I can't be the only one who wishes there were more novels about baseball. The Natural, The Art of Fielding: these books tickled the right nerve center but still, to me, there wasn't enough baseball in them. I want the novelization of an entire game; Casey At Bat stretched to 400 pages. A long form dramatic essay on each pitch, the chew of the gum by the manager as he leans his chin on his arms in anticipation of a double-play, a seven-page paragraph describing the twist of the back of the second baseman as he leans in to snag a line drive. This I would read! The hum and roar of the crowd as the third out is caught; their rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb as the manager comes to the mound to talk to his pitcher.
Where are all these stories buried? In a spiral notebook in a shoebox under a pack of baseball cards, the gum gone hard? Dig them out! I will read them.
* * *
News Reporter Voice: The Cincinnati Reds are having a good season. Apart from a few recent flops, they are at the top of their division, a heartbeat ahead of the Cardinals. A pitter-pattery heartbeat. So we decided, for my birthday, to go to a game: Reds vs. Brewers, Bronson Arroyo the starting pitcher.
It was the perfect night for baseball. Warm, sunny, a breeze rolling off the Ohio River. I'd had a few beers, and so felt loquacious enough to respond to the thirteen year old boy sitting next to me, who seemed to be speaking to no one in particular when he said: "I can't tell when it's a strike." Our angle was side on to the pitch; we could see the ball headed to the plate, but not its precise target.
"I watch the catcher," I said, tilting my head at him in a friendly and harmless middle-aged way. "If he doesn't move, I assume it's a strike." I wonder if he'll realize I have no idea what I'm talking about. The educated guess of a woman who only recently got back into the game.
The pitch, then a smack, and the ball flies into the home dugout. Foul.
The grown man at the kid's side and I bemoaned the lack of initiative for a fielder to go after the ball headed into the dugout. "Baseball players don't need teeth!" I said.
"Yeah, let's make it more like hockey!" he said.
I waited for a woman selling refreshments to skip down the shallow steps into our section; when she arrived, I spotted the striped bag and shouted PEANUTS at her, maybe a little too loudly.
These were our distractions, high up in the stands: swallows swooping and diving into the infield, two mourning doves canoodling on a wire with the best view of the whole game. The woman in the seat in front of me with a large bag full of food and candy, texting the score to someone on an old Nokia phone, her granddaughters slap-fighting in the seats next to her. J was in the seat next to me, critiquing the musical choices made by the batters for their at-bat songs. He seemed particularly disturbed by the 3rd baseman's choice of Coldplay.
These were our distractions: so many, that I didn't even realize what was happening down there on the field. Why the rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb was growing louder with every inning, every strike, every fly ball caught, every time Phillips picked up the ball between first and second, paused, and threw to Votto for the out.
But it was because of this, and it was something I did not realize until it was much too late to appreciate: Bronson Arroyo, it appeared, was on his way to doing something special.
* * *
I pity heterosexual boys who are into baseball.
To be a heterosexual girl and to like baseball: we are allowed to find joy both in athleticism and in sporting crushes. To know when to shout "nice catch!" while at the very same time eyeing the lines created by broad shoulders, by the ballet of a knee or taut leg flung up from the ground prior to a pitch. Sure, men can admire the form of the players, the aesthetic. As they should. But I can't help but think it's different for us girls. (Even the old girls.) The swell in our hearts when the boy done good: it's not just elation for the team; it's the pitter-patter of a crush in the backs of our hearts, somewhere deep within the hormones agitated by feats of strength. It's what makes us dress up for a game, even though these might not be the right shoes for the sport.
The girl in the bleachers who stands in support of Roy Hobbs at bat: the fact that she is a girl and he his a boy and she feels a swelling in her heart makes all the difference.
It's because I'm a heterosexual girl who likes baseball that in the late 80s I began collecting baseball cards, and it's because my heart once went pitter-pat for a man with a bat that my prized card was my 1987 Wade Boggs Topps card, which I'd cut down to size to fit the little frame I wanted to put on my bedside table.
And it's entirely because I'm a heterosexual girl who likes baseball that I've developed a fascination with Bronson Arroyo. It started with a video of him covering the Foo Fighters "Everlong" at Reds Fest, which I found to be both perplexing and endearing. A baseball player who sings! A baseball player who is into alternative grunge and wears his hair in that style we crushed on so heavily in the 90s! A baseball player who wields an acoustic guitar! And then there was his form: the way that he lifts his leg, straight out, toe nearly level with his ear, before launching the ball. Balletic. Who IS this man?
Last night I was watching only him. And still I didn't even realize.
* * *
It was the top of the eighth, Arroyo had just struck out another Brewer and my phone was buzzing with texts and at-replies on Twitter. "He's clearly pitching for you tonight." "I cannot believe you are at this baseball game. #Reds #BronsonArroyo" I was busy with my peanuts, stressfully cracking the shells into a cup at my feet, watching out of the corner of my eye as the balls sailed over the plate. Yes, he certainly is doing a fine job! I thought, still wondering why the rhubarb rhubarb rhubarbs were crescendoing at my back. They sure do like this guy, too.
I didn't realize until I got home and read the reports why they were cheering the way they were, or why people were texting me: Arroyo had been seven innings on his way to a no-hitter. It wasn't that I wasn't paying attention: I just wasn't that fan yet. My head wasn't yet full of rules: 1) a player can hit the ball in a no-hitter, as long as it's caught mid-air or caught and thrown to first for an out; 2) a player can reach the base in a no-hitter, as long as it's on a walk. Don't you worry your pretty little head over those complicated old rules, Zan. I would be the one to stand for Roy Hobbs, not even knowing why I felt compelled to stand in the first place.
I have a thing or two to learn.
And then it happened: the pitch, the crack, the ball deep into right field, dropping into the dirt, leaping up and tapping the 325 on the back wall. A hit. The crowd threw their hands at the field in frustration. (In my story, the crowd is composed entirely of men wearing fedoras, waving paper programs at the field. Because what is the apex of baseball if it's not of the time when men wore hats to ballgames?) Another hit, and another, and the Brewers suddenly have three runs on the board. Dusty Baker approaches the mound.
Arroyo comes off and my heart goes pitter-pat as he walks into the dugout and throws his hat onto the bench.
Where was the novelist to write this game? The relief pitcher's strikeout to close out the disappointing top of the eighth, the second home run in the bottom for a comeback, the crowd's elation at the fireworks, the smoke drifting over the floodlights, Chapman's double somersault at its climax? These are just the bones of the plot for our dear writer to write. Don't let my words — the biased and rule-ignorant words of an old girl whose heart goes pitter-pat for a gracefully lifted leg — be the only words that will remember this game.
Of course, they won't be: here are some, and some more. But the novelization of the game, the accounts of the many ways our hearts go pitter-pat: who will write that for me? An exhalation on the mound, the way a hat is tossed onto a bench? How his face contorted? The way the outfield dirt held the mark where the ball hit, a scarred reminder of What Could Have Been?
Who will write all the games? Dear writer: WRITE. I will read them.
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.