Sunday, October 20, 2013

Change For a Five?

Raise your arm up high and slap my extended, open palm if you're with me on this.

I hate the “high five” thing that is as common among fans in stadiums as swilling $10 beer, wearing since-traded player jerseys and gobbling down ballpark franks slathered with mustard and relish. Maybe it's my apprehension of coming into contact with total strangers. Maybe it's my obsessive fear with other people's germs. Maybe it's just a way to avoid a hand globbed with mustard and relish.

I got the double dose of high-fiving last week when I went to St. Louis to watch a hockey game and ended up going to Game 2 of the National League Championship Series where the Cardinals hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I sat at the top of the left field Saturday afternoon in what is known in Busch Stadium as “Big Mac Land,” named for where the steroid-ladened Mark McGwire would clout mammoth home runs during his tenure as a Cardinal. I sat six seats left of the foul pole, and was about as far from the action and as insignificant as a fan could be. My cheers went unheard. Had I a towel to swing during rallies, it would have gone unnoticed.

There was no point in high-fiving.

But they did it. Strangers raised their hands and seatmates slapped them in jubilation. An extremely obese guy in our section once raised his hand for a slap. I wanted to give him a fiver for having the energy just to lift his hefty arm.

Later that night at the St. Louis Blues hockey game, kids sitting next to me at the top of the stadium wanted to high five me after the Blues scored. I turned them down, saying that I had done nothing. The fellows down on the ice did all the work. High five them. Me? My biggest accomplishment was finding my seat that evening and not spilling the $5 bottle of water during my Sherpa-like trek up the stadium's steep steps.

As I left the hockey arena after the Blues' victory, I briefly thought about walking through the stadium concourse with my hand raised above my head just to see how many people would connect; how many would give me the high five for winning the game. But, I held back, fearing more mustard and relish could coat my palm.

I tried to find the origin of the gesture. There are two thoughts. The first theory is that former Murray State University basketball player Lamont Skeets did it between 1979 and 1984. Skeets claimed that that his father, while serving in the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, in Vietnam, would greet his soldiers with an upraised hand. Lamont first replicated that as a child when those soldiers visited his father at home, and he'd say, “Hi, Five,” to them.

He took that motion with him onto the basketball court when he played for the Murray State Racers.

A second, perhaps more widely held, belief is that the high five came from L.A. Dodgers' Glenn Burke. On Oct. 2, 1977, Dusty Baker hit a home run for the Dodgers on the last day of the season, giving him 30 for the year. As he returned to the dugout, Burke, who was waiting on deck, apparently raised his hand and Baker, not knowing what to do, slapped it. Then Burke followed with his own home run. Baker raised his hand when Burke rounded the bases and then 'fived' him when they met.

Each story has its followers, and each one may contribute to the habit I find annoying.

Slapping palms with strangers as a way to celebrate a good play, an athletic achievement, a victory, is all strange to me. Again, I did nothing. I had very little to do with any victory that day at both the baseball and hockey games. Unless you credit wins to the fact I could carry my water up the Everest-like incline while dodging errant mustard and relish bits.

Can I get a high five for that?


  1. I would venture a guess that you would rather do the equally abhorrent fist-bump?

  2. Yes! The fist bump. What another dumb celebration! And the even further fist bump, exploding hand thing... I tend to be very self-contained when I go to games. Like I said, I do nothing. The guys on the field or ice are the athletes. Me, a fat guy eatin' a huge pretzel drizzled with cheese doing a high five over some athletic prowess, is the epitome of irony.

  3. When I started working at maintenance at my current restaurant, the very first night one of the young kids (21) came up to me (without knowing his name at the time) put his hand in the air and wanted to high five me -- let me note, that on my job I constantly wear numerous amounts of latex gloves, to protect my hands from all the slime & crud I have to clean throughout the night; I looked at him and said "Hey, how bout elbows clashin" (like the old McGwire/Canseco Bash Brothers deal) -- because my hands were all grimy & slimy at the moment. The cool thing is throughout time, I got to know Johnny, for his age & generation he's actually a really good kid, but the "high-five" request did catch me off guard -- but that's who he is, happy-go-lucky. I never high-fived a stranger at a sporting event though, with family yeah... but with strangers, it's like "I don't know you buddy".