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The Infield Fly Rule

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Peter Walter finishes his last class of the morning and catches the Kinston Avenue #12 Bus to the Central Square Merchantile Building. He’s looking to put in four hours work at his parttime job interning for Pissaro and Ware Architects. Carlo Pissaro, Peter’s boss, is in but only briefly. He has nothing to do. He will shortly slip out, pick up his wife and both of them will take in a doubleheader at Compton Point Field. Today, Alabaster City’s triple A ball club, the Peacocks, will be playing the Carolina Mudcats. Carlo is looking forward to an enjoyable afternoon at the ballpark followed by an enjoyable evening locked in the tender embrace of his lovely wife. But at this particular moment, he’s not quite ready to leave. Carlo sits down next to Peter, straddling the cushion of a swivel drafting stool turned backward, his arms draped across its armrest. He looks at Peter.

“So,” Carlo asks, “What’cha up to today, Walter?”

“Drawing more house plans,” Peter responds vacantly. He’s half unconscious, having gotten very little sleep the previous night.

“Say, Petey. You like baseball?”

Peter, head in his work, does not reply.

“Me, I love baseball. Love it.” There’s nothin’ better than a cold beer, a fat hot dog and a good ball game in front of ya’, except maybe some quality time with the wife, ‘ya know what I mean don’t ‘ya Petey.” Carlo winks. 

Again Peter does not respond, but continues drawing another floor plan. Peter actually likes Carlo Pisarro. Carlo is funny, affable and constantly entertaining. Today however, Peter is dog tired, has far too much work to accomplish in too little time and is growing increasingly annoyed at being called “Petey.”

Lamely he says, “I guess I really don’t follow it much.”

“Well, let me tell ‘ya Petey. Just let me tell ‘ya all about it. The greatest game in the world. The greatest game in the world, yes sir!”

For the next forty-five minutes, Carlo Pisarro will explain the game of baseball to Peter. Peter will rarely look up from his drafting table. Sarah, the firm’s lone technical secretary, will type away on another of Carlo’s business letters. Carlo tells Peter everything there is to know about baseball: the layout of the field, the sequence of the innings, the game’s strategy, the designated hitter, chewing tobacco, crotch scratching, earned run averages, on base percentages and finally and most bewilderingly, the Infield Fly Rule.

“The Infield Fly Rule,” says Carlo spryly, his dissertation nearly concluded. “That’s the topper.”

"Uh?" Peter responds.

"Well sure. You wouldn't have a game without the Infield Fly Rule. I mean geez, it's the only thing that makes sense. An infield pop-up. The batter's automatically out, whether the ball's playable or not. It's the only thing that makes any sense."

"Oh," Peter says without the slightest idea what Carlo is talking about.

"Ya know, it's the only thing that makes sense. Yup. The only thing."

Sarah’s eyes roll deeply into the back of her head. Peter suppresses a gapping yawn. Carlo, recognizing he is now late to pick up his wife, hurdles out of the office. Later in the afternoon, Peter’s grogginess will clear some. He and Sarah will goof on the foibles of their two employers. Sarah will pretend to answer the phone using the comical nickname she has coined for the firm of Pissaro and Ware. Sarah and Peter both collapse in a puddle of giggles. A short time later, Sarah will actually answer the phone. Absentmindedly, her greeting substitutes her nickname for that of the firm’s two founding partners.

“Hello. This is Pissant and Weird. Can I help you?”

At 6:35 PM, Peter will catch the Kinston Avenue #12 bus back to Alabaster University. He will return to his studio on the third floor of Brimley Hall and work long into the evening on a project for his class in architectural history. At thirty minutes past midnight, Peter leaves the studio. He's tired and hungry. He just wants to get home, throw down a bowl of cold cereal and then crawl directly into bed. A few of his fellow graduate students will continue to work in the studio. Most of the rest left earlier in the evening. Gil, Peter’s new roommate, hasn’t been in all evening .

At this time of night, the Kinston Avenue bus has stopped running. Peter will walk the nineteen blocks from Alabaster University to Central Square. As so often happens on such evenings, some insignificant, meaningless idea will become lodged inside Peter’s head. It is always something he cannot shake out of his consciousness, hard as he might try. Tonight, this nagging thought is Carlo Pisarro’s incomprehensible explanation of baseball’s Infield Fly Rule. 

Peter silently slips into his miserable Central Square flat. It is early September. The evening has turned unseasonably cool and the unheated apartment is chilly. There are three spaces in the apartment: a kitchen, a bathroom, and a single, high-ceiling living room. A former tenant had constructed a creaky, elevated sleeping loft in the center of the room. Otherwise, the apartment is completely bare of furnishings. 

