When the Heater Jumps (Baseball, Fishing, and the Unified Theory)

(via LookoutBelle)

“The light of the furthest stars comes to man last; and before it has arrived man denies that there are – stars there.”           — Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil”

Lem Mately’s right eye dances. It has rumbaed for 62 years. Some compare it to Astaire with the hat rack. Others swear it’s Bill Robinson, “Bojangles” stepping up and down the stairs, showing a giggling Shirley Temple how, best, to go to bed. Lem? He was always partial to the Nicolas brothers; said that’s the way it looked to him from the inside out: an LP played like a 45.

Two years old, searching the long wispy field grass for June bugs, Lem did not notice the napping mule. When he woke up, 10 feet away, all the other children from the neighboring farms were standing in a circle around him, nodding that he should be dead. None had ever witnessed one of their own expire. Patiently they waited, only to be amazed, and then astounded: alive, and with a dancing right eye: Lem Mately.

As Lem aged, baseball and fishing became proxy passions, as no girl could tolerate “That eye!” for more than two minutes: front seat, back seat or church social. Baseball and fishing, and then the new religion, quantum physics, folded him in their arms and held him, tightly.

“Well, if a man can’t get laid, all that energy has to go somewhere,” Lem lamented.

A steady diet of Hawking, Einstein, Penrose, Ted Williams (he being a two-fer, both hardball and fly fishing), soft-shelled crabs, and afternoons at Memorial Stadium, “The house that Earl Weaver may rule, but Brooks Robinson owns.”

Fishing with Lem, early, we were to go to a doubleheader. The Washington Senators were in town. A special day: Williams, the Splendid Splinter, managing the woeful Senators, Robinson patrolling third base like Rommel rampaging through North Africa and…”Same as this Skittal mantis shrimp lure will catch us the perfect striped bass, Earl Weaver, like Odysseus, will try to find redemption at home plate. Alas, the angry Gods, the umpire will rule against him. A show!”

Casting out, easing the line back, Lem winked with his good eye, as his right eye pirouetted. A long drink from his pint of Jim Beam, then back into his hip pocket. A sigh, and then a sermon. Lem preached.

The Gospel of Lem
Chapter 1, Verse 7
The Deliverer

“Sizzlin’ heat, Walter Johnson had it. Satchel Paige claims he invented it. Used to dip his pitching hand in red pepper sauce between innings, laughing at the opposing team, watching. Both certainly had it. Feller, Duren, Koufax, Gibson, Ryan–The Express–all had it. Others? Billions! Start walking, any direction, tap the shoulder of the first man you see over the age of 40, he’ll name all those men, seven more I forgot, then one more legendary flame thrower who could’a…but!”

“Multiply that by, oh, two billion men spread across the planet. Each grew up watching men throw things: rocks, bricks, baseballs, grapefruits, oranges, bottle caps, Frisbees, and each one of them will add another, even more famous, hurler from whatever sport you choose. Tap another shoulder?”

“That other one, but for the luck of the–boom! Yes sir, now he, yes−he made Clemens blush, Carlton weep. A shame, that peckerwood lost the index finger, yeah, his pitching hand. How? Picking up a quarter from the railroad track. No, he saw that train. Saw it, yes. An express, not a local. Flying down the track like a back-door man comin’ out the bedroom window.”

“No, sir, he saw it! Just thought, no, he knew…dead-sure he had just enough time to reach down and snatch that purty Liberty headpiece right up from under that first wheel…whoosh, splat–damn!”

Chapter 10
Verse 3
Real and imagined light

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

“All of us have the real and the imagined bottled up so tightly inside, we’re like broken-sealed, cracked, half-baked, wet-glazed, overflowing vessels, oozing. Bubbling up are the hand-painted, postulated facts and fantasies, all that will absolutely prove the existence of, yes−one more. One more must exist. Hardest thrower, yet! See it? Of, course you didn’t. Why? He threw it.”

“How many, then, of him? Well, yes, see it? We all have him. That’s the issue. Finding the light that will best reveal him to another. Mine? Of course, I saw him. Yours? Check your fuse box, maybe.”

