Ain’t Nothing Like A Baseball

baseballaLook around the house. You’ll find a baseball. You’ll pick it up, it’s irresistible. You then should go play catch, an act of connection so simple and so lasting that if Congress had Yogi Berra’s wisdom it would enact a law declaring: “On sunny days in February when pitchers and catchers have reported, you will go outdoors with a loved one and play catch until the ol’ soup bone goes limp.”

The Yale University professor of physics Robert K. Adair further defined a baseball’s ingredients: “The cork nucleus, enclosed in rubber, is wound with 121 yards of blue-gray wool yam, 45 yards of white wool yarn, and 150 yards of the cotton yam. Core and winding are enclosed by rubber cement and a two-piece cowhide cover hand-stitched together with just 216 raised red cotton stitches.”

The stitchings are done with two threads, each 44 inches long.

About a baseball.

The Atlanta baseball writer Patty Rasmussen: “When I was first falling in love with baseball, in 1988 in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, I went to the wall that held all the no-hitter balls. All these baseballs, none of them yielding a hit. I was struck by the number of them-and then I thought about how many other baseballs had been put in play. Hit over walls, into the stands, grabbed for by fans. Cherished by children, who fell asleep still hanging onto them.”

Look around the house. Five steps away, a baseball. In ink, a boy’s square-lettered printing: “No-hitter.” With a place, a date, walks, strikeouts, the name of the teammate who drove in the game’s only nm. And another baseball, smudged with red clay, stamped with the logo of the Colorado Silver Bullets, a women’s baseball team with a pitcher named Ann Williams, who had played only softball, and when she first picked up a baseball, she asked manager Phil Niekro, “Phil, what’s the best way to hold this?”

In a Hall of Fame baseball life, Niekro had been asked a lot of questions. But never that one. He finally said, “Whatever’s comfortable,” and Ann Williams discovered she didn’t need to wrap three fingers around the ball, as she had done with a softball. A baseball, this glossy little planet, fit under her index and middle finger as if designed to go there, another of the game’s little miracles of geometry. Red Smith said, “Ninety feet between bases is the nearest to perfection that man has yet achieved.”

A baseball’s specifications are right there.

Official Baseball Rules, General Instructions to Umpires: “Keep your eye everlastingly on the ball while it is in play.”

Mark Fydrich talked to the ball. One summer, one happy summer for the Tigers, he backed off the mound between certain pitches and we could see him holding the ball and talking to it, encouraging it: “Come on, ball. Stay low, stay low. Hit the corner.”

Bill Lee considered trust the most important factor in a pitcher-ball relationship. In his autobiography, the Red Sox eccentric wrote, “You are the ball and the ball is you. It can do you no harm. A common bond forms between you and this white sphere, a bond based on mutual trust. The ball promises not to fly over too many walls after you have politely served it up to enemy hitters, and you assure it that you will not allow those same batters to treat the ball in a harsh or violent manner.”

The ball, not a clock, controls a baseball game. Author Gilbert Sorrentino: “The ball is pitched: something happens. The ball is hit: something happens…. The ball must be dealt with scrupulously: it must be played, not interfered with, nor blocked, nor intercepted, nor stolen, nor recovered, nor rebounded. The offensive or defensive player who addresses his skills to the ball in motion may not be tampered with by a player of the opposing team. It is this inevitable quality of the interaction of player and ball that may give the game its strange and calm magic.”

The magic reaches us far from great stadiums. Patty Rasmussen again: “A couple of years after my visit to Cooperstown, on a cold March day, I was taking a walk. It was a bad time for me. I was so low, so sad. I was walking around the perimeter of a high school ball field. In the tall grass just beyond the outfield, I found a ball.

“It looked like it had gone through the mower once or twice; the leather was deeply scuffed, but the seams were still holding. I picked it up, tossed it in the air and caught it. Instantly, my heart felt lighter, and I thought of spring. Baseballs are wonderful things.”

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