In American stories, as in American life, baseball is often part of the background. This is not an exhaustive look at baseball’s appearances in the Sky Spinner books, but it covers a large percentage of them. Generally it has only cameos, though it’s more notable in three of the books—Suite Harmonic just because we don’t always remember that baseball existed during the Civil War (see this link for some history); The Second Magician’s Tale because Nell was raised by a baseball fan and because the leader of Jonah in the Whale was once a minor league baseball player and insinuated remnants of his earlier life into his circus troupe; and Watching Oksana‘s “American Snapshot, 1993” because it uses the idea of being safe in baseball as a metaphor for something much larger.
p. 192—Soon, the men were back in their camps. The officers’ horses and the mule teams were curried and staked in the long grass. Men shaved and asked for the mail. They whistled or shot dice. The sun, which had grown rosy and round, slid down the sky. As dark drew in, some of the men hung lanterns and played ball in the shadowy light. They started their cooking fires. The camp sorted itself into its evening routines. Somebody began a tune on a mouth harp.
p. 310—He knew what the next days would be. He would hear his parents out on the issue of what he would do if there was still a war when his term was up. He would spend time with Michael McShane when Michael got back from Mount Vernon. He would teach Charley what he’d learned of the finer points of baseball from playing in the regiment, and he would work another day harvesting late corn with his father and Denis and Charley. He would also spend more time with the girls in the evenings, though he would hang back a little, determined that when he came home again no person should be afraid to talk to him because he used to go to see his wife.
p. 318— As he occupied himself with the busy work of drills and headquarters paperwork and the likelihood that he would soon be saddle sore, he found he’d been diverting himself more and more with the easy pursuits of cards and baseball, though in baseball to get on base he had to swat the ball with all his might just to give himself the chance at getting to first with his stiff run.
p. 158—He made himself look for the rock collection in the midst of Tom’s treasure trove of baseball pennants and bubble gum cards, and the bust of Thomas Jefferson that Will’s father had kept on his desk, and the desiccated remains of two spiders, and Tom’s grade school paintings.
In the Land of the Dinosaur
“Hubbub, Indigo, Castle of Rain”
p. 72—The lower wing of the building, which jutted out under a gnarl of clouds, cut the playground in two, but from her vantage point, she could see that the usual ripple of grass in the far outfield of the baseball diamond and the hard pack of dirt under the jungle gym had turned into huge puddles of muddy water.
“A Marriage in the Life of Faith Davenport”
p. 118—She bent the toe of her sandal back against the creek bank and, with Jamie’s arm around her and his breathing following hers like an echo, she dreamed a daydream in the dark about living in sunlight and having Jamie always there. She was thinking of picnics and baseball games and Jamie cannonballing into the swimming pool from the high dive, and it smelled like hot dogs where her mind was (though maybe that came from the just perceptible scent of food Jamie had cooked at work), and it smelled like ice cream, too.
p. 135—“I had blood on my forehead. I heard the click and it was like a baseball bat slammed down my whole body and he was sprawled up the path from me. Maybe I blacked out. We were airborne and he was lying there and I was yelling and there wasn’t any way to go back in. He was lying there dying.”
The Second Magician’s Tale
p. 39—I had a room in a boardinghouse where Gregor and I had always stayed on our city visits, and in the evenings when Julian had said good-bye to me in the hallway and I went upstairs, tiptoeing past the landlady’s door as it clicked shut, I lay on the bed and listened to the static of the baseball game on the radio crackling through the walls. The stairs smelled of varnish, the room of almost clean chenille, but they were nothing I inhabited. I was with Julian still, the sense of him, the dark profile of his face opening beyond me like a shadow.
p. 48—I remember seeing Jonah for the very first time, seeing the whole troupe at the welcome meeting in the abandoned baseball camp that was that year’s training quarters. We were in one of the low buildings that ringed the diamond, and I was standing at the back of the room in my plain dress with my scar that had grown livid in the gape of the ceiling light.
p. 114–Waiting for Jonah to be done with his call, Maggie’s left to her own thoughts about Provincetown plays and hours spent driving to watch baseball games. Even then Jonah left her alone, stuck in the bleachers while he kibitzed at the fence with his old teammates who’d made it out of class-C ball but were 4-F in the war. She knew he was envious. Not only had none of those players been inducted, but none of them had had a manager tell him that anybody who was so short on instinct he could split his finger open and break two knuckles barehanding a ball to throw to first should pack it in, that he’d come to the game too late and had it in his head instead of his muscles.
