I’M SO NOT INTO SPORTS: never have been, never thought I would be. But while experimenting with open-mindedness last spring, I began to wonder if I had a right to my indifference, given how little I know. Billions of people loved sports. Maybe before dismissing them I should learn what they were?
Welcome to Get Me Into Sports: conversations between people who know a lot about particular sports, and me. Future episodes will look at basketball, golf, MMA and so on. But first we’ll be hearing from the baseball fan I blame for all my problems.
My father grew up in New York City, in a family of traumatized ex-Dodger fans trying to come to terms with the Mets. Young enough to approach the city’s new team without suspicion, Dad and his brother became overnight super-fans. Even after moving to Vermont in his late 30s, Dad stayed loyal to the Mets, holding on for more than a decade before Red Sox Nation wore him down. My uncle ripped his shirt when he found out.
Dad humored my questions about baseball throughout last summer in his kitchen, his screen porch, his study. He usually wore one of his zip-up hoodies with comfortable gray sweatpants, and drank the right amount of coffee. I wore decorative sweats and drank too much. Later I edited the transcript for the usual reasons—concision, verve, clarity—and to make myself less annoying.
ALICE: How psyched are you that we’re doing this?
DAD: Delighted. I thought this day would never come.
ALICE: Then you won’t mind if I start you off with a curveball hahaha.
ALICE: True or false. You never taught me baseball to punish me for being a girl.
DAD: Completely false.
ALICE: I remind you that you’re under oath.
DAD: I bought you a bat, a T, and a glove, as you know. You did well on the T. When you couldn’t hit pitches, you threw a tantrum and stomped off.
ALICE: I did that with everything.
ALICE: With piano, you were like, “Go upstairs, get the screams out, come back, and finish practicing.” With sports, it was just, “Here’s a cookie.”
DAD: I was choosing my battles.
ALICE: Your choice was obviously gendered. If I were a boy?
DAD: Let’s try a baseball question.
ALICE: 🤬 [Thumb-scrolls past three questions.] Your next baseball question, Sir. “Everyone knows baseball is dull as f*ck. How can you possibly find it so thrilling?”
DAD: I don’t.
ALICE: Excuse me?
DAD: A good basketball game is thrilling from start to finish. Same with football. Baseball doesn’t offer that kind of steady charge.
ALICE: You literally watch it for hours.
DAD: Not for thrills. Look. [His business partner] watches golf. I can’t handle that much sedation. Golf is for catatonics, football’s for adrenaline junkies. Some of us are in between. We need to idle after work, but we’re not ready to let go of all the day’s tension. I’m going to sound like George Will.
ALICE: He’s a dork.
DAD: He’s nonetheless written well about baseball. He said something enjoyably pompous, once, about the game’s tempo. [Dad squints the way he does when he can’t remember something.] Never grow old.
ALICE: You’re not old!
DAD: Never say that to old people
DAD: Anyway, it was a simple enough point. If you can stand a music analogy—
ALICE: Elevator music?
DAD: I was going to say an adagio that threatens to accelerate more often than it does.
ALICE: That makes it sound gripping.
DAD: Gripping is right. More gripping than thrilling.
ALICE: Though when I watch…
DAD: Do you watch? Or do you sit on the floor playing with your phone and complain that the game you’re not watching is dull?
ALICE: I never do that with the football I’m not watching.
DAD: With football, you cover your eyes and say, “Too many things happening!”
ALICE: [laughing] There are! Plus, how are you supposed to know what they’re going through when they hide their faces? They look like synchronized robots.
DAD: Their bodies are expressive, and you can impute emotion based on the result of each play. But I take your point. You’d prefer a sport that lets you read emotions directly off players’ faces. A sport like baseball.
ALICE: Or tennis.
DAD: Tennis isn’t a team sport.
DAD: Rooting for a team ties you to a region and the people who live there. Tennis players are rootless. Can you tell me where Roger Federer lives?
ALICE: Like the Ritz-Carlton.
DAD: [laughs] Switzerland. Which is also not a real place.
ALICE: So you’re telling me you broke your brother’s heart and disgraced the family just to tie yourself to New England?
DAD: Yes. And conversely, I stuck with the Mets too long out of ambivalence toward New England. I told myself this was a temporary stop for us, not our real home.
ALICE: You told me that, too.
DAD: Unlike your piano lessons, that is something I regret.
ALICE: Since you raised the subject?
ALICE: Just admit it’s weird how I walk past that thing every day without touching it.
