Friday night, for the fourth time out of the past six games, Virginia baseball was interrupted, delayed, or postponed by rain and storms. With nothing else to do, this got me to thinking about the future …
There came a time when the doomsayers were proven right.
The weather had changed.
The rain now came in floods instead of showers, the storms were stronger and more frequent. Outside was not bucolic; outside was a battle, something to conquer as you went from one indoor space to the next. It was too wet or too dry. Too hot or too cold. Too much. Always just too much.
Somewhere in books – what books were left – were drawings and photos and maps of outdoor places that no longer existed.
People pored over those old pages trying hard to imagine what it must have been like to have an outside that was inviting – that wasn’t beaten down by floods and fires, dust storms and hurricanes, tornadoes and mountains of snow.
No one was left by then to remember a kind of outside that wasn’t an enemy.
Children would look at pictures of outdoor places – water parks, bike trails, jungle gyms, baseball fields – and think, “That is just so weird.”
But, maybe you’re wondering … and yes, there is still baseball.
It’s just played inside now.
How else can you play in New York when the 90 days of summer include 80 days of rain? Or, in Boston, where a municipal landfill covers where Fenway once stood? Or, in Minneapolis, where it is always winter? Or in Miami, which disappeared into the ocean a long time ago?
It’s played inside everywhere now. Except one day a year.
There is one remaining artifact of baseball’s outdoor glory. O.co. – the Oakland Coliseum – is still standing. It seems the constant flow of sewage through its pipes and dugouts over decades acted like a strange, smelly superpower. It is impervious to the elements.
And, it looks exactly the same.
Once a year, the MLRB – Major League Roofed Baseball – has its best players dress in period garb to play a single game outdoors. It’s played at O.co, the only day each year that the stadium is used. The game is held in April, but even in springtime the game time temperature hovers around 106.
The players ransack the archives of the MLRB Museum, headquartered – for no particular reason – in Cooperstown, New York, donning faded old caps and polyester jerseys with unfamiliar names like “Trout” stitched on the back, and they all fight to wear “Henderson” because of Rickey Henderson’s 48-foot tall statue at the entrance to O.Co., a statue that just appeared one day, and no one knows how or why.
It looks like this, but much, much taller.
The players put gold chains around their necks (which sometimes rub against, and short-circuit, the microchip IDs in their necks). They dust off old gloves (made of peculiar, sweet-smelling leather, but lacking the metal mesh webbing they are used to), kneading them into service. And, they swing heavy old bats made of that thing that trees are made of (if you’ve seen a tree in the wild you know what I’m talking about).
The caps players wear are like beanies now. With no sun indoors, there’s no need for a brim. There’s no need for a cap at all, really, but they keep the beanies out of respect for the old days.
The baseballs, though, are the same as they’ve been since 1909. Made of cork and wool and leather, and held together with 108 stitches.
Still guaranteed for 18 innings.
Each season someone complains that the balls are different – the seams feel thicker or thinner, or the ball is wound tighter and is livelier or the ball feels loose and dead.
They are right, although the MLRB never admits it.
The average ballgame takes nearly five hours now and people complain about the length of games. They argue that the MLRB should ban the shift and the designated hitter.
People grumble about the ridiculous cost of beer and hotdogs.
And, they mercilessly boo pitchers who give up home runs.
Because of this, they are no longer called fans. They are now known as cranks.
Because they are so cranky, I suppose.
Some things never change.