Some advice for the Queen as she prepares for the game

May 15, 1991|By Dermot Purgavie | Dermot Purgavie,The London Daily Mail

NEW YORK -- Memo to the Queen: Among Washington's many afflictions -- riots, murder and his and her thyroid disorders at the White House -- it doesn't have a baseball team. The last one left town 20 years ago.

So, on your state visit to Washington this week, you are going to have to be taken elsewhere to be initiated into the mysteries of America's game.

It's a shame you couldn't have hooked up with the Kansas City Royals, one of the few surviving expressions of colonial sentiment, but a tight schedule leaves only room for a -- to Baltimore to watch the Orioles take on the Oakland Athletics.

You are the first major-league queen ever to visit baseball and, to demonstrate the sport's class structure, they have picked a fixture that matches the country's most prodigal club -- Oakland's stars earn $2,550,000 a year -- with almost its thriftiest. You will see the rich, bronzed studs from California against the deprived (relatively), dour workmen of the gritty Northeast. Think of them as Ascot and Redcar. You get what you pay for.

Oakland has been in the past three World Series. Baltimore hasn't. This is more than just millionaires in Edwardian costume trying to hit a ball with a stick. Baseball, they'll tell you, is deeply rooted in America's soul and is mystically connected to life's Great Truths. And since Americans, you'll recall, have no monarchy, the game has been providing continuity to national life for the last 123 years.

Like cricket, much of baseball is hidden from the untrained eye, but it is the conventional wisdom that good pitching will beat good hitting, except, of course, when the reverse is true.

Hitting a baseball thrown at over 100 mph with a round ash club is upheld as the most difficult thing in the whole of sport, and the game's most accomplished players do it successfully in only three of every 10 attempts. But listen for the defining sound of baseball, product of the perfect connection between bat and ball, a sweet, resonating, high-frequency "crack" that is one octave above middle C.

Your millionaire player does not like to be humiliated, and if an opponent smacks the ball off the premises and has the bad taste to celebrate with a sort of elaborate jubilation seen at British football matches, the baseball creed sanctions the pitcher to throw the ball at the hitter's head the next time around. This is when the brawl starts. It goes on for some time and the umpires chuck several players of the the game. Then the managers come out and kick dirt over the umpires' trousers.

This routine has taken the place of vaudeville in American life. Polo may have accustomed you to seeing the wealthy sweat. Baseball will accustom you to seeing the wealthy spit. They chew tobacco and spit this nasty black juice all over the place. It is very unattractive and can put you right off your food, and eating hot dogs, I'm afraid, is an essential part of the baseball experience.

If it helps, your parents ate them when President Franklin Roosevelt served them up at a picnic, and I was once in the Arctic with the Prince of Wales when duty obliged him to consume the raw and still-warm liver of a recently-deceased seal. Put on lots of mustard and think of England.

Like cricket, baseball has lots of arcane terms. A full count is not one of those overserved French aristocrats. George Bush shoul have explained them all at the White House dinner last night. All presidents try to identify themselves with baseball, and Bush was a handy first baseman who captained Yale. Ask him to show you his glove, a well-oiled Rawlings Trapper that he keeps in a drawer of his Oval Office desk.

Enjoy the game. Oh, and feel free to boo. A New York court has ruled that abusing the umpire is a venerated American tradition, constitutionally protected freedom and an essential part of baseball.

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