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Tom Chaney: So Open to Infinity

Of Writers And Their Books: So Open to Infinity. Tom reviews two books for those who love baseball and recounts some personal history of Kentucky connections to the game. This column first appeared 24 May 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Robert B. Parker Yet Again

By Tom Chaney

So Open to Infinity

For years I have been a mild fan of baseball.

In junior high and high school I was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers mainly because my best friend -- a friendship newly minted because of school consolidation -- was a Yankee fan.

Also in junior high the principal took the school boy patrol crew to see the old Louisville Colonels play. I remember catching a foul ball. I thought the trip was nice, but small compensation for our duties on the corner of Ky. 70 and U. S. 31-W where daily we saved the lives of countless elementary urchins and braved the obscenities of pretty ladies in their new convertibles.

Otherwise I did not do much about baseball. It seemed to involve a great deal of standing about either popping a glove with one's fist or swinging at a very small ball with a wisp of a stick.

Whilst I lived in Philadelphia I was invited by my neighbor to attend a baseball game. 'Twas a nice, neighborly thing to do. I was prepared to accept when I asked him whether I could bring a book. "Of course not!" He replied. "That is just not done."

The Phillies limped pennant-less into fall without me.

The Phillies were pretty good at going without pennant all along.

In the 1964 season, they held a nine to ten game lead all the late summer and early fall with a pitching staff that had the right depth to coast into the series with little difficulty.

But they blew it.

In the final two weeks they lost six games with two pitchers carrying the load -- Chris Short and Jim Bunning -- with only two days rest between games.

Wait just a minute. Did you say Bunning?

Yep! Old Jim, now junior Republican senator for Kentucky now pitching barbs at the Democrats -- beloved by his compadre -- Mighty Mitch who could not pitch.

I know a fair maiden of Hart who was in school in Philadelphia in 1964. She still blames Jimbo for his part in blowing that lead. She would not vote for him even were he a Democrat, lo these 45 years later.

That fall, after the series was done, she even married a Yankee fan. Talk about a mixed marriage.

All that to say I have been reading several quite fine baseball books. David Halberstam's October 1964 [Villard Books, 1994] is an excellent recounting of that season thirty years on. Halberstam is detailed enough to please any baseball fan with statistics and any sociologist with his discussion of the racial and social milieu of that crucial year.

I recommend this book to be smuggled into the stands or kept by the television set as one enters yet another season of the national sport.

But the other book is the real joy. 'Tis George Plimpton's The Curious Case of Sidd Finch [Macmillan, 1987].

Plimpton's hero is British, a graduate of Harvard whose father is killed near Kathmandu in an airplane crash. Sidney, later Sidd (for Siddhartha) goes in search of his father and finds the Buddha.

As a result of his religious studies he achieves a considerable ability to throw. He develops this skill protecting yaks from snow leopards by hurling rocks at the leopards.

Sidd makes his way back to Florida and the New York Mets training camp.

We first get a hint of the pitching capabilities when the narrator of the novel gets a free ride in a blimp on a flight involving folks in the Mets organization dropping baseballs out of the blimp to catchers on the ground below in an effort to simulate catching Sidd's pitches -- estimated at 168 miles per hour.

Baseball, it turns out, is the perfect mystic sport. "Baseball is so open to infinity. No clocks. No one pressing the buttons on stopwatches. The foul lines stretch to infinity. In theory, the game of baseball can go on indefinitely."

As we might expect, dear reader, Sidd does not fit well into the community of his teammates, although every pitch is a strike. He has perfect control, putting the ball in the catcher's mitt wherever the mitt is held. To do otherwise could be deadly. He cannot bat.

He is morally opposed to stealing bases; the hidden ball trick or robbing someone of a hit. And he chooses lifesavers over either tobacco or gum.

Sidd tells his girl friend Debbie Sue of a sutra of Buddha: "It's about a tiger who chases a man to the edge of a cliff. The man grasps a vine and swings out over the edge. The tiger comes to the edge and looks down at him. And then from down below, another tiger appears and looks up at him. And then guess what? Two mice, one black, and the other white, begin to chew on the vine. The man sees this. So he lets go of the vine with one hand and he grabs a strawberry from a bush growing in the cliff face. He pops the strawberry in his mouth. He thinks, 'How sweet it tastes.' "

If neither of these books suits your taste for baseball reading. Then try Robert B. Parker's Double Play about the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson and the mafia.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-05-25 04:03:46
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