DAD: I’d call that sad. But even if you never play again, I can take solace in knowing that you’ve internalized the structures and logic of piano music. You’re a better listener than you would have been. A better fan.
ALICE: I love where you’re suddenly heading with this.
DAD: There you go.
ALICE: Would you spell it out, though, for the people who can’t read your mind?
DAD: So I’ve always assumed there’s a valuable way to experience music that’s only accessible to serious musicians. My assumption could be wrong.
ALICE: No, I think it’s right.
DAD: And now I’m suggesting the same thing goes for baseball. No question, fans can get a great deal out of watching a game. But it’s another thing to feel each play in your arms and legs. Say I’m out at [our local school’s] field. While the pitcher takes the sign, the third baseman rocks back and forth to keep himself limber, and I limber up, too. When the pitcher sets, Third empties his mind to become one with the space between his glove and the batter. He knows he may not have time to think before the ball reaches him. So he reduces his mind into a reactive muscle, and I do the same.
ALICE: That sounds amazing.
DAD: It can also be frustrating. Pro infielders always know where to position themselves, but the kids up here screw up. The other day, Third was playing the centerfielder too deep on his first at-bat. It’s a good bet Center’s the fastest runner on any team, and this guy looked the part. But Third wasn’t adjusting and I was worried he’d have to rush his throw. I was leaning forward, willing him to step in.
ALICE: That’s what I want to feel. But you’re telling me it’s hopeless.
DAD: When did I say that?
ALICE: For a fan, I mean, as opposed to a player.
DAD: We can drive out there right now. I can hit you some grounders.
ALICE: That’s very funny.
II. A HISTORY LESSON
ALICE: Sir, my next question [checks iPhone] is dumb.
DAD: Try me.
ALICE: “Why is baseball our national pastime?”
DAD: Most would say it lost that status to football a few decades ago. But if you’re asking why baseball became preeminent in the 1870s and remained so for nearly a century, that’s not a dumb question.
DAD: I wish I had a short answer. How far did you get with Thorn?
DAD: Did you open it?
DAD: So there’s this old chestnut about baseball, that it’s a pastoral game. Its green fields hearken back to our agrarian roots, to villages where neighboring farmers met on the commons for clean Christian fun.
ALICE: I know what you’re going to say next.
DAD: It’s a fabrication.
DAD: I’ll explain why in a moment. But first we need to keep a few things straight. The colonists came over from England with all sorts of stick-and-ball games. Some of their games had the equivalent of bases. Bradford mentions one in his journal, “stoole-ball.” This was right at the start, in 1621. He caught some of the new arrivals playing stoole-ball on Christmas.
ALICE: And jumped right in!
DAD: You’re correct that he did not. He chewed them out and confiscated their ball.1
DAD: Later, in the mid-1700s, the English called one of this large family of games “base ball,” two words. But that game wasn’t any closer to modern baseball than the games then called stump-ball, round ball, cricket, wicket, and so on. Many of the games shared an action sequence. Someone tossed a ball at something, say a stool. Someone else tried to knock the ball away with a stick. Successful knockers had a chance to run somewhere while others chased after the ball.
In America, the earliest recorded instance of “base ball” was in Pittsfield, Mass. The term showed up in the town board’s minutes from 1791. It was actually Thorn who made the discovery.2 But again, there’s no reason to think Berkshires “base ball” was more germane to the modern game than “round ball,” say. Same goes for the game Jane Austen called “baseball.”
ALICE: Jane what?
DAD: She mentioned it, don’t ask me where. This is why baseball nerds like Jane Austen.3 My point is that a variety of ball games were popular here and in England into the early 1800s. And because 90% of Americans lived on farms, the games were indeed popular with farmers.
DAD: Go ahead.
ALICE: I don’t know what you’re going to say. I just know it’s However Time.
DAD: It sure is. Because the game as we know it took root, took shape, became explosively popular in cities. The first organized leagues were in New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia, our largest and most industrialized cities. We call baseball teams “clubs” because the first teams grew out of men’s athletic clubs: an urban institution, where strangers from all over gathered to play, not just friendly neighbors on a commons. The “New York rules” that eventually dominated the game were codified by a club called the Knickerbockers. They played the Gothams, the Empires, the Metropolitans, and, in case anyone missed the point, “the New Yorks.” That’s how bucolic.
