Let Us Take a Moment To Appreciate the Angry Ballpark Goose

Given their disdain for our society, our laws, and our little entertainments, it makes sense that geese are not as common a visitor to professional ballparks as, say, cats. Geese prefer to create their own domains in areas less enclosed and busied by human activities, like golf courses and public green spaces. References to geese on baseball fields in old newspaper records are hard to find — perhaps because of the perceived non-newsworthiness of such incidents, perhaps because of the number of baseball players and ballparks with “Goose” in their names. But, every so often, a goose does appear on a field where major league baseball is being played. It happened just this week, in fact, at Sunday’s game between the Cubs and the Diamondbacks: a lone Canada goose in the grass at Salt River Fields, emanating hostility. It lurked behind Rafael Ortega, its eerily long neck extended outward, ready to strike anyone who might interfere with its presence there, its ego puffed up by the violence with which it had preserved its claim over the territory. Slo-mo footage showed how this goose had chased off another goose that landed on the field, clamping its screaming beak on the interloping goose’s back, tearing out a painful-looking number of feathers before the other goose was able to make its escape.

Naturally, coverage of the carnage tended toward shock at the goose’s willingness to fight for its claim to a spot in the outfield, and its unwillingness to leave said spot. The video above is titled “Goose invades baseball field!”; other headlines include “A goose took over [the] outfield,” “Angry goose wanders onto field,” and “A**hole Goose Won’t Get Out of Center Field.” While the level of intention ascribed to the goose differs, what can be agreed upon is that center field was not where the goose — and, by extension, any goose — is supposed to be.

Geese are among the most feared and hated of urban wildlife. On some level, this makes sense. The Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), the most common goose in North America, can be a terror. They are near-ubiquitous and highly adaptable, installing themselves wherever there is grass to chew and water to land on. They can wreak significant ecological destruction when they take over the habitat of more fragile species of waterfowl. They are rude, loud, and unnervingly tall. And, like all of us, they are capable of great evil: Once, while having an otherwise lovely picnic on a grassy knoll by the beach, my partner and I witnessed a drake murder a gosling in cold blood. Embodied in the menacing figure of the goose is a reminder of the limits of humanity’s role in the ecosystem, how tiny our segment of the history of this planet. Even though the dinosaurs are long gone, their descendants still walk among us, hissing at toddlers and pooping everywhere.

And what do we do, then, when we see one of these incredibly resilient creatures in our curated green spaces? We give into base impulse. Fight or flight — we fight. Kids who aren’t much taller than a goose will still try to chase geese from a playing field. Does it work? Almost never. Geese didn’t get this far by backing down. What they don’t have on humans in running ability, they clearly make up for with the power of flight. They know that people won’t stop chasing them. Still, the geese are defiant. They see a nice patch of grass to munch, unoccupied by other geese, and they will stand there until they get sick of standing there.

The most famous ballpark goose of all, perhaps, was the one who landed on the field at Comerica Park on May 30, 2018. The goose began on the grass. It was chased, of course, by a groundskeeper; of course, it did not leave, simply flying over to the infield dirt. The chase continued, and with it the investment of the fans who were in attendance, roaring every time the goose lifted off the ground. Eventually, the goose became sick of the game of cat-and-mouse, and when it circled the field for the final time, it spiraled upward. A cheer went up: the intruder had been defeated.

But then something unexpected happened, a twist at the end of the story. The goose slammed into the upper-ring scoreboard. The cheer turned to a horrified gasp as the goose tumbled straight down, landing with a puff of lost feathers in the seats behind home plate. “He’s fine,” the broadcast assured, zooming in on the bird’s stunned face. But was it fine? It had been such a hard impact, such a steep fall. A vet in the stands, Dr. Catherine Roach, quickly scooped up the goose and took him to MSU’s wildlife hospital. After a brief period of recuperation, the goose was released back into the wild, presumably never to return to Comerica Park’s confines — though a goose model lived on in the Tigers’ dugout in memory of the creature who would come to be known as the Rally Goose.

What can we learn from the Rally Goose’s rise and fall, from all the ballpark geese who came before and after? The goose on the field does not have to be our enemy. We may chase the goose, yes; we may cheer the goose’s departure. But the goose is worth appreciating, even as it interrupts the normal proceedings of baseball with its displays of aggression and territorial violence, even as it shows no appreciation for us. The goose, after all, is just looking for a green place of its own to stand; the goose, despite all considerations otherwise, decides it is among humans, in the midst of human activity, that it will touch down for the moment. The goose knows that it will be chased. But it stands there nonetheless, its tongue out, in view of everyone — ridiculous only because we are ridiculous, because we have constructed this space, these rules that are so far from the natural order, just for our own entertainment. The goose on the field, perhaps, belongs there just as much as we do.

RJ is the dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

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3 years ago

Thanks, RJ. A fine story.