Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can't get you off. -- Bill Veeck
Astronomers tell us -- usually whether we want to know or not -- that there are billions of stars in our universe. They clump up together in galaxies, possibly because of Physics, possibly because they're lonely, probably because someone's mentioned two-dollar mixed drinks. Billions of stars, as many as there are grains of sand, each with planets, or comets, or at the very least a damn fine supernova in the planning stages.
And that's just our universe alone. It doesn't take into account all the parallel and parasite and not-quite-there dimensions, all the improbable and unlikely universes just waiting to crack through.
It makes a man feel small, thinking about it. But there are some comforts. Beds are pretty comfortable. The pizza's not bad. They've finally gotten round to inventing the toaster oven, one of nature's most perfect appliances. You can get vodka in several flavors.
And, of course, no matter how many worlds there are or who inhabits them, there's one universal truth: There are only so many things you can do with a ball and a stick.
"Explain it to me again."
Sam Vimes stood in the grass, just outside the dirt diamond that marked the ruins atop the Tump, an ancient and mysterious hillock which, if the city ever came to its senses, would be prime real-estate. He scratched his head, ruffling his hair in thought.
"It's all mystical numbers and outs and ins and that," said Mustrum Ridcully. "I don't pretend to understand it myself, but the lads are dead set on it."
Vimes ducked a small white ball that went whizzing past his head. "Mine too. That's why we're here, isn't it?"
"I'm here because they promised a free lunch for the..." Ridcully looked down at a writing tablet in his hand. "The ump...?"
"Ump-hires," Vimes answered. "Our Carrot says it's a Klatchian word."
"Klatchians invent it, then?"
"I didn't think so. Don't really know. Keeps everyone out of trouble, that's the main thing," replied the Watch Commander. He shaded his eyes and swept the field of the Ruins, where several men were throwing balls and running. "Oi, Ping!" he shouted.
"I've got a mint around here somewhere -- " Ridcully began.
"Corporal Ping," Vimes said reproachfully.
The Corporal tossed another small white ball to one of his team-mates, and ran up to his Commander. The Duke of Ankh and the Head of Known Wizardry exchanged an amused look.
Ping had fashioned a sort of uniform for his team out of second-hand Watch regalia and what looked like military equipment. He wore a helmet of the kind known as 'round-head' because it made its owner look like he had half a bowling-ball on, with one end beaten out into a sort of curvy brim that kept the sun out of his eyes. He had on the traditional shirt and britches of the Watch, without the sword-belt or breastplate, but with his name and an apparently random number blazoned across the back. His boots had spikes beaten into them.
"Morning, sir!" he said enthusiastically. "Great day for a ball game!"
"Is it?" asked Vimes. "You've got something on your face, Corporal."
Ping's hand went to his cheeks, which were smeared with a black streak below each eye. "Corporal Cheery did it, sir. She says it makes us look more sportsmanlike. Did you read over the rules I gave you?"
"More or less. I had a few questions -- "
"Good morning, Commander, Archchancellor!"
The three men turned to face the newcomer, who was apparently hidden behind a pile of striped cloth.
"Morning, Stibbons," said Ridcully, as the young wizard emerged from behind the fabric. He wore the Wizardly version of Ping's outfit; a pointy hat with only the front brim remaining, a pinstriped wizard's robe that stretched almost all the way to the ground and was covered with marking similar to Ping's shirt, and likewise spiked boots.
"We brought these for you," said Ping, accepting an object from Stibbons and handing it to his Commander, who regarded it as if it was a particularly explosive swamp dragon.
"We're supposed to wear this?" he asked. Someone had painted an old breastplate in black and white strips, and attached a cape, like the one he normally wore, in similar unflattering monochrome. Ridcully was already struggling into an overcoat-style robe of the same stuff.
"Got to show willing, Commander," said Ridcully, Errant Sportsman. Vimes sighed and unbuckled his breastplate. The Watch team, throwing the ball around the field, cheered when they saw him donning the ridiculous costume.
"So, Ping," he continued, allowing the Corporal to buckle him up in the back, "let's run through this again."
"There are nine innings?"
"But each inning is divided in half. So there's really eighteen."
"Sort of, sir."
"And for each half of an inning, one team is batter?"
"Which means one man gets up and swings that stick at one of the little white balls," Vimes continued. "And if he hits it, he gets to try to get on base, which are the little white things. But if he gets hit by it after he's hit it -- "
"Tagged by it, sir, after the unfortunate accident with Constable Huge."
"Going to be all right, is he?"
"Soon as he remembers who he is, I'm sure," Ping said confidently.
"So the players in the field can tag him with the ball," Ridcully put in. "What's to stop 'em each having a ball?"
"There's only one allowed."
"Ah. And it's the Jug's job to throw the ball so that the one who's batting can hit it?" Ridcully asked.
"Pitcher, sir, I think you'll find," said Ponder.
"Pitcher, not jug."
"What's the difference?"
"A jug has a lid, I believe," said Ping politely.
