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The Bang and the Clatter

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You don’t need to memorize this. I don’t even think you need to understand this. The baseball fic isn’t really about baseball, and in fact they play very little of it. Like all of my fic, it has a flimsy excuse for a plot and is really just about emotional exploration. However, the characters do sometimes get jargon-y about their sport, so I thought maybe you might be curious and like a quick crash course if you don’t know anything at all about the game. I genuinely don’t think you need to know much about it to enjoy the fic. I had never even seen a tennis match before reading “A Study in Winning” (if you haven’t read this fic yet, GO NOW AND DO SO—I’LL WAIT), but it didn’t prevent me from loving it.

Without further ado:

Baseball is a game played over the course of nine innings. During each inning, each team gets a chance to play both offense and defense. When on defense, a team sends nine players out onto the field: three in the outfield, three at each of the bases, another extra player in the infield (called a “shortstop”), a pitcher, and a catcher. The pitcher pitches a baseball from the mound sixty-feet-six-inches to home plate. His object is to get an out, either by throwing three strikes (pitches the batter could have hit) or with a ball that the batter manages to hit but is either caught cleanly before it touches the ground or is thrown to a base before the batter can make it there. The batter is trying to get on one of the bases, either by hitting the pitch or by “walking” (when the pitcher throws four “balls,” which are pitches the batter could not have hit). Every time a batter manages to circle the infield on the bases and reach home plate again, a run is scored. A team stays on offense until the team playing defense makes three outs. Once the three outs are made, the teams switch places: the same players that had been batting go out to play the field, and the players that had been playing the field now take their turn at trying to get hits and runs. Only one player hits at a time. While that player is hitting, the rest of his team sits in what’s called a dugout, except for the pitchers, who generally sit in a separate area called a bullpen (more on pitchers below).

At the end of nine innings, the team that scores the most runs wins.

There are many different types of pitches and many different types of hits that can result from these pitches. I’m not sure you need to know a whole lot of detail about these in order to enjoy the fic. Nor do you need to know much about any of the positions besides pitcher and catcher, because in this fic Sherlock Holmes is a pitcher and John Watson is a catcher. I will tell you that a “home run” is a hit that leaves the baseball stadium, and it entitles the batter to circle all of the bases (first, second, and third) to cross home plate and score a run. (There is such a thing as an inside-the-park home run. Let’s not worry about that now.) A home run clears the bases of all runners. If the bases were “loaded” when the home run was hit (meaning that there was a runner on every single base), the home run is known as a “grand slam,” and it garners a total of four runs (one for each runner).

Each baseball team generally carries what’s called a “rotation” of five pitchers, meaning that a starting pitcher starts pitching a baseball game every fifth day. A starting pitcher’s workload varies according to age and ability, but generally you want your starting pitcher to carry you through at least six innings of work. Normally, a starting pitcher gets taken out of a game when he starts to get tired. Every pitcher is different, but the general rule of thumb is that a hundred pitches is the upper limit of what you should push your starting pitcher to throw. Once the starting pitcher leaves, relief pitchers come in to relieve him, the most specialized of which is called a closing pitcher or closer. A closer only comes in when the game is very close. Most closers will only pitch the final inning. This means they throw much fewer pitches in an outing than a starting pitcher does, but they also work more frequently than every fifth day. When the relief pitchers and closing pitcher aren’t pitching in the games, they generally sit in the bullpen to watch the game until they are needed. The bullpen is on the field, but it’s separate from the dugout where the rest of the team is sitting, because the relief pitchers can use the bullpen to “warm up” before going into the game.

Sherlock is a starting pitcher, and he’s the best one on the team. People in the fic refer to him sometimes as the “ace of the staff,” which just means that he’s the best starting pitcher they have. This is why he has the “first” slot in the pitching rotation, which really only matters for the very first game of the season (“opening day”) and the playoffs (more on playoffs later).

John is a catcher. Unlike starting pitchers, many catchers play almost every game (a baseball season is 162 games; more if you make the playoffs). Catchers catch for the entire pitching staff. This means that the best catchers have to be good at managing personalities, because they have to work very closely with all of the different pitchers on the team: the other players on the team just kind of stand around in the field while the pitcher pitches, but the catcher is supposed to be working with the pitcher to decide which type of pitch to throw, which the catcher does by way of coded finger signals flashed from the safety of his glove behind the plate (okay, now that I’m typing this up, it sounds crazy, but it’s true). Sometimes the finger signals aren’t enough and the catcher will have to ask the umpire for a conference on the mound, so that the catcher can talk to the pitcher about their strategy. The umpires in baseball make the calls, deciding balls and strikes and out.

Because of their role in “calling the game” (as this is known), the best catchers are also very good strategists. A really good catcher is worth his weight in gold, because good pitching wins baseball games, and a happy pitching staff is the key to a good season, and a good catcher will keep your pitching staff happy, so who cares if he ever gets a hit? (I say this as if it’s settled law, but it’s really just my settled law; I think pitchers and catchers are the most important people on a baseball team, even though hitters can frequently be flashier, so I made Sherlock Holmes a pitcher.) Some pitchers are talented enough or temperamental enough or quirky enough to have their own personal catcher who only catches the games they pitch. Some baseball managers (more on managers below) like that, because it’s a day of rest for the team’s regular catcher.

Major League Baseball is a sport played by twenty-six professional teams divided between two leagues: National and American. Each league has three geographic divisions (East, Central, West). The goal of the season is to win your division, which then propels you into playoffs, which culminate in a World Series. Baseball playoffs take place during the month of October and are commonly referred to as “October baseball” or even just “October” throughout the sport (and throughout the fic; if someone’s talking about “making October,” it means they want to make the playoffs). Before last year, each league also sent a “wild card” team to the playoffs. Last year, some new, complicated nonsense was instituted. I’ve ignored it in this fic. I’m following the old, simpler “one wild card team from each league” version. The “wild card” is the team with the league’s best record that nevertheless failed to win a division and so wouldn’t have made the playoffs otherwise.

