The first thing I noticed at the Red Sox game last night was the craft of it: the subtlety, the precision, the angles, and the matching shoes the entire grounds crew wore. You sense it immediately: there’s a deep knowledge of cosmic forces that has taken up residence in ballparks all across the world. Like most things, you have to know what’s happening to understand it. You have to let yourself know what’s happening. You can’t just glean it from looking around and drawing inferences—you’ll end up insane, you’ll start to question everything. You’ll beg the person next to you to be reasonable. It can’t be that, can it? Not really. It can’t be like this. This. Whatever this is.
The local television reporter holds a black wand in his hand and makes his speech into thin air, smiling and gesticulating with the animation of a professional. This is important. He touches a hand to the ear piece. He nods. He does it all over again. You take the time to do this just right. It’s a night game, thunder heads threatening, no time for tomfoolery. You do it again if that’s what it takes.
Three guys near home plate are raking dirt over the chalk outline of the batter’s box, then sweeping the lines clean, then raking over more dirt. They’re making progress, swiveling their hips to get the angle right, dragging dirt over the lines, sweeping them off. It must be some new-fangled chalk they got. Chalk all the way down at just the right places, so it doesn’t matter how many times you brush it. It just stays right there. You don’t chalk the field anymore, you reveal the chalk. You take what’s always been there, and make it plain.
They’ve got a German shepherd lying down in the infield, paws out, chin on the grass. She knows what’s going on. Everyone else knows what’s going on. So you better just accept it: you know what’s going on, too. This is ancient. This is important. They bring the kids around in their size 2 numbered jerseys and give them a spray can so they can pretend they’re shellacking the rubber on the pitcher’s mound. Then two guys with the real cans and a set of towels go to work. Spraying, brushing—always touching the rubber ingot, the point of origin, with the clean side of the towel.
There’s an order to this. There’s a deep relationship with invisible forces. You can see it. Your part matters.
In the batter’s boxes, after they reveal the chalk, they bring out bags of the special dirt, pour a little on the end of a white plastic snow shovel—it has to be that one—and fling it into a fine cloud of dust that settles down on top of all the rest. The guy with the shovel, he knows just how to do it. You whirl the shovel around, but you do it under-handed. You don’t mock the hitters who’ll be coming through later. You don’t smile or give an eye this is anything but hard work, the work that must be done. I can’t understand it, but this is what it is. You surrender to it. Your part matters. It’s a bag of magic dirt from down below, under the field. They said a few words down there first probably, in quiet, to build the mojo.
They spread some more of the magic dust in the infield. I think maybe it’s to dry the top layer, because we had some sprinkles. Then they bring out the hoses and wet it all down, starting on one side, and working their way across, so that’s not it. You can’t think your way through this. What needs to be done, needs to be done. You better get on board.
Buchholz, the Texan, he’s having a tough go this year. He’s gotta’ get right with everything that is, but you don’t do that in one outing. It’s a road you hoe. You show up. The forces whirl and you stay in there, face inside your glove, staring down your pitches. His wind-up is awful slow and they steal third—did we get him!? I thought we got him!—and the one from first fills the void at second, standing up. The forces are turning, tumbling. It’s too late now to go back. We gave something away there. The gods saw it. They cleave off a base hit and two runs score. We’re in a hole now. We’re laboring. You can hear the Bud Lights cracking open in the gloom.
Then our catcher steps up and rips one down the right field line like the way I hit a nine iron, fizzing off towards the boundary, whistling like a firecracker, and no loft. Perfect. The park has an ancient design, and the ball clears the fence the only place that it possibly could on a drive like that one. Leon knows this. You can’t go to the well too often, but we did everything right tonight. We made all the right moves.
The rookie they called up from the farm team, he sees how to do it. Benintendi. Slaps a double out into the grass and it’s all even again. If he can do it, I can do it, says Betts. We go into the lead.
Time for the wave. Gimme’ a bag o’ them peanuts.
In the seventh they get a base runner. They hit a chopper straight for second and Pedroia runs to his right, scoops the ball up backhand with his glove and waggles it right back out like an egg. Bogaerts is hovering near second like a good idea, waiting for it. He catches it, drags his toe across the bag, hops away from the slide and fires to first. It’s a dance. That’s all this is. A dance.
But the magic is deep and inscrutable. In the eighth we walk three guys in a row and the energy turns. Bases loaded, no outs, the go-ahead run at the plate. Out comes Ziegler and his side-arm. You do anything you can to break the energy. We watch, stunned, as he throws ten pitches for three strike outs and across the river, they see the skies shudder. (See what I mean by watching the video here.) We come unglued. The lid is off and there’s no going back.
The ninth is a formality. It ends in a dance. What did you expect? When we reach the car the skies open up—lightning crackles over the city. Rain falls. The crew will be up all night planning the steps for tomorrow’s game. Figuring out the dirt. The chalk. The tarpaulins. Where the kids will walk. The music. The dance.