DAD: Now, I don’t know how much of the pastoral innocence crap kids absorb these days. Anyone who’s seen Ken Burns has a more realistic view of early baseball than I had. But the myth lives on in other forms. There’s an expectation of virtuous conduct in baseball players that you don’t see in other sports, at least not to the same degree. Middle-aged baseball fans with jobs and families, who have experienced the real world, still fixate on the Black Sox. They can’t possibly be this naive, but they speak as if baseball lost its virginity in 1919, and barely survived the wrath of God in the years after. I’ve strayed from your question.
ALICE: No this is good. You’re telling me that being a great game everyone loved wasn’t enough to make baseball the “national pastime.” They needed mythology.
ALICE: So when did the game lose its virginity?
DAD: The answer shouldn’t surprise anyone because it’s always the answer. Corruption was baked in from the start. The leagues were technically amateur until the 1870s. But to field the best players you had to give them an incentive to show up. The fans were city workingmen, mainly Irish and Germans. They gambled on cockfights, elections, raindrops on a window. The gamblers cut the players in, with predictable results.
ALICE: Everyone knew this?
DAD: Absolutely. And I’m not saying gambling had no downsides. Along with the obvious, it put a ceiling on the game’s respectability. Prigs in the New York Times deplored baseball and called for “reform.” But the Gilded Age by and large saw gambling as a common vice, not a Satanic temptation with the power to destroy an entire sport. One of the owners’ arguments for professionalization in the 1870s—their public argument—was that salaries would reduce the demand for bribes. Of course their real motive was profit, and once the owners had a quasi-monopoly they underpaid their players, who kept taking bribes. We’re talking about those burly guys with the funny mustaches.
ALICE: They’re adorable.
DAD: These adorable men weren’t in a position to turn down cash. The White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, was one of the stingiest. He had no illusions about his players though in 1919 he pretended to be scandalized.
ALICE: We can move on, but just, when did the phrase “national pastime” start? I’m guessing after the Civil War?
DAD: It would have to be sooner. There’s a famous Currier and Ives of Lincoln with a bat towering over Douglas and Breckenridge.
DAD: I see now it says “national game,” not “pastime.” And Bell is there, too. This is why you shouldn’t grow old.4 Suffice to say the game was already popular in the 1840s and became a national craze in the 1850s, supplanting cricket. From the captions, you can see how far the game had come culturally, even before the War. A mass audience knew all this slang.
ALICE: Douglas saying “short stop” is heightest.
DAD: Little Stephen. Five foot four, and Vermont’s own.
ALICE: For real?
DAD: He grew up in Rutland.5
ALICE: That’s so hard to imagine. Politically, I mean.
DAD: He hated Vermont. He was one of those. Impatient for a law career and the state bar wasn’t accommodating. He said he hated the Green Mountains for blocking his view.
ALICE: What a jerk.
DAD: He was speaking about the East and its limited horizons, drinking the frontier Kool-Aid. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he talked himself into hating actual mountains... Can you stand some more about cricket?
ALICE: Yes, please.
DAD: Cricket was still very popular during the War. Always less of a workingman’s game than baseball, but it was never exactly posh until the 1880s. At that point, cricket v baseball became a culture war issue. Olmstead wouldn’t allow baseball in Central Park, only cricket. He didn’t want the Irish invading his masterpiece with their drinking, fighting, and gambling. The Times weighed in, pro-cricket of course, and boosters took advantage. They marketed baseball as a game for manly Americans, the kind who fought “Indians.” Cricket was for girly-men from England, or Princeton. It had always been an Ivy League sport. By the First World War, that’s all it was. The Newport crowd sent their kids over to marry English aristocrats, and cricket fit right in.
ALICE: It’s weird I can’t think of a cricket scene in Henry James.
DAD: You’d know better but I never thought of him as an athlete. Did anyone ever see him run?
ALICE: He walked a lot in Italy and France. Later, he rode a bike because his doctor made him.
DAD: What an expression.
ALICE: I think he would have liked me.
III. THE RULES
ALICE: So with baseball, I do sort of know the rules. The main ones.
ALICE: They just seem kind of arbitrary.
DAD: Which do?
ALICE: Like the runners. Why can’t two runners stand on the same base? And why can’t they catch a ball and throw it into the audience? Why is everything foul?
DAD: Well, if you’d read the immortal Thorn, you’d know he carries a torch for the 1850s Massachusetts Game, which had no foul territory. Runners in that version could also interfere with the fielders, and they could flee to the outfield to evade a tag. On the other hand, fielders got runners out by “plugging” them with the ball.
