The Game

Who needs hi-def TV when you can simply give in to your imagination?

By Brian Doyle | January 23, 2015


A friend of mine is explaining, at herculean length, his happy addiction to fantasy football, and inasmuch as there is plenty of good wine, and several other ostensibly attentive listeners, my attention drifts a little, and sudden I am 12 years old, and it is midnight, and I am in my room in the back of the house, and everyone else is asleep, and I am sitting at my desk under the weak watery light of the ancient lamp, playing a dice baseball game.

The game is played with two dice and a pencil and a ruler and a notebook. I invented it. I do not remember how or why I would have done such a thing, as I was not, and am still not, a baseball fanatic. But I did invent the game, and I played it once or twice a day for years, mostly at night when everyone was asleep, but sometimes all the dim afternoon on wet dark cold days. You carefully mark out nine innings with the ruler, and then write out your opposing lineups, and check the back of the notebook for whose turn it is to pitch, and you have a sip of tea, and the game begins. You have to roll the dice actually on the notebook, so that they do not rattle against the battered old wooden desk, which would wake up a brother or two, but there are firm stern rules against deliberately rolling them into the notebook gutter to try to influence the outcome, and you abide by the rules, because you, as commissioner of the league, made the rules, and it would be bad form for you to flout the very rules you imposed on yourself—an early and halting lesson for me in moral conduct.

I do not remember the rest of the details of the game, what constituted strikes and balls and triples and hit-batsmen and steals and homers and wild pitches and walks and the other lovely intricate arcana of baseball. I do remember that I murmured a steady running account of the game, making up details as we went along, so that when, for example, the bases were loaded, and there were two outs, and the lefty batter stretched the count full, and everyone in the park leaned in excitedly for the pitch, and the dice inarguably declared that he was out, he was not merely and flatly out, but had anticipated the pitch perfectly, and read the spin from the pitcher’s hand instantly with his astounding eyesight, and stepped into it with all his might, and got every bit of it with the sweet spot of his mammoth bat, and hammered a screaming line drive, which looked to everyone in the park, not to mention both dugouts and all the umpires, to be a laser shot to center, scoring one run and possibly two, or even three if the center fielder screwed it up, and the pitcher, a righty still in his follow-through toward the plate, makes an incredible twisting whirl to try to snag the ball as it rockets over his other shoulder, but he just misses, and everyone leaps up, but the brilliant second baseman, who was leaning to his right on the pitch because he saw the sign for curve and saw the catcher set up for a pitch tailing away from the batter, dives full out and makes an incomprehensible catch, you wouldn’t believe a guy could make a play like that unless you saw it with your own naked eyeballs, and it was one of those amazing ice-cream-cone catches too where he just got enough of the ball to haul it in, and there was an inch of the ball sticking out of his battered old black glove as he held it up triumphantly to show the umpire, who makes the call with a look on his face something like awe that he was there to see this historic catch, and the park goes nuts, and the second baseman trots to the dugout grinning a little, and his teammates deliberately ignore him for a minute, just to razz him, and then everyone pounds him on the back and tousles his hair and exchanges complicated ritual handshakes, and we go to a commercial for Schlitz beer.

Sometimes I think this is how I started to be a writer.

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