Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Streak - 11

The top of the first proceeded without incident, a rare triumph. Chris Bailey, the third man in the rotation, struck out two and allowed a high, arcing ball over Evan's head and into left fielder Jeff Landerman's glove. Evan jogged back to the dugout and took a seat next to Pat O'Rourke, the Yankees' 83-year-old bench coach. O'Rourke was an immaculate monument, an artifact of a different time and mode of thinking. He'd murmur into Bosworth's ear sometimes and sometimes not. Sunflower husks might erupt from his mouth and he'd push them off his lips with his dry, old tongue. He was ground zero of baseball. His frail and papery body held a core of dark matter: fabled, immaterial, discernible only by the bending of nearby things. It was sufficient to sit next to him sometimes and feel the vibrations of wisdom through your cleats.

"Pat."

"Yup."

"Why do we throw the ball in baseball? Instead of passing it."

"Do you wanna know the answer?"

"Why not."

"That's because there is no ball."

"You'll have to clarify what you mean."

"The ball doesn't matter in baseball. It's a necessary inconvenience and we employ it reluctantly. Grudgingly. The ball is emblematic. It's needed only to trace a path among the players, to chronicle and thus legitimize the chain of events. Do you know Shakespeare?"

"To be or not to be?"

"In football or soccer, the ball is the dagger thrust into Caesar's heart; in baseball, the ball is but the ink upon the page. It ain't the story, it's the means to tell the story. This is not a ball you pass. How 'bout Homer?"

"It's been, uh... seventy-three at-bats."

"The poet, the poet. Baseball is The Odyssey. The ball is Homer's pen. Here's a question for you: If a game is played without the ball, did it happen?"

"Huh?"

"There happens to be an answer."

"Is it no?"

"The Negro Leagues guys used to play without the ball before games. Hits, outs, runs, everything. The anti-game. The negative, whatever. Only it wasn't. This is the shadow," O'Rourke said, nodding at the field with mild distaste. "What they played was the sun. Those guys, they understood the game."

"I have a lot to think about."

"Don't think about it now. You're on deck."

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