Around the middle of the fifth inning it occurs to me that animals had to die for this game to be played. The pace of a baseball game makes these kinds of thoughts inevitable when you’re not tending a scorecard.
When we arrived in the top of the second, the Piedmont College Lions were already leading DePauw University, 4-0, at Loudermilk Field on the same Demorest campus where Johnny Mize used to hit baseballs obscene distances. The game got out of hand in the seventh when Piedmont put four more on the board, en route to a rude 9-1 blasting of the visiting Tigers. The ballgame was marked by some fabulous defense by both sides, terrific hustling catches in the outfield and diving plays by infielders, and a fine ensemble performance by several Piedmont pitchers.
Piedmont’s hitters also swung their bats with authority, sending line drives all over the place, even when they weren’t landing on grass. Bat striking ball is one of the most recognizable soundtracks of American life, like a sonic glandular function of our civilization. It’s the sound of aluminum striking an animal hide wrapped tightly around hundreds of yards of wool yarn, machine-wound around a rubber or cork core. Taken together, this is a baseball, the proverbial “old horsehide.”
Except … those young men on the grass diamond glistening green under the slanting rays of the worship worthy March sun are tossing the alum-tanned remains of a Midwest Holstein, not a horse, not usually.
So it was sometime in the fifth, in the middle of a string of scoreless innings, when a couple of cute dogs in the bleachers were getting to know each other which made me start thinking, “dogs in the bleachers at a baseball game is pretty cool,” which led to, “animals and baseball go well together,” which led to, “well, you really can’t play baseball without some animal involvement,” and finally, “baseball needs dead animals,” and on some peripheral sub level, “I wonder if these dogs know that baseballs are wrapped in beef jerky.” And we haven’t even mentioned the gloves fielders use to catch the baseballs with, meat that slips over and protects a man’s hand, or the sheep’s wool that makes the yarn inside the ball.
They’ve tried synthetic materials for balls and gloves, but that leads to an inferior product eschewed by the boys in the show. So, meat is at the heart of the game (hotdogs are basically made at the same choice cuts that become balls and gloves, among other things), which makes me wonder about PETA’s annual ranking vegetarian friendly ballparks. I mean, just because you can get veggie tacos at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and black bean burgers at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, it hasn’t stopped the guys on the field from hitting animal-covered baseballs that they catch with slabs of animals wrapped around their hands.
Until they figure out how to make a better ball with something that didn’t have a mother, baseball will be a flesh and red-blooded American game.