APRIL 17, 2016

THE GREATEST GAME

 

So anyway Spring has arrived with all its traditions. The poppies have erupted everywhere along with the irises and all the trees have fleshed out their bones. After the recent rains the streams all are splashing again everywhere and the birds conduct loud morning caucuses. No sign that any loudmouth birds with blond toupees have invaded the flocks. No dissonance among these save for a murder of crows who restrict their politics to the single utterance: "Nevermore!"

When Spring drags around the aunts all get busy with the nesting instinct. Most aunts having already done the matrimonial thing, look to nieces and nephews so as to gratify their longing for childrearing and control. James, just out of High School, is now a Buddhist which skirts the issue nicely. Aunt Liz found a girl who she thought would do -- it was Dora who went to school at Washington and then graduated from Sir Francis Drake when her parents moved across the Bay. She is a self-professed Sufi, which to Aunt Liz sounds wacky and sort of Eastern and so therefore good enough.

For James, it was not. Nobody would eat anything at the blind date Liz setup at the bowling alley. James would eat no meat and Dora would not eat anything that was not Halal, so everyone when away feeling very unsatisfied.

No one can deny that in America baseball is very much a part of Spring

Spring is full of traditions around here. Among them are the annual tryouts for the Island baseball Pip Warner League team the Terrapins. No one can deny that in America baseball is very much a part of Spring and the Island is no exception.

The current roster is headed by Eugene Gallipagus, Reverend Freethought, Wally "Old Mushmitts" Manrique, Pimenta Strife (who likes any game involving balls), Borg Rubbitsum (owner of A Touch of Wonder), Bettina (a masseuse from ATW), Marvin Mons (owner of Marvin's Merkins - "Put a Merkin in your Firkin!"), Melody Minton (the bridge tender), Larch Larch, and Jose, who alone among all of them is the only one who knows how to bat, catch and throw a ball correctly.

The Terrapins, who have never really done well (record was 0-28 last season, with one forfeit), nevertheless require a full roster and a full roster means keeping another nine players available to pinch hit or cover for injuries and childcare situations.

The tryouts for a team which has never so much as had a hope of getting to the semi-finals can be dispiriting, so Wally had the idea of getting Padraic to supply a goodly amount of ale and Water of Life in kegs so as to inspire hopefuls and judges and maybe any talent scouts who had happened to get lost in the neighborhood looking for a decent team to survey.

The same went for the home games, which tended to be so sparsely attended that Wally found only a good supply of liquor and cheap wieners managed to put more than a dozen fans in the Pop Warner bleachers at Snoffish Valley High.

The new tryouts were to be tried out during next week's exhibition game at Snoffish Valley and there was a great deal of excitement all about it. Their opponents were to be the fearsome West End Stingrays, a normally ferocious team which would be hobbled by the absence of their star pitcher who had discovered a scorpion in his shoe the hard way.

in baseball. . . there is no Time

Baseball is the ultimate writer's sport, for in baseball of all sports, there is no Time. All other sports possess a clock, a stopwatch. But out on the field, the diamond is packed with ghosts; each player steps into the shoes of other players who have gone before over the course of more than one hundred years.

Unless that player find one day a scorpion sting his foot. Then the game changes.

This weekend a high wind advisory came over the transom and everybody started battening down the hatches.

On the day of the exhibition game between the Terrapins and the East End Stingrays, wind kicked up in gusts across the outfield, sending pop flies soaring and turning bunts into homeruns. Given the extraordinarily dismal record of the Terrapins, and the fact that the Stingray's best pitcher had been taken out of the game by a scorpion wound, one would have thought the adverse weather would have helped.

the Stingrays failed to conduct their usual shutout by strikes

Indeed it did. By the bottom of the ninth, the score was 0 to 4 in favor of the Stingrays with two outs and the Terrapins up to bat; usually the score looked far worse than this. During the preceding four and one half hours Stingray batters repeatedly sent would-be homers off of Jose's careful lobs into the stands to the far left and far right, and the Stingrays failed to conduct their usual shutout by strikes during their time on the plate as the wind puckishly kept taking the ball high and wide every time Gerald Fitzgerald Smythe III tried to grease one inside. Finally Gerald resorted to firing directly at the batter just when the wind took a lull and so he launched a rocket at Eugene's cap, neatly beaning Eugene senseless to the point that Pahrump and Jose had to carry their snoring teammate around the bases as Smythe walked first Pimenta, then Marvin over the next three quarters of an hour.

