Hit Batsman

I have sometimes thought that Long Island is the baseball bat of the East Coast. Hurricanes rumble in from the pitcher, charging up alongside the coast at 100 miles an hour toward us and New York City stands there, wiggling its bat (Long Island) and either the hurricane meets the bat with disastrous results or it misses and moves outside to land in the catcher’s mitt (Connecticut). [expand]

Of course, sometimes the pitcher gets really wild. He throws fastballs of course. But he also throws screwballs and sliders. And sometimes he has control problems. The ball could come in very wide to the right, so far outside that New York City couldn’t even reach it if he stretched out toward it.

This latest pitch, named Irene, looked like a fastball coming in, but at the last minute it screwballed to the inside and hit the batsman. The bat itself remained unscathed. The batsman hopped around for a bit, and then trotted down to first base. Then the batboy came in, picked up the bat, dusted it off and put it back on the rack where it could wait for the next batsman.

Thus is the geography of the northeast coast of the United States. And I must say it is no fun at all being a bat or being one of the little bugs on the bat. The season is July to November. There’s about 20 pitches that come in. You sit there trembling. There’s no home runs here. There’s no hitting back. There’s just standing there hoping all the pitches go way outside to either hit New England or, as more likely happens, the Atlantic Ocean, Nova Scotia and that big open space up toward Greenland. Being a bat is just an accident waiting to happen. It’s no fun at all. In fact, it’s scary.

Frankly, I never recall there being a time when we had a hit batsman. It’s a rare event. But I must say our New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, preparing the batsman for battle, was up to the task. The city came up to the plate wearing a chest protector, a helmet and other things. All the subways and bridges were closed. The emergency crews were out. No one could ever say that this batsman was unprepared for this possible contingency.

There was another factor. This time, the pitch was thrown (by God? By Mother Nature? By the Industrial Revolution?) into a whole mess of natural obstacles between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. In other instances, this space is dazzling clear of anything but air. The pitch comes in and whizzes along to slam into the bat at almost the same speed as it left the pitcher. But in this instance, that space was filled with stuff that slowed it down. The ball encountered the Bahamas, North Carolina and Virginia and if it did go briefly out to sea to regain its speed, it then returned to come barreling through Maryland, Delaware and up into New Jersey—these are states that normally sit entirely on the sidelines to watch the speedball come by—and caused unimaginable havoc and damage, but at the same time, this caused it to slow. So that finally, when it did come in to hit the batsman, it was little more than a floater.

“What a change of pace!” shouted the man behind the microphone. “It left as a 100 mile an hour fastball. And it arrived as a 35 mile an hour tropical breeze. How about that!!”

Finally, there was another very unusual factor. The baseball was oversize. Very oversize. It was the size of a watermelon. Seen from outer space, it looked the size of Texas rather than Rhode Island. This was the scariest pitched ball ever— because amazingly—and this was truly amazing—the pitcher himself this time had superhuman strength and could toss in this watermelon the way a regular pitcher could toss a hardball. Who knew?

The man behind the microphone was in a frenzy. He frequently commented on the vast size of this spheroid. It was gargantuan. It was the Godzilla of baseballs. The King Kong of animals. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of Ghostbusters. Everybody get down and hide under the bed. Run for your lives!

And when it hit the batter, my God, did it sploosh.

It splooshed over everything. It left a trail of this sploosh. North Carolina was a catastrophe. The tide in the Chesapeake Bay rose nine feet. All the trees and churches and covered bridges blew down in Connecticut and Vermont and New Hampshire, and over there in New Jersey, billions of people were stranded on the roofs of their houses hoping that the sploosh would eventually seep into the already saturated lawns and ultimately free the trapped electricity.

As far as eastern Long Island was concerned—this is the meat of the bat from our perspective of course—the sploosh went on and on. And after awhile, it weakened the roots of the trees and the wind created torque amongst the tree trunks.

I don’t have to tell you. Hundreds of trees came down, thousands of them, and they fell across roads and fences and onto roofs and power lines and heaven knows what else. And it would take days to clean up the mess.

Behind the plate, the umpire, covered with gobs of watermelon juice, having already announced “take your base” to the batter, now thought better about it. “Time Out,” he said. He wanted everybody to take a few moments to regroup before the next batter came up to hit.

But it is doubtful that the pitcher heard him. He, or she, was just too far away, 90 feet, exactly, to hear that declaration over the roar of the crowd.

He crouched down, took another ball out of his pocket, shined it up, spit on it, and looked in to get the sign. The game would go on, perhaps sooner rather than later.

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