The Newly Discovered Unequivocal Origin of Baseball
By Jon Steinhagen
Scurritt definitely was the first with the ball. It was something he fashioned without knowing. He looked down into his lap one summer evening and discovered he had unconsciously generated a thing, a round, hard thing, an apple-sized something or other over a series of warm and idle and tense evenings while sitting on his front porch with his wife. His wife, Molly, wanted to fashion a preservative cover for the object, as she is clever and sensitive with needle and thread. Scurritt lent her the marvelous sphere for this purpose, and she withdrew to bleach a swath of leather. One of us later remarked that the surprise wonder had been tainted once Molly was allowed to get her household hands on it. Compromised, someone else said. We could not fault Molly’s handiwork, however, but that was not the point. It was then that Flaar took the ball from Scurritt and stripped it of Molly’s covering. Flaar told us he would show us a sample of his own handiwork, and we did not see him again for well over a fortnight.
We have a certain amount of responsibility to ourselves and to each other and to our Mollies and to our families and to our communities and to our state and to our country. Buckstein is always bringing this up, this notion of responsibility. We discuss responsibility at his goading. He is a skilled orator once the whiskey has been passed around thrice. We recall how Scurritt’s ball had moved him, and what he had said.
“This has nothing to do with God or Nature. This has everything to do with the two mighty legs upon which we ambulate and the two mighty arms with which we strike or embrace our young. We are gentlemen, gentlemen. We are gentlemen because not only do we endorse and encourage fairness we are also able to fairly judge fairness and recognize when we see it and apply it when it is warranted. Gentlemen, we are. We can. We do. We have the ability to use our eyes and ears and authority to exhort fairness. Fair play. Fair weather. Fair weather friends. That is not to say that we are friends. We are not friends, fair weather or foul. We are gentlemen. We are gentlemen who have responsibility. Who have ability. Who have power. We are a tried and true subsystem of universal system. But among each other? What have we? Responsibility. The wherewithal to demonstrate our gifts of fairness to our fellow gentlemen. We have that obligation. I say it is high time we took steps to show everyone what we know about ourselves and what we can do with that knowledge. We need something that shows this. Not a ritual but a sport. Not a ceremony but a game. Something we can play that says See how fair we are. How organized we are. How us we are. See?”
Flaar returned and showed us Scurritt’s recovered sphere. Crude stitches replaced Molly’s dainty artistry. His skill lacked subtlety but we did not mind. Flaar’s work made us aware of the seams, but we took pride in being able to recognize what Flaar had done and how he had done it. We were proud of its openness, its roughness, its honesty. It was a ball at its most basic, its baseness emphasized by its resemblance to a skull over which the white dead skin had been stretched. It was ours.
I tossed it to Burkstein. Burkstein tossed it to Galder. Galder tossed it to Walladanter. More gentlemen joined us, ten in total. They admired the ball. Culk cradled it. He said This is the world. Porfett took it and said This is our world. We nodded in agreement. Porfett tossed it to Niplinghaus. Niplinghaus did not catch it and it went through the parlor window. There was no embarrassment, no chastisement. A window can be replaced. We cannot. We needed to spread out. We needed a field.
While Galder cleared a portion of his field to be used for our tossing, Trunder appeared with the club. This club had the refinement the ball did not. The club was lean and smooth and finely wrought. We asked where Trunder had been all our lives. Trunder in his modesty said nothing. Culk took the club and said This is us. Porfett took it and said This is how we must be.
We had club and sphere. We moved from the parlors to Galder’s field. We admired his skill at sacrificing a portion of his fine and fertile land for our displays of fairness and gentlemanliness. We gave no outward thanks nor paid no vocal compliments. We were who we are to each other. We did not remove our hats.
We gained another modicum of control over our lives. Not enough but nearly enough. We had the sun and the air and the soil and our ball and our finely refined club. We spoke and sang and joked and discussed and many times said nothing as we exercised ourselves with our newfound symbols.
“Others need to know us,” said Porfett.
“As viewers or participants?” asked Trunder.
“Yes,” said Culk.
“They must begin as viewers,” said Burkstein, “and progress to participants.”
“Not participants,” said Porfett. “Combatants.”
“Not combatants,” said Walladanter. “Competitors.”
We went about our non-field moments pondering the question of competitors. Competitors, to us, meant Other Gentlemen. We had to acknowledge other gentlemen existed, and in order to find them we had to venture out into other communities, neighboring fields and parlors. We were wise and clever individuals, wiser and cleverer as ten on a field. We reasoned gentlemen everywhere had to be as we. It stood to reason. Word got out.
Other gentlemen appeared at Galder’s field. They watched us as we tossed the ball and now and then used the club to make the ball irretrievable. The ball was always retrievable, but we tried to make it not. Burkstein held forth on this for all and sundry.
“To make it irretrievable is the key. We are wise and clever and know, naturally, that it can never be irretrievable, unless it was somehow sent into the middle of a pond, and even then, with some effort and ingenuity, it would be retrievable. No, as long as the Earth pulls objects back to its bosom by the divine method of Gravity the ball will always come back to us. But, as I said, this is not the key. The key is to make the attempt. The key is to face it as it bears down on you and make every effort to send it away from you. The further the better. Others will try to catch it. They might do this. They often will. But the key is to make the attempt to keep it away from others. This is the key. You must bat it away as you would a noisome fly. With power. And fairness, let us not forget fairness.”
The other gentlemen, after a period of viewing us, asked to join our circle of ten gentlemen. We discussed fairness and responsibility and decided to accept them as competitors without telling them we saw them as competitors. This withholding of information could be interpreted as an example of unfairness, but it is not. We said Let them think what they will think. If they are gentlemen, they will eventually arrive at the same conclusions as we.
We invited ten.
On the eve of the first meeting, however, Burkstein, who had spoken to us so eloquently on every topic imaginable, died. He was found in his field by his wife, Molly. We mourned the loss of Burkstein, but not for too long. We had a meeting ahead of us.
We went to Galder’s field and found the ten other gentlemen waiting for us.
“With Burkstein dead it will be ten against nine,” said Flaar.
“That would not be fair,” said Niplinghaus.
We told one of the other gentlemen to leave. One of the other gentlemen asked why we could not ask another gentleman to join our side. We told him it would be unfair to Burkstein, to the memory of Burkstein. It was he who first understood us and explained us to us.
“It must always be nine,” said Flaar. One of the other gentlemen went away.
Eighteen, nine of us and nine of them, stood looking at each other, stumped at how to proceed. Galder, still grimy from maintaining his field’s smooth playability, explained to the others that we used the game to reflect on our control of our worlds. One of the other gentlemen scoffed at this.
“This is not your world,” he said. “This is our world.”
“We can discuss that,” said Galder.
“Discussion does nothing but waste time,” the other gentleman said. Could he indeed be a true gentleman and make such utterances? Walladanter, who towered over everyone, stood midway between us and them. He was cradling the ball. The other gentleman was holding the ball batter, as he had been the first to admire Trunder’s craftsmanship. Walladanter spoke to him.
“This is indeed our world,” he said. “You are merely our guests.”
We could no longer see our similarities. The other gentleman grasped the ball batter.
“This may be your home,” he said, “but it is not your world exclusively.”
“Say that again.”
“It is not your world exclusively.”
It was then that Walladanter threw our ball at him.
And the game began.