"And the point of the game is to run around tagging the little white bits without getting tagged by the little white ball, and the one who gets the most people to do that wins the game? After the requisite eighteen half-innings?" asked Vimes, watching Reg Shoe try to throw the ball without his hand going along with it. The zombie had created a large extra leather glove that was apparently for catching the ball in; he possibly should have made one for throwing as well.
"And the innings change when there are three outs," said a new voice. Corporal Ping went pale. The other three, rather more used to the Patrician's sudden appearances, paid it little mind.
"Morning, Lordship," Vimes grunted.
"Hallo, Mr. da Quirm!" Ponder cried. "Come to watch the game?"
"Good morning, Mr. Stibbons. Yes, the game, I quite look forward to it," said Leonard da Quirm, tagging behind Lord Vetinari. "It was originally supposed to be an assembly-line method for creating chair legs, you know. I'm so glad to see someone is enjoying the results."
The Patrician poked at the dirt of the Ruins with his walking stick, curiously, standing next to Leonard da Quirm like a thin man's shadow attached to the wrong person.
"Good morning, Commander, Archchancellor. We meet again, Mr. Stibbons. And this is young Corporal Ping, is it not? Captain of the Watch team?"
"The Woolly Sox, sir," stammered Ping. Vetinari remained silent. "It's our team name, sir. On account of our socks. But spelled with an 'x'. Er, the lads thought it would look...snappier."
"And you know Mr. Stibbons, head of the Wizard's team," Ridcully said, taking pity on the corporal.
"The Pointees," said Stibbons.
"On account," Vetinari said slowly, "of your hats, Mr. Stibbons?"
"Very good, sir!"
"Yes, it's amazing how I do it," drawled the Patrician. He noticed that Leonard had wandered over to the players, and was apparently testing the laws of physics with the Bat, which was actually not a Bat at all but a Stick, Vimes recalled.
"I believe I had best go stifle Leonard's innate curiousity. Excuse me, gentlemen," he said, and made his way across the field, in an attempt to stop the genius before he devised a way of destroying the city by means of a stick and a small white ball.
"You're to be home-plate ump-hire, sir," said Ping, leading the way towards the rather larger white plate -- stolen from the Watch canteen, Vimes noticed -- that denoted 'home'. "You remember what I said about strikes and balls?"
"If he swings at it and misses, or if it's over the plate and he doesn't swing, it's a strike," Vimes repeated dutifully. "If it's not over the plate and he doesn't swing, it's a ball."
"And when you get four balls, you get to walk."
"Yes, you'd have to, wouldn't you?" Vimes asked. He heard Ping snigger. "So why'm I back here standing around, while Ridcully's got to be out in the field running about?"
"Well, sir...we sort of...you make more of the calls sir, and you don't know how to turn people into small animals when they disagree with you, and you're more used to being yelled at," Ping said. "Plus everyone knows the Archchancellor never plays fair."
"And I do?" asked Vimes.
"Well...sort of...more fair, anyhow."
Vimes had often thought that if you lived in Ankh-Morpork and you really wanted to know what was going on in the heads of its citizens, there was no better, more reliable barometer of public sentiment than the Watch. And he remembered Ridcully once saying that you could tell when high magical charges were around, because the Wizards were the first to start acting really barmy. It was unsurprising that the Discworld's first baseball game was between these two teams.
He'd rather thought Carrot would have wanted to play, but the young Captain's passion was for football, and so he was content to stand as Announcer, which Vimes took to be a sort of public-relations officer between the players and the people watching from the hastily-erected stands behind home plate.
It really was amazing. Nobody, least of all the Ump-hires, had any kind of firm grasp on the game, which was typically intricate in the way only Leonard da Quirm's inventions ever were. But once you got everyone into position and sang the national anthem and set up the first team to bat, and once he'd called "PLAY BALL!" as you were apparently supposed to, everything seemed...official. Right. As though they'd been doing it for years. Vimes suspected magic, but he was enjoying himself too much to do anything about it.
"And it's the Dean winding up for a pitch -- there's Fiddyment on second and Reg Shoe on third...sorry Reg...part of Reg Shoe on third, the rest inching towards home...here's the pitch..."
"Strike!" Vimes called.
"Come on, sir, have a heart," said Nobby, at bat, without turning around.
"I had Igor remove it years ago," Vimes replied. "Don't swing when it's wide next time, you've got no strike zone at all."
"Score is still eight to eleven, the Pointees leading...a second slam-bang pitch from the Dean..."
"Jolly good, Sam!" called Lady Sybil, who liked to encourage where she could. Ping had given her a strange little triangular flag, with a pair of woolly socks sewn onto it, to wave.
"The Dean's under pressure now -- if this is a hit, we could be looking at a tie game..."
Nobby actually hit the ball. Vimes was impressed.
"It's high and long, going for the outfield -- we may have a home run on this one..."
One of the wizards was running for it, but he tripped on his robe and stumbled just shy of catching the ball. The three Watchmen did their solemn rounds, and the crowd of spectators cheered. Vimes noticed that Leonard still had one of the baseballs, and was deep in conversation with the Patrician, their heads bent together over it.
