Take Your Base — I’ll Take Mine

A Critical Analysis of the National Sport

by Quentin Parquay, Royal Legion of Athletics

 

(Editor’s note: Mr. Parquay, a literary critic with The London World and former fellow at Oxford University, has been dedicated enough to sit through rain delays, extra-inning games and traffic jams so as to compose this international peek at baseball in 2015. Although well versed, drifting from Kahlil Gibran to Oscar Wilde, Parquay admits he possesses a limited knowledge of the game having experienced his first contest only last week. The following expose is reprinted from The Hamilton Hemorrhoid, a well- respected, often painful British sports bulletin. It has appeared Steamboat Magazine. Unlike golf baseball was never immortalized by George Bernard Shaw as (to paraphrase) “a pleasant walk ruined.)”

 

Baseball: 1.) a game played with a bat and a ball by two opposing teams of nine players, each team playing alternately in the field and at bat. The players at bat, after hitting the ball in fair territory must then run a course of up to four bases laid out in a diamond pattern in an attempt to score runs. 2.) a questionable competition of North American origin that promotes bad language, hooky, jawing, bad manners, superstitiousness, and the spitting/chewing of tobacco. 3.) the ball used in the game of baseball.

My interest in the field of baseball began when I first ran across “Casey at the Bat” in 1990. Although the epic poem had been around for decades it had not circulated through the offices of a man who dissects playwrights and Gothic novelists. I hope the following will be entertaining to the reader and beneficial to the fringe fans and the arts as well.

THE FAN

We Brits cannot afford to be critical of abhorrent fan behavior after the escapades of our cohorts at most football (soccer) matches from Cornwall to Kent. The counterpart American aficionado is actually quite calm and well behaved compared to the football fanatic. He only becomes dangerous toward the late innings after drinking cup after cup of overpriced light beer.

The aesthetic distance between the audience and the main characters is of special interest to anyone wooed by the theater. The left field character, for instance, is closer to the audience and can be more objective about how his lines are perceived in the grandstands. The thrower (pitcher) cannot gather this same kind of feedback. The audience however is well in earshot of various asides mouthed by fielders and the funny-dressed men behind fourth base that you call home plate.

The fan is most often in sympathy with one team or the other. He is most vocal at points of tension between singular characters or sometimes with entire groups of players. He is prone to embracing myths and often makes references to the supernatural as he metaphysically munches on hot dogs with onions and mustard and burnt peanuts, salted in the shell. His metaphors can be figurative, trite and/or utterly classic. His hyperbole is common only to the colonies. In later innings the fan gets swept up in the flow of dramatic monologue that results in comic relief or didactic tragedy.

THE CHARACTERS

Reflecting on the scene behind home plate we see one over-dressed character (the catcher) that carries with him a host of mandatory duties. He must not only catch the ball each time it is flung at him, but he must field difficult “pop flies”, cover his base, backup first base and throw down to second in the event of an attempted steal attempt. (We will discuss thefts and squeezes later in this article). While there is little morality involved in the steal, the catcher is often measured by his pinpoint response to the instant plot. In the local vernacular we hear fans loudly encouraging this catcher to “gun him down” or “nail him with a low throw”. This should not be taken as anything violent. The successful application of these throws and tags can often bring down the curtain for an inning.

The catcher’s associate behind the plate is called the umpire, a living allegory who attempts to impose his own doctrine. This dark character converts acceptable language into persuasive, tight, one-syllable chants with the sacred narrative “Steeerike, Bawww or Yurooout!” Otherwise most of the communication is in sign language that is reminiscent of Shakespeare that holds the audience in awe.

Amusing reaction to the umpire often dwells on King Lear’s cry: “Thou hast eyes to see…and see not!”

The rest of the extras dress alike so much that it lends an eerie, almost robotic essence to the performance. Each of the two reams is represented by wearing its own costume. It is within the professional ranks that we find strong connection to ancient bestiaries and ethnic euphemisms with names like “Tigers, Cubs, Braves and Giants”. On the local level this practice has been methodically embraced. Long socks may represent the desire to return to simpler days while “softball” fashions clearly illustrate a yearning for a

modernistic, almost impressionist, rendezvous with the keystone future. Significant action generally soils the players’ costumes but adds a delightful descent from the loftiness of pre-game ceremonies.

THE PLOT

Everything happening on the diamond is synchronized into nine innings where one team tries to outscore the other by whatever means available during the scenes that add up to an act. The two teams could play an eternity if the thing reaches extra innings. Imagine a summer day and a pastoral scene in right field where a player is responsible for catching the ball before it hits the ground, then hurling it back into the infield (main stage). He must do this before any players “tag up” and make their way around all four bases and off the set and backstage into the dugout. If the ball is caught cleanly the acting batter is out and has no further lines until he comes up to the plate again in two or three innings. If the fielder misses the ball the hitter gains access to any number of bases while other supporting cast scores runs. The clumsy fielder is often then seen as a goat. Continued performances of this quality will often result in an understudy placed in his position.

The main actor and navigator of the plot is the pitcher since he initiates the action. He delivers his lines while perched on a pompous little hill 60 feet (18.3 meters) from the batter’s box. He throws a variety of pitches to the catcher aimed at confusing, overpowering and terrifying the man with the stick (bat) in his hand. The umpire then watches closely as curves, sliders and fastballs cause negative capability of the part of the person trying to make contact (with a rounded bat) with the little spinning ball. Some of these pitches exceed 100 miles (or 161 kilometers) per hour. The fastball coupled with an array of sneaky pitches often causes the batter to pop up, ground out or strike out (signified by K for some unknown reason). These activities in no way represent literary onomatopoeia since there is no sound emanating from the ball as it travels to the plate. The onomatopoeia magically occurs when the ball slams into the squatting, supporting actor’s round, oversized glove. Here we see the frontline struggle by the designated protagonist to stifle the antagonist by making contact with a fiery sphere chucked in the direction of his head and vital body parts. It is here that we see another character, the manager, wheel out onto the field angered by the exposition of the background.

THE SET

The set can be universal as well as specific to baseball. The only props are the three bases and the plate, the walls, the mound, the backstop, the dugouts (2) and the scoreboard. The size of the stage varies greatly from set to set but is always characterized by white lines that protrude from home plate to the first or third bases. These are the symbols of the action. It is the actor who brings it all into perspective.

During my last sports melodrama the hero was a young pitcher for the Colorado Rockies. His saga was one of ever-increasing pathos. He quickly extended his poetic license by hurling a “loaded up” ball at the batter’s head. Soon after he balked, a clear sign that he neglected to prepare his lines before taking the stage. By the end of the inning he had reached absurd capacities in low comedy by allowing three other actors to reach untenable positions without exiting the stage. The tone of the play then becomes one of anticipation, bordering on anxiety. The guilt-ridden child actor is sent away by his rigid master to a place called the Minors that was never described by Dante or even the unholy angels. Each summer pantomime contains endless and simultaneous dramas with characters intact. It is this mysterious show and tell that stimulates the lifelong fans of the game. How appropriate in both a literary and mirthful sense. Play Ball!

“The check’s in the mayo.” – famous promise in Dixie.

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