With much gnashing of teeth, and the occasional wail, the guys at work have been lamenting my comparative ignorance of, and my absolute lack of interest in, that essential and proper American activity of baseball, or as the Japanese call it basebaru. So I thought I'd do an essay on the subject¹, on the completely logical grounds that I have never yet let ignorance stop me and I sure as whatsit won't now.
My only confidently known fact about baseball is that it holds the same place in your vocabulary as cricket does in ours: for example we have ‘sticky wicket’ ² ‘knocked for six’ ³ or simply ‘I say, that’s not cricket!’ ⁴; you have ‘out of left field’ ⁵, ‘southpaw’ ⁶ or ‘getting to third base’ ⁷.
Apart from that—I know almost nothing!
Indeed the closest I have ever come to following baseball was when the kids were little and Rædwald (then eleven-ish) and Eadweard (then nine-ish) were on a team coached by Steve Moser, a professor friend of ours who taught the philosophy of sport at Ithaca College. He was a great coach, though I always had a sneaking suspicion that he was only in it for anecdotes to share with his students ⁸. And strictly speaking Ead was far too young to be on the team, but Steve was that sort of guy, more interested in the kids development (and of course the anecdotage) than that apparently generally accepted 'only thing' of winning.
One time we were playing a team whose coach was so into that aforementioned 'only thing' that we had to prove that Ræd (who was tall and athletic for his age) was his age. (And as an aside and some good advice for parents with kids like that: always, always have their birth certificates with you at games!)
We had been playing for some time and had not been doing well, indeed had been doing extremely not-well. I don't know if it was bottom of the, what is it?...eighth, ninth, tenth… whatever, but the END was definitely looming in a big way, when Ræd caught their batsman out and threw the ball to little Ead who amazingly caught it so they did one of those double play things.
This then meant that we were at bat, and the other team must have been rattled by our sudden display of something approaching skill because the next three men in each managed to get onto one of those little base thingies. Ræd was up next and, fully justifying the opposing coach's hatred of birth certificates, he hit a homer!!
We were suddenly in a position to catch or even pass our opponents. Our side's parents were all jumping up and down, shouting encouragement to our team and the other team's were hurling encouraging, um..., imprecations at theirs! I firmly believe that was the most exciting time I have ever had watching sport, even including the 1966 World Cup Final against Germany (which as you well know marked the end of meaningful international soccer)!!
In the end I felt so sorry for the poor kid who struck out just before we caught up with our evilly triumphant enemy.
Of course I really had no idea why everyone suddenly deflated or indeed what was going on most of the time, but it was definitely exciting, so much so that I began to wish the games didn't end so soon, I mean, come on Americans, you need to work on your attention spans! I mean if the Great British public can concentrate for four or five days on a cricket match, surely you could stretch out a baseball game for a couple of them! I mean, that's what it takes to really get your teeth into a game. Ah! Cricket! You start at a reasonable time in the morning one side is in and the other out in the field and nothing much happens for an hour or so, but in an interesting way, then everyone comes in for lunch and, after a good lunch, play resumes until tea after which they continue till light stops play (or rather lack of it does) unless of course it rains which also tends to stop play: then rinse off the grass stains and repeat the whole process for the next few days. While, as far as I'm aware, there’s no delight of crackerjacks or hot dogs (nor their vendors) in evidence at a cricket match, the beer is so MUCH better, that apart from the paucity of time devoted to a baseball game I suppose that, for entertainment value, it's pretty much a wash ⁹.
Anyway in conclusion, I do hope this essay has gone some way towards redeeming me in the eyes of essentially proper Americans, not to mention quieting all that damned annoying wailing and gnashing at work.
Cheerio for now
Richard “Joltin’ Joe” Howland-Bolton
¹ Though having said that, I feel I should be cautious, remembering the time, several years ago, that I got into dreadful trouble with the NRA, and considered having to go into hiding and change my name, when I compared baseball to the ancient English game of rounders, which it strongly resembles, and I happened to express the erroneous opinion that unlike baseball, rounders is nowadays only ever played by tiny, tiny children in the U.K. Boy are those officials of the National Rounders Association an unforgiving lot! Anyway, as Captain Edward Smith once said: let's plough on regardless! See the note to: Land of Glory? Not a Hope! for the full horror!
² Difficult circumstances: in cricket a damp, soft pitch may make the ball bounce in a less predictable way.
³ Extremely shocked or upset: from the highest scoring action, where six runs are awarded to a batsman who hits the ball over the boundary without it touching the ground.
⁴ Unfair: based on the surprising belief that cricketers were somehow absolutely sportsman-like and would NEVER break or bend the rules, or at least were in the mythical past.
⁵ Unexpected, odd or strange: from the area covered by the left fielder who has the farthest throw to first base.
⁶ Left-handed: from the orientation of early baseball fields to the same points of the compass, such that the pitcher's left arm was on the “south” side of his body. One of the few expressions for such chirality not based on superstition or jealousy.
⁷ XXX—I’m sure I don’t need to explain what that means to YOU of all people!
⁸ Such as the one about the kid who was supposed to be up at bat, but instead was actually a fair way up a nearby tree.
⁹ Rounders, on the other hand...
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