The playoffs are three rounds that go like this: best of five (so first team to win three games advances to the next round); best of seven (so first team to win four games advances to the next round); best of seven (so first team to win four games wins the World Series).

Before reaching October, the baseball season starts with spring training, either in Florida or Arizona (in my fic it’s Arizona). This consists of the team getting together and playing a bunch of games that don’t count for anything, just to see how players are progressing and maturing and what the regular season roster should look like. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training first.

Some other points that you might like to know for the fic:

• Each team has an owner (or group of owners). Each team also has a general manager, or GM. The GM of the team is the guy who wears business suits and sits in the office doing the wheeling-and-dealing of the contracts and trade negotiations to get players. Each team also has a manager, who is very different from the GM. The manager of the baseball team wears a uniform and is basically the team’s coach. The manager sits in the dugout during the game and makes strategic calls about gameplay. The manager will decide, for instance, when a starting pitcher should be pulled in favor of a relief pitcher, in consultation with the pitcher, the catcher, and the team’s pitching coach, whose job is to take care of the pitching staff.

• Every major league baseball team has an affiliated “farm system” or “minor league teams.” These don’t play much of a role in the fic, but I think they get mentioned once or twice. Minor league teams are where the players play who aren’t quite ready for major league yet (think “Bull Durham,” if you’ve seen that movie).

• There is one difference between the American League and the National League. In the National League, the exact same players bat and play the field. In the American League, the pitcher doesn’t bat; he is replaced in the batting order by a “designated hitter” or “DH.” People will quarrel about this rule and what it means for the way the game is played, but there’s no reason to get into all that now. Its relevance to the fic is that I chose to put Sherlock and John in a National League team, because I wanted Sherlock to have to bat.

• Every year, in the middle of the baseball season, the two leagues play each other in an All-Star Game. The starting roster of the All-Star Game is voted on by the public (save for the starting pitcher, who is selected by the All-Star Game manager). The All-Star Game always takes place on a Tuesday. There are no games on the Monday before or the Wednesday following. This is referred to as “the All-Star break” or even just “the break” sometimes, because otherwise there is always at least one baseball game played every day from April until October. In fact, the days before and after the All-Star Break are the only days when no professional sports are played in the United States of America <-- fun fact. The night before the All-Star Game is the Home Run Derby, which is just a ridiculous excuse to watch good batters hit a lot of home runs. It’s not serious and doesn’t really mean anything and the players seem to treat it like a big, informal party.

• Baseball likes to hand out awards. The ones mentioned most often in this fic are MVP (Most Valuable Player), which is awarded annually to one player in each league and also awarded to a player on the winning team of the All-Star Game and each round of the playoffs, and the Cy Young Award, which is awarded annually to the best pitcher in each league. Winning either is a huge deal.

• I put John and Sherlock on a fictional team, because I found it easier. In the fic, their team is an “expansion” team, meaning a new team with no history, starting from scratch. John waives a no-trade provision in order to go to the new team. Not a huge story point, but in case you were wondering, it just means that John had built into his contract that he couldn’t be traded to another team without his permission. Trades are a big deal in baseball, which has a “trade deadline” built into the season, at the end of July. Trades are relatively easy to pull off before the deadline, they’re just a matter of negotiation. After the deadline, it gets much harder, because the players being traded have to clear “waivers.” This is complicated and not important. I think all you really need to know is that it gets harder to trade for a player after July.

• Baseball is a game of statistics. The characters don’t talk about them a whole lot, because I’m lazy, but every once in a while someone might mention Sherlock’s ERA or John’s batting average. I don’t think you really need to know what these are, but, in case you’re wondering, an ERA is an Earned Run Average. It’s calculated by dividing the number of runs scored while a pitcher is pitching by the number of innings the pitcher pitched. That gives you the average number of runs scored for each inning a pitcher pitchers, or his Earned Run Average (the “earned” has to do with the concept of “errors,” meaning it doesn’t count toward the pitcher’s ERA if the players behind him make mistakes on the field). The lower the ERA, the better (under three is very, very good; under two is ridiculous; under one is virtually unheard of). A batting average is calculated by dividing the number of hits a batter has by the number of times the batter has been up to bat. That provides you the percentage of time that a batter gets a hit. The batting average should be right around the .300 range. Unlike an ERA, the higher a batting average, the better. The highest batting average on record (for a season) was .406, to give you an idea of the scale of batting averages.

• For all that baseball is a game of statistics, baseball is a game of poetry, too. There are people who will say, rightly, that baseball is a slow game, that it drags, that not a lot happens. For many of us, that is its charm. It is a game with time for a lot of decisions to be made in a very thoughtful fashion, because it moves so slowly, and many people find poetry in the depths of the strategy. It is also a game with a lot of downtime, which makes it surprisingly fun to be in the field for it, because you can catch up with friends and run to get food without missing much. The best part of baseball, for me, is that its pace echoes the laziness of a long summer day—perfect, because that is when baseball is played. Baseball seems to be more popular in parts of the U.S. with four distinct seasons, and I am convinced it’s because baseball follows the rhythm of the seasons themselves: It begins with the hope of spring, when everything is fresh and new, and it keeps us company through the height of the summer, and it goes away again when the chill nips the air. John Watson really, genuinely loves the romance of baseball. Hopefully, by the end of this fic, you’ll catch a whiff of it. :-)