5 to enter a stadium and never see any sports.

Every game needs a plan.

When the gates opened just before 11 a.m. I had a plan. Sure, I wanted to experience the event and talk to Pokemon Go fans, but I also had my eye on a Psyduck. Objectively the best Pokemon, I was in dire need of more Psyducks to level my own -- and for whatever reason the downtown area was full of them.

Walking into the ballpark was a surreal experience. Every PA system and speaker was tuned into music from the Pokemon soundtrack, advertising boards were showing Pokemon. I took a quick loop around the concourse and watched my Psyduck’s proximity bounce between 2 feet and 1, an in-game metric to tell you just how close you are to a Pokemon.

Rounding the nearest entrance I head to the field thinking perhaps the Psyduck in on the field itself, and despite being well over 90 degrees the field was dotted with Pokemon fans.

The best thing about Pokemon Go isn’t the nostalgia, or hunting for Pokemon or the exploration — it’s the shared social experience. Anyone with a phone out suddenly becomes a potential acquaintance, and the confines of the stadium became a safe space to approach anyone and share notes. It’s not dissimilar to attending any sporting event in a stadium. Fast friends are made in an instant by just sharing their opinions on the team, or in this case commiserating about the app crashing for the 15th time in as many minutes.

"I heard there was a Kabuto in the dugout a little while ago," a fan told me "but I haven’t been able to catch him. Best thing so far is a Nidorino — so that’s pretty sweet."

I asked him if he’d seen the Psyduck, but to no avail.

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