Yankee Stadium in HDR by m01229


The Bullfighter and the Samurai


a Sports Fairy Tale




by Peter Wortsman


I must admit from the start that I have never felt any particular fondness for baseball.  It meant nothing more to me than an optimally hard slam with a wooden bat of a round object hurled by another as swiftly as possible in the batter’s direction, whereupon all present, that is to say those players dressed in the same colored uniform and the half of the spectators gathered in the stands inclined to favor them, cheer, while the players decked out in the otherwise tinted pants, caps and shirts of the pitcher’s team and the other half of the spectators in the stands committed to them either remain silent or else howl and hiss as the batter runs around a freshly cut green field in which nothing but dust and sweat is ever harvested.


Like I said, I felt no affinity for and had no understanding of baseball until one day a few years ago, a houseguest, a diehard baseball fan, insisted on watching the World Series on my T.V. and I, in part out of a certain curiosity, but above all for politeness sake and because on that particular evening I had nothing better to do, watched along with her. Even the very term “World Series” seemed a bit absurd to me, since although Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are apparently also diehard fans, it is after all a contest exclusively played between American and a handful of Canadian teams.


It was the second game of the World Series in the new Yankee Stadium in New York, on October 29, 2009, a contest between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies. One after the other, stiff-limbed batters marched forth out of the Yankee dugout. Like cows they chewed chewing gum or tobacco with their slowly rising and falling jaws, spit the stuff out with a vulgar slurp, wiped the sweat off their paws onto the seams of their pants and took position with outstretched behind and raised bat at the square-shaped white home plate, until, one after another, they were swept away like flies by a seasoned 38-year-old pitcher for Philadelphia.


The pitcher, a certain Pedro Martinez, who called himself an old goat, did not come from Philadelphia, but rather from the Dominican Republic, where as a poor boy he practiced pitching with balled-up old socks until he could fling that thing so precisely that he never missed. Now he stood there in quiet anticipation like a proud bullfighter on the white spot in the middle of the field, the pitcher’s mound. Meanwhile the majority of the spectators, most of them Yankees fans, greeted him with hisses and curses, because he had beat their team in the first game of the World Series. And in this second game he had already eliminated three batters, including the famous Alex Rodriguez, aka A-rod, who had recently had a love affair with Madonna, a fleeting reminder of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. Pedro Martinez stood there gazing at the enemy mob with pluck and a hint of disdain, as if to say: “Is that all you’ve got?”


It’s the beginning of the sixth inning. Now the left-handed, 35-year-old Yankee batter Hideki Matsui, known as “Gorilla,” a native of Japan, steps up to the plate. His nickname was originally a derisive nickname given on account of a skin condition, subsequently elevated to honorific on account of his skill with the bat. Matsui doesn’t chew or spit, just coolly raises his bat and quietly looks his opponent in the eye, like a brave Samurai.


Martinez looks back, immediately fathoms with an almost imperceptible twitch that he has met his match.


And suddenly the whole game becomes a duel. The stadium falls still. Nothing else matters but these two men. One can sense in this encounter the concentrated dignity of two cultures, the Spanish and the Japanese, each embodied by an individual, pitted against each other. The two men appear titanic and mighty, even though both are actually rather small for professional players. The concentration in their clear, crossed looks almost flickers as though with an electromagnetic current. There is no more before and after, only now.


Martinez raises his pitching arm and hurls the ball as swiftly as a thought. Matsui responds, meets the pitch and slams it back. The ball traces a resplendent arch, the geometric conjunction of two movements, two pathways through life, as it flies into the stands over right field. Dumbfounded, albeit impressed, Martinez gazes with quiet awe as Matsui slowly circles the bases with his stiff knees. Martinez almost seems inclined to bow down, partly in grief, partly in joy at having found a worthy opponent. Were Martinez a Samurai he would now in fact have to commit hara-kiri. In our culture things are different. Here it’s a matter of money, not blood. New York defeated Philadelphia, 3:1. The fans are almost howling for joy.


But such heroic deeds are quickly forgotten. Matsui now plays for Oakland. Martinez has retired. Baseball is still not my thing. But at that moment, in that unforgettable contest between a master pitcher who learned to throw with balled-up socks in Manoguayabo and a master batter with a skin condition and stiff knees from Neagara, Ishikawa, I will admit that today’s baseball championships have earned the right to be called World Series.





About the author:


Peter Wortsman’s publications include a book of short fiction, “A Modern Way To Die” (1991); a travel memoir, “Ghost Dance in Berlin”, “A Rhapsody in Gray” (2013); two stage plays, “The
Tattooed Man Tells All” (2000) and “Burning Words” (2006); and a novel, “Cold Earth Wanderers” (2014), a finalist for Foreword Reviews’ Indie Fab Best Book of the Year Awards. He is also a travel writer with work in five consecutive editions of “The Best Travel Writing, 2008-2012”, and a critically acclaimed translator from German into English, including “Posthumous Papers of a Living Author”, by Robert Musil, now in its third edition; “Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm”; and “Tales of the German Imagination, From the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann”. His most recent publications are a dystopian novel, “Cold Earth Wanderers” (Pelekinesis, 2014) and a translation of a forgotten German Avant Garde classic, “The Creator”, by Mynona (Wakefield Press, 2014). http://www.pelekinesis.com/catalog/peter_wortsman-cold_earth_wanderers.html


Photo by m01229