GEDDY EXPLAINS BASEBALL TO ANNIE
by Gadi Bossin
© 2014, Gadi Bossin
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In the bottom of the first inning of the second baseball game Annie ever witnessed—the only previous one was the softball game she attended to bring Geddy and the English Department Infinitives good luck—the batter swung at a two-oh pitch and drove the ball deep into the gap in right center field. The hometown crowd of several hundred rose to their feet and cheered, Geddy and Annie among them.
“This is America,” Geddy shouted above the roar.
“What is happening?” Annie shouted back.
The runner who had been on first base was already rounding second and on his way to third and would turn for home and score. The shortstop sprinted past second base into right center. He positioned himself in a direct line between third base and the right fielder retrieving the ball near the fence.
“That runner is on his way home,” Geddy said, pointing to the lead runner. “He’s going to score a run. That’s one point for his team. The other man, the one who hit the ball, he’s going to try to reach third base for a triple. Third base is the third station on the way home. He’s going to slide into the base. Watch.”
Annie nodded, but her face reflected her bemusement at Geddy’s detailed explanation in light of her own almost perfect ignorance of the game. As far as baseball was concerned, she was still lost in America.
Geddy recognized Annie’s bemused expression for what it conveyed, but he went on anyway.
“Look at him, Annie,” he said, pointing now to the shortstop. “The ball is going to come to him. He’s the relay man. The right fielder is going to throw it to him. And then he’s going to whirl around and throw it really hard and low to the third baseman.”
He traced the track the ball would take with his arm as he spoke.
When within seconds everything happened exactly as Geddy predicted, Annie shouted, “How did you know?”
“You asked me to show you America, Annie,” he replied. “If you want to understand America and Americans, you need to understand baseball.”
Over the summer weeks, Geddy and Annie drove to half a dozen neighboring towns to watch minor league baseball games. A few were in leagues as high as Single-A, but mostly they attended games played by teenagers and aging amateur ballplayers in lower level local leagues.
“This is the real game,” Geddy said to Annie. “True-blue grassroots baseball is what American and Canadian baseball fans love. And this is it. This is baseball, the real thing. These teenagers and old-timers are playing the game with the down-home spirit that brings people to the ballpark to cheer on the local heroes.”
Geddy grew up rooting for the old Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. The Leafs played for more than forty years at the recently demolished Maple Leaf Stadium, at the foot of Bathurst Street, on the lakefront, opposite the Toronto Island Airport runway, just across the boat canal.
Sitting in the bleachers, Geddy used to count the light planes taking off and landing during Sunday afternoon doubleheaders.
“Annie, my friends and I paid forty cents to get into the left field bleachers. Then we snuck through the hole in the chain link fence separating the bleacher fans from the people in the more expensive seats on the other side.”
“A hole in the fence?”
“Yeah, a hole in the fence that was never repaired, not even in the off-season. Even as a kid I knew the ushers looked the other way on purpose when we climbed through the hole. There was an unwritten rule everyone honored. We kids didn’t go through the fence until the later innings of the games, and the ushers didn’t bother us when we did.
“Then we moved along the uppermost row of seats at the top of the stadium. That way we were far above the other ushers. When we were above the seats behind the Maple Leafs’ dugout on the third base side or on a line with the visitors’ dugout on the first base side, we moved down closer to the field, taking it one section at a time, down through the grays, and then the greens and the blues, until we worked our way down to the reds. Those were the box seats right next to the field where you could smell the grass.
“Once there, we made a dash for the low fence next to the dugout, where we begged autographs from the players. Sometimes the ushers left us alone. Sometimes they shooed us away.”
Geddy closed his eyes and remembered getting his program autographed by Maple Leaf greats Mike Goliat, Jack Crimian, Sam Jethro and Elston Howard.
And he recalled the broad smile on the face of the Buffalo Bisons’ giant first baseman, Luke Easter, when he stuck out his hand to shake. “What position do you play, young man?” he asked. And Geddy answered, “I’m a catcher.”
Then Easter laughed and said, “Well, maybe someday you’ll be a first baseman like me.”
“You love this game, n’est-ce pas?” Annie said.
“Yeah, I do. I do.”