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Do you think the narrator is going to commit a crime ? Go on reading and you will find out
I go to see a man I donТt know personally, though I have seen his face peering at me from the financial pages of the local newspaper, and the Wall Street Journal, and I have been watching his profile at the baseball stadium, two boxes to the right of me, for several years. He is a fan. Really a fan. When the weather is intemperate, or the game not close, the people around us disappear like flowers closing at sunset, but we are always there until the last pitch. I know he is a man who attends because of the beauty and mystery of the game, a man who can sit during the last of the ninth with the game decided innings ago, and draw joy from watching the first baseman adjust the angle of his glove as the pitcher goes into his windup.
He, like me, is a first-base-side fan. IТve always watched baseball from behind first base. The positions fans choose at sporting events are like politics, religion, or philosophy: a view of the world, a way of seeing the universe. They make no sense to anyone, have no basis in anything but stubbornness. I brought up my daughters to watch baseball from the first-base side. One lives in Japan and sends me box scores from Japanese newspapers, and Japanese baseball magazines with pictures of superstars politely bowing to one another. She has a season ticket in Yokohama ; on the first-base side.
УTell him a baseball fan is here to see him,Ф is all I will say to his secretary. His office is in a skyscraper, from which he can look out over the city to where the prairie rolls green as mountain water to the limits of the eye. I wait all afternoon in the artificially cool, glassy reception area with its yellow and mauve chairs, chrome and glass coffee tables. Finally, in the late afternoon, my message is passed along.
УIТve seen you at the baseball stadium,Ф I say, not introducing myself.
УYes,Ф he says. УI recognize you. Three rows back, about eight seats to my left. You have a red scorebook and you often bring your daughter...Ф
УOne of my greatest regrets,Ф says this tall man, whose moustache and carefully styled hair are polar-bear white, Уis that my grand≠children all live over a thousand miles away. YouТre very lucky. Now, what can I do for you ?Ф
УI have an idea,Ф I say. УOne thatТs been creeping toward me like a first baseman when the bunt sign is on. What do you think about artificial turf ?Ф
УHmmmf,Ф he snorts, УthatТs what the strike should be about. Baseball is meant to be played on summer evenings and Sunday afternoons, on grass just cut by a horse-drawn mower,Ф and we smile as our eyes meet.
УIТve discovered the ballpark is open, to me anyway,Ф I go on. УThereТs no one there while the strike is on. The wind blows through the high top of the grandstand, whining until the pigeons in the rafters flutter. ItТs lonely as a ghost town.Ф
УAnd what is it you do there, alone with the pigeons ?Ф
УAnd where do I come in ?Ф
УYouТve always struck me as a man who dreams. I think we have things in common. I think you might like to come with me. I could show you what I dream, paint you pictures, suggest what might happen...Ф
He studies me carefully for a moment, like a pitcher trying to decide if he can trust the sign his catcher has just given him.
УTonight ?Ф he says. УWould tonight be too soon ?Ф
УPark in the northwest corner of the lot about 1:00 a.m. There is a door about fifty yards to the right of the main gate. IТll open it when I hear you.Ф
He nods. I turn and leave.
The night is clear and cotton warm when he arrives. УOh, my,Ф he says, staring at the stadium turned chrome-blue by a full moon. УOh, my,Ф he says again, breathing in the faint odours of baseball, the reminder of fans and players not long gone.
УLetТs go down to the field,Ф I say. I am carrying a cardboard pizza box, holding it on the upturned palms of my hands, like an offering. When we reach the field, he first stands on the mount, makes an awkward attempt at a windup, then does a little sprint from first to about half-way to second. УI think I know what youТve brought,Ф he says, gesturing toward the box, Уbut let me see anyway.Ф
I open the box in which rests a square foot of sod, the grass smooth and pure, cool as a swatch of satin, fragile as babyТs hair.
УOhhh,Ф the man says, reaching out a finger to test the moistness of it. УOh, I see.Ф
We walk across the field, the harsh, prickly turf making the bottoms of my feet tingle, to the left-field corner where, in the angle formed by the foul line and the warning track, I lay down the square foot of sod. УThatТs beautiful,Ф my friend says, kneeling beside me, placing his hand, fingers spread wide, on the verdant square, leaving a print faint as a veronica. I take from my belt a sickle-shaped blade, the kind used for cut≠ting carpet. I measure along the edge of the sod, dig the point in and pull carefully toward me. There is a ripping sound, like tearing an old bed sheet. I hold up the square of artificial turf like something freshly killed, while all the time digging the sharp point into the packed earth I have exposed. I replace the sod lovingly, covering the newly bared surface.
УA protest,Ф I say.
УBut it could be more,Ф the man replies. УI hoped youТd say that. It could be. If youТd like to come back...Ф УTomorrow night ?Ф
УTomorrow night would be fine. But there will be an admission charge...Ф УA square of sod ?Ф
УA square of sod two inches thick...Ф
УOf the same grass ?Ф
УOf the same grass. But thereТs more.Ф
УI suspected as much.Ф
УYou must have a friend...Ф
УWho would join us ?Ф
УI have two. Would that be all right ?Ф
УI trust your judgement.Ф
УMy father. HeТs over eighty,Ф my friend says. УYou might have seen him with me once or twice. He lives over fifty miles from here, but if I call him heТll come. And my friend...Ф
УIf they pay their admission theyТll be welcome...Ф
УAnd they may have friends...Ф
УIndeed they may. But what will we do with this ?Ф I say, holding up the sticky-backed square of turf, which smells of glue and fabric.
УWe could mail them anonymously to baseball executives, poli≠ticians, clergymen.Ф
УGentle reminders not to tamper with Nature.Ф We dance toward the exit, rampant with excitement. УYou will come back ? YouТll bring others ?Ф
УCount on it,Ф says my friend.
They do come, those trusted friends, and friends of friends, each making a live, green deposit. At first, a tiny row of sod squares begins to inch along toward left-centre field. The next night even more people arrive, the following night more again, and the night after there is positively a crowd. Those who come once seem always to return accompanied by friends, occasionally a son or young brother, but mostly men my age or older, for we are the ones who remember the grass.
Night after night the pilgrimage continues. The first night I stand inside the deep green door, listening. I hear a vehicle stop ; hear a car door close with a snug thud. I open the door when the sound of soft-soled shoes on gravel tells me it is time. The door swings silent as a snake. We nod curt greetings to each other. Two men pass me, each carrying
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