The national pastime, carefully explained
I speak baseball. It’s much better than my French.
Baseball admittedly is a difficult language to acquire and I still have occasional problems telling the difference between the subjunctive tense and the infield fly rule. But I can conjugate most of the verbs — strike out, struck out, stricken out — and I even know how to keep score, although, like most baseball fans, I do find it difficult to stay awake past the third inning.
I learned to speak baseball as a child the natural way, by watching games when I was supposed to be doing my chemistry homework. I didn’t take any baseball courses at school — I majored in napping, with a minor in napping — but became fluent in baseball through careful reading of box scores and practicing my accent while spitting tobacco.
Consequently, I thought I would be of great help recently when I went to a baseball game and met two young women there who had never been to a baseball game before. They were from Europe, where baseball is considered a foreign language and games are only seven Euros long because of the exchange rate.
They had decided to go to a baseball game because they thought it was a way of understanding essential American culture and marginally safer than eating fried Twinkies. To them, baseball represented what made America special and had helped us become No. 1 worldwide in tobacco spitting.
I explained to them, of course, that they were taking a risk — that baseball games are slow and very long and they could miss their flight home to Copenhagen next week.
I also pointed out that, frankly, not much happens during baseball games and it’s a good time to go out to the concession stand and eat some fried Twinkies. Baseball, I told them, was very different from their national sport of soccer where nothing happens and you can go to the concession stand and eat some fried herring.
And then, of course, in the very first inning of this particular baseball game, there were two home runs, three hit batters, an unassisted triple play, a brawl among funnel cake vendors, a stolen base, an on-field arrest for the stolen base, a plea bargain, the manager was ejected, a lawsuit was filed, fireworks went off, the subjunctive was incorrectly used, the home team invaded an unnamed Middle Eastern country and the umpires went on strike. (Or struck. Or stricken.)
I explained it all carefully to the two young women, trying to put it into their European terms and occasionally shouting “Goal!” when one of the baseball teams correctly conjugated a verb. As the game wore on and the seasons changed and winter came, they seemed to begin to grasp the basics of the sport.
They began, haltingly, to speak baseball. I definitely would’ve been able to understand them if they hadn’t been spitting tobacco.
Neil Offen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.