Peter presumes his roommate, Gil and his girlfriend, Talley, are already asleep up in the loft. He enters the darkened kitchen and looks to its countertop. In the dim light, the surface of the counter undulates as though it were alive. Peter flips on the overhead fixture and a thousand mustard brown roaches scurry from the fluorescent glare. Feeling ill and no longer hungry, Peter returns to the living room and without bothering to remove his clothes, lays down on his tattered, decades old sleeping bag. He struggles to fall asleep. It’s now that it begins again.

“Squeak.”

The “squeak” is a sound exactly like the metallic scratch of a dime-store Ferris wheel being turned by a hamster.

“Ugh.”

The “ugh” is a sound exactly like someone being punched in the gut. 

“Squish.”

The “squish” is exactly the sound made when stomping an overripe orange with your foot on the linoleum floor in the kitchen.

“Wheeze.”

The “wheeze” is obviously the sound of someone with a severe case of asthma.

The “squeak” is Talley’s whiney, aroused voice. The “ugh” is Gil’s guttural response. The “squish” is the sound of their shared passion. The “wheeze” is Gil’s chronic asthma. Once again, Gil and Talley are making love.

It begins slowly. “Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze. Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze.”

And then quickens. “Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze, squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze…”

And then slows again.

“Squeak.”

“Ugh.”

“Squish.”

“Wheeze.”

It seems to go on forever.

“Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze.”

All night long.

“Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze.”

For someone with asthma, Gil apparently still has the constitution of a Brahma bull. His damp, labored lovemaking continues for what seems an eternity. Peter rolls over in his sleeping bag, pulls the pillow tightly around his ears and prays for deliverance. It’s no help. The sound of Gil and Talley’s pleasure resonates through the rickety posts of the elevated loft and down into the floorboards beneath Peter’s head.

“Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze.”

“Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze.”

Finally,…

“Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze.”

…finally…

“Squeak, ugh, squish, wheeze.”

…finally…

“Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.”

…at 3: 46 AM…

“Squeak, squeak. Squish, spurt, uuuugh!”

…Talley and Gill climax simultaneously. Peter at last can sleep.

Back at Peter’s office, on the thirteenth floor of the Central Square Mercantile Building, there is a parlor. It is furnished with three worn but serviceable Lazy-Boy recliners. Beside one is an unfinished six-pack of Budweiser. Out front is an ancient television set. As it turns out, this is God’s House.

God is seated in the center recliner. He is dressed in a pair of boxer shorts, a holey silk bathrobe and Birkenstock sandals. He wears a baseball cap pulled low over his thinning white hair. The cap displays the insignia of the Chicago Cubs. As it turns out, God is a big Cubs fan. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to a much older Carlo Pisarro.

Seated in the recliner on God’s right hand is Jesus Christ. Jesus also wears a baseball cap, though it is placed on his head backwards. Anything to be different. To God’s left is the Holy Ghost. The recliner only appears to be empty. The walls surrounding the Trinity are chock full of baseball memorabilia: autographed balls, autographed glossy photographs, autographed bats, jerseys, trading cards and so forth. As it turns out, God is a really big fan.

If you were to linger in this small parlor on the thirteenth floor of the Mercantile Building, sooner or later someone will goad God into telling a story or two. This afternoon though, God is having nothing to do with it despite Jesus’ continual prodding. Frustrated, Jesus turns to the Holy Ghost’s empty recliner.

“You tell’em, H.G. You tell’em a story.”

And so, the Holy Ghost begins:

“”You know,” the body-less voice says, “it is not unusual to wonder what our Lord was up to when He created this, His one most magnificent Earth. It is a question man has pondered throughout all eternity. It is a question seemingly without answer. But this is inaccurate. God did indeed possess a wondrous, exalted plan for His children on this, His one most bountiful Earth.”

H.G pauses and sucks down a cool sip of Bud from a seemingly unsupported aluminum can which hovers eighteen inches above his empty recliner. He resumes.

“God created this world so that his chosen children could play nothing more or less momentous than baseball. It was and ever remains as simple as that. Forget all that nonsense in Genesis, at least everything after the first seven days, which is more or less accurate. Rather, on the eighth day, God would enter the Garden of Eden thinking to himself, ‘Baseball, that’s the deal!’”

God comes to the Garden of Eden intending to lay the whole plan out for Adam and Eve. The two of them will play a single, sacred game of baseball, His mighty Plan for this world will be fulfilled and He can get on to more pressing matters like improving His golf swing. As it happens, things do not get off to a terribly good start. For one thing, on the morning of the eighth day when God arrives in the Garden of Eden, Eve is out.

“Small loss,” God thinks to himself, “I’ll explain it all to Adam and we’ll fill Eve in later.”