ALICE: That sounds more fun.
DAD: Thorn would agree. But I’m sure he would not agree that changes to the game since then have been arbitrary. If you want an arbitrary rule-change: running the bases counter-clockwise. Runners ran clockwise in an earlier version. Each direction slightly advantages righty or lefty batters, but there’s no fundamental difference. This is not something you can say about most of the rules, which have a logic. They evolved to make the game more itself.
ALICE: That sounds tautological.
DAD: I’d call it teleological. Each sport has a different ideal balance between offense and defense. Basketball’s ideal balance makes it easy for the offense to score. Soccer’s the opposite; the offense is so handicapped, they run like lunatics freed from an asylum after a goal. Baseball is somewhere between. The median starting player gets on base about a third of time. If he got on half the time, getting on base would be an expectation, not an accomplishment worth cheering. If he got on a quarter, the game would be dull.
ALICE: Even for you.
DAD: The rules change over time to restore this balance whenever it’s lost. Pitchers used to “pitch” in the original sense, throwing underhand, as with horseshoes. When batters started crushing the ball in the 1880s, overhand was allowed. In the 1910s, hitting became too hard again, so they banned spitballs. They lowered the pitcher’s mound to help hitters again in 1969. Now they’re talking about moving the mound farther from the plate, which is so insane it won’t happen but it’s meant addresses the current imbalance that favors pitchers.
ALICE: You’ve convinced me. The rules aren’t arbitrary.
IV. THE GAME ITSELF
DAD: What’s next?
ALICE: I still want to see what I’m not seeing.
DAD: We may need to watch a game.
ALICE: A whole one?!
DAD: Let’s start with an inning.
We watched two at-bats of an old Red Sox game. Before the first pitch, the catcher flashed signs in front of his man parts and I paused the video.
ALICE: People hate the Houston Astros because they stole signs, right?
DAD: The objection was that they used technology to steal signs and communicate them to the hitter.
ALICE: So why do signs at all? Why doesn’t the pitcher just throw whatever?
DAD: Because the catcher needs to be on the same page.
ALICE: He can’t just, like, catch it?
DAD: You need to understand that pitches aren’t ordinary throws. Picture a third-baseman throwing to first. He has a large target. Anywhere the first-baseman can reach without stepping off the base. And Third tries to throw straight.
Pitches aren’t like that. They move in strange ways to fool the batter. Without an agreed-upon pitch, they’d fool the catcher as well.
The pitcher took the sign and stared at the batter ferociously. I paused the video again.
ALICE: What’s with the stink eye?
DAD: Pitchers aren’t ordinary throwers. They work the edges of a small target, a matter of inches in or out. To do that consistently takes extraordinary concentration and attention to detail.
ALICE: Why the rigmarole?
DAD: The windup.
DAD: Can you picture a cricket bowler?
I can’t, so we watch a cricket bowler on YouTube.
See how he takes a running start before releasing the ball. The run lets him gather linear force to transmit to the ball. But a baseball pitcher can’t run to the mound. He needs to capture more of his body’s rotational potential and turn that into linear force. Let’s watch the windup again.
He coils his body. His center of gravity stays over his back hip until the last moment, when the weight-shift forward leads to a rapid uncoiling. As a student of mechanics you’ll know why he extends his arm.
DAD: His arm is a third-class lever.
ALICE: The fulcrum’s his big ol’ butt.
DAD: Meanwhile his grip on the ball and wrist motion, or lack of it, influence the spin, adding whatever curve or “break” the pitch requires.
ALICE: I love that pitchers know physics.
DAD: Intuitively, they do. The trainers are the ones who really study it. They have labs now where pitchers throw with sensors on their body. Trainers analyze the data for slight imperfections.
ALICE: That seems unfair.
DAD: Batters do the same thing.
ALICE: So everyone’s a robot.
DAD: Now let’s talk about the mental game. The confrontation between the pitcher and hitter has been likened to a duel, and that’s not wrong, but their duel is largely mental. Each pitch requires the catcher to make a series of decisions. The first is whether to throw inside the strike zone. Obviously any pitch in the zone is more apt to strike the batter out if he fails to swing, but it’s also more dangerous. The batter can more easily get the meat of his bat on the ball.
The catcher then decides on high or low, closer or further from the batter, fast or very fast, and finally the break. Varying pitches keeps the batter off his stride.
ALICE: So catchers are geniuses.
