Can You Hear the Magic?
I sat on some old baseball bleachers today, out in the countryside where no one wanders anymore. The cool wood was dirty to the touch, and seemed to not have been witness to a game in several years, perhaps generations. An old apple tree nearby drooped and dropped its useless fruit to the ground. A coal-black crow came and sat down nearby, wondering what I’d come here for. As he spied me suspiciously, the wind picked up and blew the breeze back toward me.
I’d only been out here because there was nowhere else to go. When the family is away, or busy, it’s a pleasure to pursue the nothing that I used to take for granted. This ancient spot seemed as good as any other to just sit still, in the quiet of the late morning, like stealing a part of a day that no one knew even existed.
The chalk-line base-paths had long ago faded to a mottled brown, dead leaves leading to a distant corner of the outfield, a scarred wooden fence like a gnarled old man jealously guarding his yard. Bare spots in the foggy outfield, a pasture gone to ruin like a battlefield after the last charge had slowed to a crawl, then flickered out into a fading mist. No one left to mourn the missing. Aggrieved silence shouting in your ear, why are you here?
The crow grew bored with me, pecked violently at a spot on the ground, (more for show than for sustenance), then left me behind in this shadowy realm, a semicircle of dust, broken branches and dreams safely asleep. Home-plate remained, stubbornly grasping the ground, the spoke around which the wheel of silence whispers. Had I died and had to go somewhere at all, this would do.
Now rain, at first cool pinpricks, then steady and confident, a noisy crowd billowing in from the storm, shivering slightly as it pooled in new puddles. Taking the broad hint, I sloshed down to the soggy infield, sneakers soaked to my ankles, dripping baseball cap admitting defeat. No tarp to save the day, nor to eat Vince Coleman.
In a corner near the third base bench where the young players used to shout and scratch and stretch, a stick of some ancient provenance, not merely a fallen twig, reclined at a jaunty angle, a trapezoid when viewed at a certain distance, geometry all gloomy in the graying landscape. An old discarded shard of bat, perhaps? A whittling piece to work at on those long half-innings when the pitcher and the plate are estranged?
Closer now, and pulled out of the first trickle of flood water forming an embryonic new river, notches neatly spaced an inch apart on the stick, a bit less than a foot in length. Each notch, perhaps, a base-runner coming home, hearing the crowd, feeling the magic of the moment course through his soul. A game not far off, only an epoch ago. Cheers and huzzahs filling the field, settling on the leaves and branches, there for the taking, if you will only listen.
Previous to 1746, the score was kept by notches on a short lath: hence the term notches for runs. The notching-knife gradually gave way to the pen, and the thin stick to a sheet of foolscap. -Henry Chadwick