God summons Adam.

“Adam!”

Adam perks up immediately. Although everything in the Garden of Eden is new to him, he does have sense enough to realize that God is someone to whom he should pay particular attention.

“Yes, God?”

“Adam!” God speaks plainly. “There is something I want to tell you. I want you to understand why I have created this world and this garden and you and Eve.”

This was something about which Adam had been naturally curious. To his credit however, Adam had decided to give his creator a few days before he started asking too many questions.

“O.K. Lord.” Adam replies. “Shoot.”

“Adam,” begins God, “I want you and Eve to play baseball.”

“Baseball?”

“Yes Adam. Baseball. I want you and Eve to play a sublime, sacred game of baseball.”

God pauses. He wants to make sure he has Adam’s complete attention.

“You see,” God continues, “we’ll choose up two teams with nine players each…”

“Players?” asks Adam.

“Yes, Adam, players. You know, we’ll use some of the animals. They haven’t much else to do around here.”

“O.K.” Adam replies carefully. God continues.

“See, we’ll make a playing field with three bases and a fourth base, a safe haven, the goal of the game. I’ll call it…eh…”

God is about to call this fourth base “Heaven” when Adam interjects:

“Home?”

Adam was not much to look at, but he was bright in ways that occasionally surprised even his Lord.

“All right,” replies God, “ Call it Home. Home plate. And we’ll need bats and balls and everyone will have to have their own fielder’s glove.”

By now, God is clearly on a tear so with all the primal attention he can possibly muster, Adam takes in every single Word. God spells the whole idea out for Adam: the rules, the strategy-even the part about chewing tobacco. Adam does not entirely grasp the importance of chewing tobacco to the game, but he supposes he’d best take God’s Word about certain things more or less at face value.

“The inviolability of God’s Holy Word is a supposition,” H.G.. adds, “that mankind has been obliged to honor unchallenged ever since.”

When God concludes his explanation, He leans back and smugly awaits Adam’s response.

“I like the game fine. Lord… I….I mean, it’s really terrific,” Adam stammers. “But there is one little problem that bothers me…”

“Oh!.” God sits up.

“Well, you see….”

“Yes!” God is becoming slightly perturbed.

“What if there is a player…a “runner” on first base?”

“A runner?”

“Yes,” Adam continues, “a runner on first and a batter at Home.””

Adam is on new turf here so he proceeds cautiously.

“Say the batter hits a fly ball into the infield, nice and high and easy to catch. The opposing infielder could make the catch and the batter would be out.”

“Yes, yes,” replies God more impatiently. “Go on, go on.”

“Well, what if the infielder doesn’t catch the ball, but rather…er… pretends to miss the catch…”

“Yes!” God is about to blow a gasket.

“Because it’s a fly ball, the runner will have to tag up at first before moving on to second. If the infielder intentionally misses the catch, he could retrieve the dropped fly, zip the ball to second base, the shortstop could zip the ball to first base and they’d turn an easy double play, getting two outs instead of one.”

H G. pauses and notes parenthetically, “Such deceit is quite a leap for Adam, who as you well know has yet to experience original sin.”

“I see.” replies God, by now visibly troubled.

“You see…”Adam begins again, “it just doesn’t seem fair…”

Justice is something God considers one of his stronger suits, so the suggestion that his perfect game might not be entirely fair is vaguely distasteful. God sits back to think this over. He does not get very far before Adam interrupts again.

“God? I think I have an idea.”

“Go on, Adam.”

“What if we made an exception to the rules, you know, a special rule?”

“Special rule?” 

“As you know,” H.G. again interjects, “God is unaccustomed to making exceptions to his rules. To His eternal dismay, it is a habit of His divine thinking that never seems to much bother His one Catholic Church."

“Yes, I’d like to call it the Infield Fly Rule.”

“Infield Fly Rule, eh?” God grudgingly begins to concede that Adam has a certain knack for naming things. 

Adam is about to explain his special rule to God when up strolls Eve.

“Hi, boys. What’s up?”

In her hand, Eve clutches a small, perfectly formed apple. She holds it up for both God and Adam to admire. The rest of course, is history.

The game-God’s Sacred Game-was called on account of pain and His grand ambitions for His world temporarily put on hold. Regardless of whose account of history you choose to believe, it will still take mankind a considerable number of years to rediscover all that God had laid out so plainly to Adam on the world’s eighth day in the Garden of Eden. God will endure countless years of conflict and turmoil, wars, hatred, greed, lust, bigotry, cruelty; in short, every form of human depravity and suffering known to this world. During this time, God will mostly work on His golf swing.