DAD: It’s not a coincidence so many of them go on to coach. But nowadays they benefit from computers as well. Before the game, analysts for each team review data drawn from every pitch ever thrown an opposing batter. They’re looking for weak spots. Of course, a pro’s weak spot can’t be too weak or everyone would throw there and he’d flop out of the majors.
Other factors are situational. The number of outs, baserunners, inning, batter on deck. Above all, the balance of balls and strikes.
ALICE: “The count.”
DAD: Let me ask you. How would a count of three balls and one strike affect the pitcher?
ALICE: He’s bummed.
ALICE: He doesn’t want to do a base on balls.
DAD: How can he best avoid that?
ALICE: Pitch in the zone?
DAD: Which the batter…
ALICE: Riiight. I got you. It’s some deep game theory.
DAD: Now consider a batter with an unfavorable count. At 0 and 2, he’s under enormous pressure to swing. Laying the bat on the ball is infinitely better than a called strike three. But the pitcher knows this, and will prey on the batter’s anxiety. He’ll “waste a pitch,” throwing outside the zone to induce a low-probability swing.
ALICE: Why don’t hitters just swing at strikes and not at balls?
DAD: You need to understand that batting’s an approximate skill. Even the best eyes can’t reliably distinguish a strike from a ball when the pitcher succeeds at working the edges of the zone, certainly not in the tenths of a second a batter has to commit. Umpires make mistakes, too. So that split-second decision is affected by an inclination that reflects the various counts, with their different odds of the ball arriving in the zone. On 3 and 1 counts, the pitch hits the zone 70% of the time. That’s versus 50% for average pitches, or 35% when the pitcher’s way ahead.
ALICE: Most Americans can’t name the Chief Justice. You’re telling me they know this?
DAD: Americans care more about sports than politics. You and your friends are abnormal.
ALICE: This is getting dark.
DAD: I want to add something about the power of the pastoral innocence myth. I was disillusioned for a teenager. But when I stepped onto a baseball field, when my cleats sunk into the grass, or dirt if that’s all there was, it felt like entering an exalted realm.
ALICE: A what?
DAD: A place of social harmony and justice. Effort and talent rewarded. Sportsmanship a sacred code. Events in a predictable order, with all the challenges clear. Baseball offered a contest that was uncorrupted and made perfect sense.
ALICE: You sound like a gamer.
DAD: How’s that?
ALICE: I mean this is the stereotype, anyway. Gamers can’t tolerate the messiness of real life. They need to boil life down to a bunch of heroic contests with clear rules. Virtue triumphs, like in comics.
DAD: I don’t know what to do with your contempt here, but in my case, you’re certainly onto something. A deep part of me does prefer clear and simple rules. You were different, and that’s one reason I didn’t insist on your learning sports.
ALICE: See, this is all I wanted you to admit.
ALICE: Along with the part about that difference being gendered, which—I don’t know how you can deny it.
DAD: The real difference between us is that I don’t think society can do much about what you call gendered preferences. They are probably in large part innate.
ALICE: The video-game gene.
DAD: It’s easier to mock that idea than to defend the alternative. But let’s stick with baseball.
ALICE: Just for the record, I always liked it when we went to games. I liked being where you were so happy, with all the other happy people.
DAD: Ballparks are special places. Even now with seven-dollar hot dogs and twelve-dollar beers, with the cheesy sound effects. Somewhere in this house there’s a neat book you’ll never read about ballparks, called Green Cathedrals. The title’s not much of a stretch.
DAD: What a terrific shot. Any idea who took it?
ALICE: The internet.
DAD: He had better seats than we ever did. Your readers may want to know that we’re looking at a picture of Shea Stadium. The weather’s perfect: warm but dry, with a breeze blowing out to left. The upper deck’s packed because the Reds are in town. This was the Big Red Machine, the best team of the 70s. You know it’s them and not the Cardinals from the two stripes around their waist. And on-deck there’s a burly guy with a “4” on his back, his black hair falling out of his helmet, that has got to be Pete Rose, number 14, speaking of gamblers. All-time hit leader, and he’s kept out of the Hall of Fame by the Jesuits. Ken Burns said Rose should only be admitted after he dies, because he “doesn’t deserve to know he’s in the Hall.”
DAD: And that’s the moderate view… But I’d rather talk about this photo, which is from ’77 or ’78. Would you like to learn how I know that?
ALICE: I would.
DAD: You start with the scoreboard ads. Through 1973, the Mets’ beer sponsor was Rheingold, with its “ten-minute head.”