"Bottom of the ninth, two outs, and the score is tied!" Carrot called. "The Dean's under pressure...and it's Dorfl up to bat!"
Dorfl lumbered to the plate, the bat looking like a matchstick in his hands. He scooped up some dirt and rubbed it on his hands; Vimes had seen the others do it, and was curious as to why, but apparently they didn't know either.
"HOT DOGS! GET CHORE HOT DOGS!" Dibbler cried. People were buying them, too, despite the fact that he was actually announcing a possible ingredient in them. "Banged Grains! Souvenier Programs! You can't tell a wizard from a watchman without a program!"
Out of the corner of his eye, Vimes saw a dark shape purchase a bag of salted peanuts and seat itself on an aisle.
I SAY, the shape observed, THIS IS REALLY RATHER FUN, ISN'T IT?
He was so distracted that he almost didn't notice Leonard da Quirm crossing the dirt diamond.
"A time out has been called by the Unseen University Pointees," Carrot announced. "It seems they're getting a little advice from Mr. da Quirm..."
From here, it looked as though Leonard was showing the Dean how to hold the ball. Which was daft, how hard was it to hold a ball? Then Leonard gave them all a sharp little bow, trotted back to his seat, and looked triumphantly at Lord Vetinari.
"The Dean's winding up...and the pitch -- "
Vimes watched in amazement as the ball seemed to curve around Dorfl's swing.
"What the bloody hell was that?" he asked Ponder Stibbons, who was catching. Ponder looked at the ball in amazement.
"I don't know!" he said. "It wasn't magic. Leonard must have found some way to make the ball move in midair. A curvy-ball."
"All right then, throw it back."
Vimes lit a cigar and hunched over, watching the second pitch intently.
"The Dean seems to have found a new secret weapon! He pitches -- "
"STRIKE TWO!" Vimes called through clenched teeth. "Come on, Dorfl, hit the bloody thing."
"I Will Try, Sir," Dorfl said. He stepped away from the plate, gave one or two experimental swings, and pointed. All eyes followed. Beyond the dirt diamond stood the clacks tower, with pigeons resting in the lower scaffolding.
"He seems to be pointing to where the ball's going to fly...now let's see if he can make good on his promise!" Carrot called. "This is it, folks, the final chance for either team. The Dean looks nervous. He's going to pitch -- "
Dorfl swung low and wide, aiming where the ball shouldn't ever be. There was a deafening crack. The ball described a beautiful arc through the air and disappeared in a shower of pigeon feathers.
"I'll be damned," said Vimes, admiringly.
FIRST EVER BASEBALL "DYSK SERIES" A SUCCESS!
Rocky, Sports Columnist
More than half the city turned out last Sunday for the final game in the Dysk Series, held at the Ruins Stadium, rimwards of the city. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past three months, the tournament scores went as follows:
Copperhead "Giants" vs. Thieves' Guild "Snicklers": 10 - 2 Giants.
Assassins' Guild "Black Sox" vs. Unseen University "Pointees": Forfeit, Black Sox.
Patrician's Palace "Scorpions" vs. Bonk "Mild Bandits": 13 - 12 Scorpions.
Genua "Marlins" vs. Vortex Plains "Big Rock Monuments": 2 - 0 Marlins.
AMCW "Woolly Sox" vs. Seamstress' Guild "No Sox": 19 - 18 Woolly Sox.
In the second round, the Giants and Black Sox went at it tooth and nail, and dagger and club and crossbow too, but the Black Sox emerged victorious to continue onwards and defeat the Scorpions, who had previously won an easy game against the Genua Marlins. The tournament leader Woolly Sox, led by Corporal Ping, waited to see who would go up against them in the Dysk Series as the No Sox and Black Sox grappled for the lead.
Finally, it was the match of the season, the Assassins' Guild Black Sox versus the City Watch Woolly Sox. Every sports fan in Ankh-Morpork wanted to be at the historic game. The Black Sox were favoured to win, their guild reputation preceding them, but the brave Boys in Brown took no notice, and were pleasantly surprised by the Black Sox's sense of fair play. The captain of the team, Prince Teppic of Djelibeybi, attributes this to the guild's strict Honour Code: "We may kill people for a living, but we always give them a fair chance," Captain Teppic told the Times. "We wouldn't dream of playing dirty in a game."
The Black Sox sense of honour may have led to their downfall, as the Boys in Brown handily took an early lead. In the tenth half-inning, Reg Shoe was forced to withdraw as the team's star pitcher, having thrown out an elbow, and third-basedwarf Cheery Littlebottom was called in as replacement. To everyone's surprise, Watch Commander Samuel Vimes took third base, and proceeded to punch an Assassin in the head when he tried to steal it, calling the game temporarily to a stop while Ump-hire Slant ordered him off the field.
Play having resumed with constable Fiddyment replacing the benched Commander, the Black Sox put up a fair fight, but all for nothing: the final score, announced in cheerful tones by Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, was Black Sox 9, Woolly Sox 12. Maybe next year, Lord Downey.