It’s not baseball season yet, not even time for spring training, but on TV the other day they were interviewing a new Oakland A’s player, Hiroyuki Nakajima. He’s Japanese, and was speaking through an interpreter.
“How can he play in the majors and not speak English?” I asked Larry.
“Baseball is a game of signs, not words,” he replied, and proceeded to illustrate this with a story from his trip years ago to play baseball in Nicaragua with a group of volunteers called “Beisbol por la Paz.” This loosely organized group of amateurs toured Nicaragua, playing games against local teams and distributing bats, balls, gloves and other equipment to children in the towns where they played. For the last game, the American team didn’t have a pitcher, and the Nicaraguan team leant them their best pitcher so the game could proceed. At one point, there was a runner who had just landed on second base, and the shortstop ran to the base to cover. He had the ball in his glove. The pitcher looked back, and the short stop slanted his eyes down to the base. The pitcher nodded, the shortstop pretended to the toss the ball to the pitcher, the pitcher pretended to catch it. The runner stepped off the base, and the the shortstop tagged him out. This complex sequence, “the hidden ball play,” was carried out by two men whose only common language was the signage of baseball–plus the laughter after the play succeeded.
And here’s a short baseball poem by Tom Clark:
Baseball and Classicism
Every day I peruse the box scores for hours
Sometimes I wonder why I do it
Since I am not going to take a test on it
And no one is going to give me money
The pleasure’s something like that of codes
Of deciphering an ancient alphabet say
So as brightly to picturize Eurydice
In the Elysian Fields on her perfect day
The day she went 5 for 5 against Vic Raschi