Baseball as a second language

K-Mac, the goodwife formerly known as Katherine, has been speaking baseball now for two years. Although not her native tongue, she already grasps concepts that “fluent” baseball speakers find tongue-twisting.

The infield fly rule, for instance: Fewer than two outs; men on first and second—or bases loaded; batter hits an infield pop-up; the umpire points his finger up at God, as if to say “I’ll handle this,” and shouts “Batter is out!”

Even if the fielder drops the ball. Which is the point—beyond God graciously not killing the umpire with 50k volts of lightning. It’s a rule as simple as the Ablative Absolute rule in Latin, except there the umpire is a nun and you’re the one getting the finger, plus the 50k attitude adjustment.

K-Mac’s growing baseball interest not only earned her a cool nickname, but prompted us to fly to Florida last week to watch our home team Orioles prepare for the season ahead. During one game K-Mac posed a question I had not heard before. Why are bases—first, second and third—fat, like pillows while home plate is flat like a tortilla?

The rules say bags must be 15 inches square, three to five inches thick and filled with soft material. No further explanation, but As I patiently explained to K-Mac, fat bases make sense.

Let’s say you’re playing a pickup game in New York City and you’re using the Empire State Building as second base. You hit a scorcher to left center field—somewhere between Herald Square and the New York School of Design. You round first—the McDonald’s near the Fifth Avenue Acupuncture Center—and head for second. You slide feet first into the Empire State Building as the throw comes in from Sixth Avenue Hosiery.

Now, if that had been an empty parking lot instead of a 1,450-foot tall skyscraper, you would have slid clear into the Empire Beauty School. But a thick bag gives you something to slide into, not over.

As for the soft material used, you might think a couple rolls of toilet paper—the extra soft variety that prevents chafing of the shoe. Two problems. One, a roll of TP is too tall. Second, you’d need labels on each base warning players not to flush them down a toilet. Which, of course, means some bonehead will almost immediately try to flush a base down a toilet.

Farfetched? Okay, say a player smashes one deep to the New York Public Library. He rounds second base and notices the warning label. He stops and says “Whaa—?” As he is bent over, his nose practically touching the bag—he’s forgotten his reading glasses—the throw comes in from Frederick’s of Hollywood on 38th street and he is tagged out.

A Donnybrook erupts. Both benches clear and umpires start ejecting players. The manager of the home team is so furious that he uproots second base and takes it back to the clubhouse where he tries to flush it down a toilet. He is suspended without pay and non-chafing TP.

And that, as I explained to K-Mac, is why I’m going with bases stuffed with circus peanuts—the orange and spongy type, not the ones made of Styrofoam. K-Mac saw a problem.

Suppose an elephant comes up to bat? Wouldn’t he start sniffing the infield with his trunk and say “Circus peanuts! Yumbo for Jumbo.”

I chuckled at K-Mac’s enthusiastic but noob mistake. As seasoned veterans of the game know very well, there may be a few jackasses out there, and one or two preening peacocks, but elephants in baseball? It just doesn’t fly.

©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2014, all rights reserved.

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8 Responses to Baseball as a second language

  1. EdG says:

    Somewhere, Kensaw Mountain Landis is playing a game of horseshoes with Casey Stengel and both are giddy that now they “finally I get it”!

    Like

  2. marstokyo says:

    But why is home base not a cushy stuffed base like the other bases. You didn’t explain that and I believe that was the root of KMac’s question.
    –Slammer

    Like

    • PMcG says:

      I’m taking an educated guess here. Home is flat like a plate because you can’t eat spaghetti off a base. I mean, you could, but it just wouldn’t taste the same. (You’ve noticed, I’m sure, that the umpire frequently uses his little broom to brush any impurities off the plate.) When baseball first started they used actual dinner plates that still had somebody’s dinner on it. Explains why catchers were always fat.

      Like

  3. John Hennigan says:

    Say hello to K-Mac.

    Like

  4. M. T. Cicero says:

    Ablativus absolutus, Wow!

    Like

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