Chapter 13
Verse 2
Light and Man’s dilemma

“Sizzlin’ heat? The ball actually hisses. One instant the ball is in the pitcher’s hand up by his ear. The next? The air between you and the mound is deep-fried, and then–boom–the ball explodes, jumps! The catcher reveals the prize. A quantum quandary: one entity in two places at the same time. Pitcher’s hand, catcher’s mitt,and all you see–no, hear–is a sizzlin’ sound. Instantaneous. Ball−sizzle−pop. No, one more thing, the catcher saying, ‘That little ‘ol thing? Nothin’ but his change-up, wait ‘til you see his heat!’”

“Four billion, remembering, dreaming, admiring the concept of sizzlin’ heat. Spread it out across the sky, and you’d have straight-up 12, 24 hours a day. Take it in the other direction, and you have a notion, an inkling that begins to emulate the speed of light. Four billion fastballs thrown by the ‘other,’ the legendary, unheard-of-man. Only way we touch the speed of light. Four billion fastballs chained together, the length, the speed, the breadth of that–shit!”

“It’s what got me started, kept me going. All of time, history, you, me, the universal theory, all operating like sizzlin’ heat multiplied by the gravity, love, fact and fantasy of each individual–alive!”

“The light of a dead star is like sizzlin’ heat, a notion that sends each of us scurrying, backwards and forwards and then roots us in the moment. A long-dead star, yet, its light continues to move, races, jumps, lives and dreams through each and every one of those who…yes, claim: the one.”

“Gravity and love, concepts bigger, more important than the individual that dreams it. Without them we’re alone and floating, aimless viruses without a host.”

“Just imagine all wants and dreams that have been tied together by the light of a single star, burned out a billion years ago. Plot a point, backwards, forwards and in between, then sew it all together with gravity, love and the passage of your time. Hold that fabric up to the light. There it is: all of love, time, entire lives, generations of lives, all compressed into an orb.”

“See it? The ball up by the pitcher’s ear…hiss–boom: a star. So the speed of light is really just a notion, an idea we must–can only–approach through the sense of and mystery of sitting there in the stadium as sight and sound combine in the unbelievable jump and pop: a life quick, bright, elusive, here, there–thwack! But still…”

Lem reeled in his line, checked his lure, took another drink, recast and continued.

Chapter 20
Verse 9
Man as Hot-Wired Monkey

“The speed of light, the actual measurement of it, and the intellectual acrobatics involved in understanding the concept of its place in the universe is really just a primer, the first toe in the water. For man, it is the ceiling, the Sistine Chapel of his capabilities–approaching, but never touching, the vastness of the universe.”

“Light? A bear we’re wrestling. That, and–love. Love must be coupled with the speed of light. Why? Love is like gravity, its influence on the universe acts like gravity and time. Hard to measure their effects, both are expressed, immeasurably, in, around, and through each of us. No, it’s not romantic love that we–humans–are really after. It’s the essence behind the idea, the lone wolf roaming, the identifiable particle, the wave-touch, the thing that binds this, all matter–us–together, and connects us to the speed of light. That’s the notion we’re really trying to grab a hold of, yes. Remember, the one?”

“If we got there? Operated like a beam of light, pooled all those ones into a single, perfect notion? Everything slows to an idle. All of us? Connected. Suddenly that hot-wired monkey–us–reaches up, paints the Sistine Chapel.”

“Simple then, right? If the speed of light is learning your ABCs, then where does that leave the rest of us when Einstein is returned to kindergarten? Hopefully in love. Is there anything else?”

Laughing, he pulled his line in, drank the remainder of his Jim Beam, and said, “Baseball, and a doubleheader, to boot. Yes, that’s what’s left us. And a damned fine dilemma, too. What’s that? No, I’ll never tire of watching, experiencing, being transported by it.”

“Yes…I don’t think God ever counted on it, never envisioned the beauty, the arousal and the magic of…watching the heater jump. No, sir. Not Hawking, not Darwin, not even Einstein. Like I said, even God shakes his head and sighs, ‘Even I can’t explain that one!'”


Born and raised in N.C., Gary has had two novels published: A Snowman in July and Angel's Oracle. A lifelong baseball fan, Gary once met and talked to Ted Williams on a flight from Flint, Mich., to Dayton, Ohio.
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Ryne Duren.