God is however above all else, a patient Being. Soon Doubleday would be born, an event that causes no small amount of rejoicing in Heaven. He will grow to manhood, invent the game of baseball and die, destined for sainthood. As Adam and Eve’s descendants are not nearly as bright as Adam, it will take somewhat longer for them to discover the Infield Fly Rule. God is also disappointed in mankind’s reinterpretation of His divine game. For one thing, the animals are out.

“Small loss.” shrugs God. “Most animals are too dumb to play the infield, too smart for the outfield.”

One might think God’s assessment of the intelligence of outfielders harsh but on close examination, the analysis does have legs. By God’s divine reckoning, an infielder must perform no less than three hundred fifty-seven separate operations in an average ball game, each of which is fundamental to the execution of the sport. On the other hand, an outfielder’s responsibilities are far less complex: See the ball. Run get the ball. Throw the ball like Hell.

Granted, an outfielder must determine in which direction to throw the ball but, as God is fond of pointing out: “For Christ sake, the idiot has only four choices!” And even this element of choice can be defined in a manner intelligible to most lower primates. Just the same, it is remarkable the frequency with which your average major league outfielder manages to screw up this simple operation, misses the cutoff man and thereby allows a runner to advance to the next base. God’s observation stands.

“Women however, “ laments God. “Women, not animals, are the real loss to the game.”

To God’s way of thinking, he had created a game for which cunning was just as essential as physical prowess. Women would contribute a much-needed element of intrigue to the sport.

“Oh well,” God sighs. “It will have to do. I can’t flood the whole joint and start over again. This will just have to do.”

“And so, “H.G. concludes, “now at every possible moment, God, Jesus and Myself sit up here, suck down Budweiser and watch the Game of the Week on this ancient television set.”

“And that,” he invisibly grins, “is why God created this world.”

The Holy Ghost rests. God looks bored. Jesus believes something has been left out.

“Go on,” Jesus prods. “Tell’em the rest. Tell’em the rest.”

“You think I really should?” H.G. asks hesitantly.

“Sure. Sure. They can handle it.”

“Well, all right.”

H.G. raises his recliner, leans forward and speaks in a much-lowered voice.

“O.K. This is the deal. Back in the Garden of Eden, it turns out Eve had picked the apple only because she thought it was pretty.”

“Yes?”

“Eating it….”

The face of the Holy Ghost can never be seen, but at this particular moment it is obvious he is smiling a perfectly satanic smile.

“.…Eating it? That was all Adam’s idea.”

Peter awakens with a shudder. It’s early morning. The unheated apartment is freezing. Peter shivers and tip toes into the bathroom. Gil and Talley are still in the loft, snoring and naked. Peter cringes at the thought. He turns on the shower. Thankfully, the water heater works. He lets the bathroom fill with steam until it reaches a temperature that permits him to remove his clothes and bathe. As Peter showers, he thinks about God and Jesus and baseball and Carlo's' explanation of the Infield Fly Rule.

"The Infield Fly Rule. That's the topper. You wouldn't have a game without it. You just wouldn't have nothin. That's why baseball's the perfect game, ya see. It's perfect. It's nothing like life..."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. In life, you can drop the ball and still get two outs."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. There just isn't no Infield Fly Rule in life. There just isn't."

"Yeah," Peter thinks. "There isn't."

Peter springs out of the shower, quickly towels off, pulls back on his clothes and races out of the apartment. Gil and Talley are still asleep. He dashes across Kinston Avenue and into the ground floor lobby of the Mercantile Building. Peter directs the building’s elevator to the twelfth floor. He bounds up a creaking staircase that leads to the thirteenth floor. He passes through a rusting metal door. He looks out into the morning sunshine.

There is no parlor. The three Lazy-Boy recliners are gone. Peter is standing on the roof of the Central Square Mercantile Building. From this height, he can see out over the hilltop perch of Alabaster University beyond its ivy covered halls to the fields and pastures of east-central Virginia, out across a tributary of the Cokihominy River and in due distance, on to the clear waters of Chesapeake Bay. God has left the building.

As an aside, there is one story neither God nor Christ nor the Holy Ghost ever think is a good idea to tell. This is the story of the world’s end. It will happen one sunny Saturday afternoon in late September. God’s beloved Cubs have finally had a decent season and hold some real prospect of making the playoffs. The Cubbies are playing in Cincinnati. It is the bottom of the ninth. The Cubs are ahead by two. Jose Consecco, returning from retirement for his fifth and final time, plays left field for Chicago. With the bases loaded and two out, Cincinnati’s batter punches a bloop single into the outfield. Consecco will bare hand the grounder and then inconceivably, miss the cut off man. Three runs will score. The Cubs will lose. God thrusts the heel of his Birkenstock clad foot through the screen of the TV. This is how the world ends.

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