The Stingray manager, William B. Toklas De Sucre IV went out to have a word with his relief pitcher and so Smythe faced off against the sturdy Bettina, the masseuse from A Touch of Wonder, sending a careful, ambling pitch during a lull with the intention of allowing the strong-armed woman to either bunt or loft it as the third baseman moved from the outside to inside the line ready to tag out the comotose Eugene, held in the arms of his team mates and ready to haul his bulk as fast as they could toward home.

The name of the Third baseman was Ernest Hemingway Paderewsky III and Center was held down by Willa Cather Pound. First was manned, so to speak, by George Eliot Angelou.

James Baldwin served as Umpire.

The pitch came in high but dropped and Bettina swung to smack the ball just as a gust came up to loft the ball in a reverse parabola over the pitcher's head and back again over the batter's box and the arms of the umpire where another gust took the ball higher and back over the infield and the upturned faces of all the players staring in wonder as in resigned desperation Pahrump and Jose hoisted Eugene to start dragging him along the line with his feet raising dust as they pulled their dazed man through the dust of the earth.

ghosts of ballplayers past all looked up

The ball went higher and higher and everyone lost sight of the orb as it vanished into the glare of the stadium floods, and hot-dogs paused in their journey, beer cups remained in hands, pennants and signs lowered as all wondered throughout the Snoffish Valley ballpark where the ball would land, whether foul or fair. Kids with cotton candy balls and teens sucking on corndogs paused and even the kids making out in the parkinglot took a moment to wonder up at heaven. The ghosts of ballplayers past all looked up too, as the entire ballpark held its breath. Curt Flood, the Babe, Jackie Robinson, Wille Mays all chewed ghostly tobacco and held off the great Spit in expectation. Would this be another shutout for the Terrapins, or would this hit land over the fence to tie the game and put the match into extra innings for the first time in Terrapin history?

As the ball began its descent, Eugene began to awake and started struggling in the arms of his teammates who tried to restore reason to the confused man, who to tell the truth, never had possessed much in the way of faculties even on his better days. By this point, all the other runners had stacked up along the line between second and third to wait for Eugene to clear the way.

Down came the ball, down, down, down screeching down at terminal velocity finally at 156m/ps, hurtling towards earth, beginning to heat up from the atmospheric friction **POW! ** until finally the pitcher could see it headed right for the plate, glowing like some doomsday comet. Unfortunately he had moved in toward home by that point and as he jockeyed to get under it while Eugene flailed his arms, the ball smacked into the plate, cracking the plastic and taking a high bounce to the left.

The other runners advanced in a parade followed by Paderewsky, but the confused Eugene continued to flail in the arms of Jose and Pahrump until Eugene punched Jose, who fell across the line, and started to move toward the bullpen. Pahrump grabbed Eugene by the waist and sort of did a jiu jitsu throw over his hip to toss the startled Eugene onto the plate as Willa Cather caught the high bounce and threw the ball to Paderewsky who tagged all of the remaining Terrapins waiting in line to reach home over the body of the fallen Jose.

"Y'out!" shouted the thirdbase ref, named Langston Hughes DuBois.

And so that was the end of the Exhibition Game between the Terrapins and the Stingrays, Spring of 2016. Final score 1-4.

That night, all the talk in the Old Same Place bar was about the game and the state of the Warriors and other sports types of things along with the latest outrages uttered by The Man with the Tribble Toupee during the political debates.

McPherson, a local writer removed his pipe as he sat next to Old Schmidt up at the rail and said, "You know when I first came to this small town, the Town that Has Forgotten Time many decades ago, I was at first dismayed at the prospect that I would have difficulty finding things about which to write." He replaced the stem of his unlit pipe in his mouth to contemplate the state of affairs as they were. "It seemed that the town would be so uneventful as to never have any subject matter about which to write at all."

Old Schmidt removed his own pipe to comment, "I don't zink zo,"

Right then the long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water where the gantries of the Port of Oaktown stood glowing with their multi-kilowatt sentry lights; it quavered across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline; it moaned through the cracked brick of the old abandoned Cannery with its ghosts and weedy railbed, and it keened between the interstices of the chainlink fences as the locomotive glided past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its timeless, American journey to parts unknown.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.

 

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