In the dream, the ball is bouncing towards me. Only every time it touches the grass, it splits in two. One ball, two balls, four balls, eight. I can see each of them clearly and I spread my arms out wide as if I’m going to try to gather them all up at once. But there keeps getting to be more of them and my arms won’t spread wide enough and by now the runner’s past me.
Baseball is a game of angles. Or, you could say, it’s a game where a couple different things are always happening at once. Or more than a couple things.
Think about this: think about what happens when a ball’s put in play. If there’s no one on base then the moment a ball is hit there’s a player reacting to it, trying to catch it and throw it back, and another player, the batter, running to first base. But what if there’s more players on base? Each one of them has to make a split-second decision about whether to run once a ball’s been hit; and unless there are already two outs, then depending where each runner is and where the ball gets hit, each runner’s decision is going to be a little bit different. And even if there’s only a runner on first base, then that gives the pitcher something to think about already, before he pitches the ball.
Another dream I have is one where I keep throwing over to first. The runner is there, and I know he’s going to steal, everyone knows it. We look at each other, we lock eyes, and just from his eyes I know he’s only waiting for me to glance away and begin my motion and he’s gone. So I make the throw.
The first baseman snags the ball and sweeps his glove across the runner’s butt and the ump motions “safe.” He gets up, dusts himself off, glares at me, takes an exaggerated step or two. We lock eyes again. Something won’t let me turn away, won’t let me twirl and make the throw home. I toss over again.
A murmur goes through the crowd. It makes me anxious, but as I settle on the mound I already know I’ll do it again. I throw over a third time, fourth, fifth, six, I lose count—I’m just stuck doing it. It’s the yelling of the crowd that wakes me up.
Baseball is beautiful, but it’s terrible, too. There’ve been times when I’m out there just doing it, soaking it up and enjoying every moment, because I’m not thinking too much. I’m noticing little things like the way the light makes everything glow, and the smell of the dirt and the grass, the bats and the mitts and the powder, and the contentedness of the crowd as they arrive at their seats and look around at each other and see us warming up, and the rising excitement right before the game starts.
But other times, I suddenly think about the idea of winning, and I get frightened. Not of winning, but of something happening that makes us lose. And that I’ll be involved and everyone will see it. So my heart starts racing, and I hunker down and hope like hell that whatever happens, the ball won’t roll towards me.