THE MAGIC HARDBALL

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, before men had invented boats, there was a land where people loved to play softball. They built beautiful fields and stadiums, and a whole way of life grew up around the game. Unfortunately, as tends to happen when humans become involved with anything, the rot set in. Some became ball-hogs, while others sat on the bench and hardly got to play at all. One of these bench-warmers was named Tom.

Now it just so happened that Tom got bored of sitting on the bench, and asked if he could help out by keeping score, but even the role of score-keeper was a privileged position hogged by those who knew the right people. The best Tom could do was learn how to keep score by looking over another man’s shoulders, but once he had learned everything about score-keeping he had nothing left to do but twiddle his thumbs.

Then Tom noticed an old book with yellowed pages sitting on the end of the bench, which had, in golden letters on a black leather cover, the word “Rulebook.” Fascinated, Tom opened it and started to read.

It was while reading that Tom learned softball wasn’t the only game in town. In fact softball was based on an older game called hardball. Hardball had been abandoned because it was more dangerous, but Tom found himself increasingly curious about hardball, because the risk involved benefits softball lacked. The benefits were so amazing they seemed impossible. Tom got some of the other bench-warmers interested in these benefits, and during practices they even toyed with a version of hardball they concocted, played with a softball, in the marshy area they were given to practice in, out in the weeds in deep left field by the shore of a big pond.

Then a day came when Tom and a few other bench-warmers got to play. There was a ’flu epidemic, and the entire starting team was sick. People were amazed by the dazzling brilliance of Tom’s team, which came from the way they were conditioned, and was one of the benefits of practicing their facsimile of hardball. But soon the starting team was well, and Tom’s team had to sit back down on the bench. However, as the starting team waddled back out to play, their ineptitude was obvious to the onlookers. It was starkly contrasted by what the crowd has just seen, and murmuring and grumbling began. The joy had gone out of the game, and Tom felt sad.

A lot of quarreling started, and, although arguing is very much a part of baseball, this sort of bickering was of a sort that was especially dispiriting. Some even questioned the value of softball altogether, and there were shocking rumors of secret societies that played badminton. This was blasphemy, and  the starting team decided they needed to crack down on Tom’s practices, and claimed what he and his friends were doing was evil. The said they owned all the stadiums, and took all their balls home. Tom and his friends didn’t even have balls to practice with.

The next morning, while standing dejected out in the weeds of left field, Tom and his friends suddenly heard music out on the waters of the pond. When they looked they saw a small spot of gold rolling towards them across the water. It was a baseball, smaller and harder than a softball, dimpling the water as it rolled, but remaining perfectly dry. It rolled up to Tom and stopped at his feet, and he stooped over to pick it up.

Tom and his friends had a glorious practice that morning. The benefits shone from the baseball, and all who touched it found themselves laughing in sheer delight, and they sang rather than talked.

When the starting team arrived, (late as usual), for practice, they were strangely angered to see such joy. Incensed, they raged that Tom and his friends would be banned from baseball altogether. Tom seemed strangely untroubled. He put his ear up to the hardball, listened, and then announced they were leaving to build a ball-field of their own, across the pond.

The starting team laughed, and said it was impossible, because boats hadn’t been invented yet, and there was no way across the pond. Then their jaws dropped. Tom dropped the ball onto the water, and as it rolled away he and his teammates followed, walking on the waves, until they disappeared in the distance.

There was a long silence, and then, “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” muttered the captain of the starting team.

The starting team went back to playing softball, smugly certain of their superiority, but some of them glanced across the pond, from time to time, and felt a vague curiosity. Perhaps it could even be called a longing, though they would deny it was such.

To this day there are still rumors that, if you stand on the shores of the pond and gaze west on very dark nights, a dim golden glow can be seen at the very verge of sight. Some even claim that, when it is absolutely still, faint music and laughter can be heard. Of course, such legends are discouraged as being demoralizing, when they are not derided altogether. Yet just last week it was reported that Clancy MacLobber, star player of the Lake City Deadweights, was seen gazing west on the shores of the pond during a glorious sunset. The next morning he was missing.

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