ALICE: It’s what?
DAD: Budweiser came in for the 80s. So just from the Schaefer sign out there, we can narrow the years down to six, 1974-79. Now we do soft drinks.
ALICE: I love this.
DAD: RC Cola was the classic Mets sponsor. RC was up in ’69 when the Mets won the Series. By ’73, when the Mets lost the Series, you had Getty gas: not a soft drink for most of us. For ’75 and ’76 you had a weird one: Dairylea milk. Milk was a stand-alone beverage in those days. Adults drank it with hot dogs.
ALICE: I can’t even.
DAD: The Coca-Cola sign you see in the photo replaced Dairylea in 1977. So we’ve cut it down to ’77, ’78, ’79. Except you can cross off ’79 because Pete Rose had left for the Phillies.
ALICE: You’re telling me every fan knows this?
DAD: Last thing. If it’s ’78—and that’s my hunch—it was likely during Rose’s 44-game hitting streak. Three or maybe four of those games were at Shea.
ALICE: OK, Rain Man.
DAD: Thirty-five years ago I could have told you the height, weight, and career batting averages of both rosters. That would put me on the savant side. But the scoreboard ads, any real Mets fan my age would know them. The God-obsessed memorize Bible passages. The Mets-obsessed memorize trivia.
ALICE: When you go to a ballpark now, do you still feel exalted?
DAD: I don’t feel anything the way I used to.
ALICE: Let the record show: Dad’s still mooning over the photo of Shea.
VI. LAST BIT
DAD: Before we wrap up, I want to show you the greatest third-baseman of all time. Nolan Arenado. It’s a privilege to watch someone like Arenado in his prime.
Dad makes me watch a ten minute highlight video of Nolan Arenado making truly insane catches and throws. Dad’s bummed he can’t find footage of the guy between pitches (staying limber, becoming one, etc) but his plays are legit thrilling. Arenado throws while sitting or leaping or running the wrong way, and the announcers shout things like, “Cut it out!”; “Stop it!”; “Are you KIDDING me?”
DAD: Not a bad looking guy.
ALICE: Not at all.
DAD: Is he your new favorite?
ALICE: I’m going to say “yes” because I can’t think of anyone else.
DAD: You used to love Pedro Martinez.
ALICE: You loved Pedro, and I was a monkey who thought whatever you did was best.
DAD: This is why you have great taste.
DAD: This has been so much fun. I don’t want it to end.
ALICE: We could go to the school and play catch. Just kidding.
DAD: Why kidding?
ALICE: It’s raining?
DAD: I’d call this a drizzle.
ALICE: And I don’t want to change into sneakers.
DAD: Your hikers are fine.
ALICE: It would make a cute ending, I have to admit.
DAD: You owe it to your subscribers to play catch with your old man.
ALICE: You’re right. I do.
Bradford’s 1620 Mayflower cohort was doctrinally stricter, and more scrupulous, than the newcomers who’d stepped off the Fortune. Christmas was an ordinary workday in Plymouth because the Bible doesn’t sanction celebration.
On Christmas 1621, some of the Fortunites told Bradford that their consciences didn’t allow them to work on Christmas. The governor opted not to make a whole thing of their “error,” and left them alone. He expected them to spend the day indoors, in prayer and contemplation. Imagine his vibe when he found them frolicking in the streets at noon.
More from Dad: “The town wanted to protect the windows of its meeting hall from stray projectiles. They outlawed seven window-breaking games within range of the hall. One of the few things you can fault Thorn with is that he sometimes recounts this story in a way that lets a reader think “base ball” was a special target of the ordinance. It wasn’t. Thorn also speculates that its making the list meant “base ball” would have been played all over the Berkshires. It seems more likely a Pittsfield lawyer was good at his job and included every ball game anyone could think of.”
Northanger Abbey, from the opening description of its heroine, Catherine Morland: “It was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of 14, to books.”
Less well known is Austen’s reference in Persuasion to an “umpire.” Anne Elliot “staid at home, under the mixed plea of a headache of her own, and some return of indisposition in little Charles. She had thought only of avoiding Captain Wentworth; but an escape from being appealed to as umpire was now added to the advantages of a quiet evening.”
Old Dad was half right. The phrase “national pastime” became common parlance after the Civil War, but it does appear before, first in an 1856 New York Mercury.
Stephen Douglas was born and raised in Rutland County, but more precisely in the village of Brandon, 15 miles north of the village (now city) of Rutland.