p. 244—She’s always thought what an odd boy he must have been to land at that New York kitchen table. It was a tenement walk-up and his relatives ran a fruit stand, and there he was with his three-piece suits and a near-command of the major Romantic piano repertoire, and his English better than theirs. They took him to baseball games, which was what they’d done with their son who’d gone to Canada and joined the air force. Jonah got hooked. Yankee Stadium. The mounted police at the Polo Grounds. He’d used his agility as a schoolyard football striker to make himself a shortstop. And he was close. He was very close and, in baseball as in all else, totally passionate about performance, the apt gesture.
p. 249—In these last days, the whole tempo of camp has picked up. The routine is predictable still, but it is as if it has speeded up like the final whoosh of sand through an hourglass. Even the baseball games are faster. Last night’s was over in the third inning when Anders made a bad call at home plate, and Hera went after him with a purple-feathered hat, which wound up as naked as one of Annie’s plucked chickens.
p. 316–There’s been only one real disappointment this year. It was more empathetic than personal. Jonah wanted to come from Zurich for a baseball game, but he wasn’t well enough to travel (will he ever be well enough again?), and so Maggie didn’t have to fly but took an Amtrak train to St. Louis by herself. Through her binoculars, she saw Roger Maris’s boys and Sammy Sosa, and then Mark McGwire hitting Number 62. She sent snapshots to Jonah, though she had to write who was who on the back, everybody was so far away.
“American Snapshot, 1993”
p. 122—In New York there is a woman who dances. If you see the page in a given New Yorker where dead Sammy Davis Jr. leaps in his khakis in a cinnamon-colored ad for the Gap, if you pass the page where a pale and beautiful black family discovers a greenhouse, the young father falling out of the composition like a stranger, if you then wander back through the good woolens and Ralph Lauren athletes and forward again, you will find her: Twyla Tharp announced as demonstrating process without benefit of costume at seven-thirty on the day before and the day after Dave Winfield, at home in Minnesota, hit a baseball safely in the Big Leagues for the 3000th time.
p. 198—Her mind was full of partial tales, theories: she knew that the perception of reality changes with the amount of information possessed, but she didn’t know who had said so or the proof offered. She knew a shampoo of urine was the aphrodisiac of somebody’s culture, but not whose. She knew there was a case for the slugging average as a measurement in baseball, but she wasn’t clear what it was. She knew that Liberace, J. Edgar Hoover, and Barney Frank had all had chauffeurs, but she didn’t know to what extent. And she knew all these things in Edward’s voice, but she could not find it now to make her sleep. There were shadows on her ceiling, a starchy newness to the sheets. She was wide awake.
“The Beautiful Ships”
p. 76—Clare felt a real tenderness for her younger self in the photo. How serious and sad and thin she’d been. How eager with anticipation, though about what Clare wasn’t sure. Something about the looming promise of the future. Or something as immediate as the summer baseball players and the DJs at the radio station. Had she been more confident of the prettiness, which was so clear in the photograph, or had she been even slightly carefree, she might have veered more in their direction and never made it back to the life that was waiting for her then. Or to her life now.
p. 126—A fat sun sunk toward the water, smudging chalky pink on the sky, and Clare tried to describe the sunset she’d seen on the approach to New Orleans with Anthony. They hunted for the baseball game on the transistor radio and, when they couldn’t find it, Luc hoisted his beer like a microphone and did five minutes of play by play, partly in French. Clare listened, sharpening sticks for the marshmallows. He was very good, very funny, and she even understood some of the French. He was almost boyish and the happiest she thought she’d seen him. She decided she’d done an excellent job of picking the beer.
“The Nuns on the Roof of St. Peter’s”
p. 188—Her mother had told her to come straight home from school so they could pick up her dress at the dressmaker’s, and she waited anxiously, antsily in Sister’s empty office. She scanned the bookshelf for the flappy spine of The Spiritual Exercises, but it wasn’t there. She could hear the other students jostling on the stairs on the way out of the building, hear the sounds of their voices that started at the door. Shrieks. Bellows. Rocco Mulleto’s baseball bat thumping down the railing.