by Andrew L. McFarlane

When I wrote this several years ago, the baseball players were striking. They aren't this season(at least not yet), but I think in addition to the obvious message, there is another.

This story is dedicated to Allan L. McFarlane, who loved the game.

"Steeerike one!" the umpire called, contorting his body to emphasize the drama of the situation.

The batter shot him a look that indicated that he didn't much care for the theatrics or the call. He stepped out of the batter's box and reviewed the situation as he carved the dirt with a razor sharp cleat. One out, bottom of the ninth, down by one, one baserunner (slow as a Sunday afternoon) on second, and himself, Tyrus Raymond Cobb, The Georgia Peach, generally acclaimed master of the game, at bat. He looked to third base--hat, sleeve, jaw scratch--the hit and run. He nodded and dug himself back into the box.

The pitcher shook off the first call, the second, finally nodding agreement to the third. A slider! The moron was actually going to throw him a slider! He sympathized with the catcher. Ninth inning with a lead, perfectly called game, and this rook was going to throw it away. Cobb's fingers tightened on around the bat as the faintest hint of a smile crossed his lips. The kid reared back and fired: high, hard, and inside. Cobb hung in there, trusting his hunch and willing to bet his jaw on it. Sure enough, the ball began to tail away. He followed its arc with an easy, precise swing. Hickory cracked and leather flew, a hard grounder up the gap between first and second. The second baseman dove for it on principle, but the third base coach knew as well as Cobb that he had no more chance to catch it than yesterday's bus. The coach's arm was swinging like a windmill in a hurricane as the runner chugged past him. The rightfielder charged the ball hard, but had to be contented with holding Cobb to a single as the tying run crossed the plate.
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The manager called for time and made his way to the mound, motioning in the entire infield. Cobb and everybody else new what they were talking about--him. Him and second base and how to keep him from getting there. They could talk all day, he didn't care. To win this game he was going to have to get to second and there wasn't a force on this earth or beyond that was going to stand in his way. The party at the mound broke up and the players trotted back to their positions. As the kid's foot touched the rubber, Cobb paced off his lead, taking an extra step for good measure. The kid didn't even look at him, just stepped off the rubber and gunned to first. Cobb was back before the ball touched the first baseman's mitt. They repeated that dance three more times. On the fifth time, Cobb left off the extra step. This must have comforted the kid, because he threw to the plate this time. Fastball. Cobb was faster. The catcher rifled it down, a perfect throw but late, too late.

Cobb stood up, dusted himself off, and looked at the third base coach hard until he gave the steal sign again. He took his lead, stopping at a point where he might be able to catch a glimpse of the sign when the catcher flashed it. He realized that they had certainly switched signs during the time out, but it was good to see them anyway. Two fingers. Cobb felt pitchout, so he held tight. It was, making the count one and one. He wasn't able to catch the sign on the next pitch, but he was going anyway. The right-handed batter swung at an outside fastball to cover, but the catcher was up and throwing with a good chance to nail Cobb. The throw was in the dirt and the third baseman knew that if he was going to get the ball and make the tag, he was also going to add a few cleat marks to some part of his anatomy. Maybe that was why his glove rose at the last second and the ball skipped under it. Cobb popped up ready to dash for home, but the alert shortstop was backing up the play.

The catcher was cursing such a blue streak that even Cobb winced a little. The umpire cautioned him, and though he quieted down, he still grumbled under his breath and cast menacing looks at all in the vicinity of third base. Cobb smiled sweetly back at him. There was no mistaking the sign the catcher flashed in return. The batter stepped back up to the plate and watched a curve go wide of the mark. He then fouled off two possible strikes, finally going for a low pitch.

He popped it up, a high fly to shallow center. From the bag, Cobb watched the center fielder set himself under the fly. The instant the ball hit the glove, he was off and moving like a rocket, a machine not as common then as now. If they had been, perhaps the catcher might have known not to stand in ones way. You couldn't really blame him though, armored and angry as he was. He caught the throw, body low and blocking the plate, turned to face Cobb...and was knocked clean across the plate. As he lay there Cobb, the umpire, the pitcher, and everbody else in the stadium looked on. Cobb uttered a triumphant cry and pointed to a round white object near the visitor's dugout. A close inspection of the still stunned catcher's mitt revealed no ball. Two and two were put together and Cobb was called safe. His teammates poured from the dugout and lifted his exultant for to meet the cheers of the crowd.

Phillip Ropp, grinning from ear to ear, flipped up the stereoscopic viewers that had immersed him so totally in the ball game and removed the genuine 1968 Detroit Tigers batting helmet from his head. The diminished roar of the crowd still echoed from the speakers in the helmet. As he removed his datasuit, a flawless replica of a 1907 Tigers uniform which tranlated the movements of his body into the movements of Cobb, his wife poked her head into the room.

"I just heard that the players rejected the owners final offer, so there'll probably be no baseball for the rest of the year."

Phil smiled, kissed her, and said, "Baseball, Jean? I don't know what game those guys are playing, but it sure the hell isn't baseball."

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