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May '11 16

Old World Pastime – And The Game Played On

John Miller, a Belgian-American journalist, and a player/coach for the Brussels Kangaroos, is in his fourth year of writing Old World Pastime, a take on baseball as lived in 21th century Europe.

So, yes, the Luc Roeland story last week was a hoax, my homage to George Plimpton’s classic 1985 April Fool’s story about Sidd Finch, the Yogic Mets pitcher who could, it was written, throw a baseball 168 mph.

Not as elaborate or skilfully done, but tricky enough to net a few emails from players wanting to work out with my nuclear scientist, scouts and fellow journalists on the other side of the Ocean, despite the obvious (to me) untruth that there’s a sport involving throwing dead fish across a river. (On another note, amazingly, the word I made up for that sport “vloetsen” doesn’t exist in any Germanic language. If you Google that word, you find only my story.)

Meanwhile, after all my melodramatic narration, and the jar of infield dirt I collected, construction on New Kangaroo Field has been delayed, meaning we played the last game there this Saturday. And it was better. We won 16-6 in seven innings, finally unleashing the sticks in a meaningful way.

Our victory came with a casualty. Reid Henkel, our imported New York gentleman baseball nutcase, blew out his knee picking up a ball in front of the mound. Reid is an easy-going young man, but he hearts the hardball hard, the way you should when you’re young and open to the world. He’s also a fine right-handed pitcher, an effective and efficient strike thrower.

The injury was dramatic. We called an ambulance. A siren sounded. Paramedics carted him off. We played on. The tests turned out as well as could be hoped for. He has a strained knee ligament and will spend a week in a cast.

The player who went with him to translate and drive him home is another interesting little baseball story happening in Brussels. Joseph Kaziz, a young physical education student, is writing a thesis on baseball for his degree. And he’s joined the Kangaroos. He decided to keep score of the game. I didn’t show him how.

So, intuitively, he made up his own scoresheet. And what he came up with was a grid showing the result of every pitch, from one to a hundred and whatever. So strike, strike, ball, ball, foul, hit, strike, ball.

In other words, he didn’t give more space and place to the outs and hits. Every pitch was equal. Like a communist interpretation of baseball score-keeping. And without any real description of the action. He just noted “hit”. And when a team scored, he noted that down, too. Why not? Baseball could be that way.

In the first draft of his thesis, which I’ve read, Joseph rightly leads with a description of the importance of the mental game in baseball. It is a sport with a lot of failure, he writes. The kid doesn’t know the half of it. In my last K Field at-bat, I got into one and flew out to a few feet in front of the centerfield fence.

We are looking for a name for the new Kangaroo Field. The Outback? Camden Yards? The Bush? Make your vote at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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