The first game started coming to me when I was ten or twelve. I would see dim glimpses of it in my mind's eye as I was drifting off to sleep at night. Brief glimpses of a game played on a long narrow grassy field, played with a ball somewhat larger than a soccer ball.
Played on a field with three or four large posts, like telephone poles, running down the center of the field from one goal to the other. In some views, these "trees" or poles were actual trees. Three or four of them down the center of the field. Then two or three poles somewhere on the left half of the field, and two or three on the right half.
Treeball. Poleball. Trébol. Players running, kicking the ball. The ball ricocheting off the poles. It was a foul for a player to touch a pole, or knock another player into a pole. But sending the ball caroming off a pole was an important part of the game. And sometimes a player would even take the ball in his hands, and throw
it so it bounced off a pole.
For many years the rules were not at all clear to me, I would get only glimpses of the game. A playing field studded with poles like an obstacle course. Viewed in sudden glimpses when I was halfway asleep.
The second game started coming to me in my early twenties. A ballpark in New England, in the America of some alternate history. A ball diamond, or rather, not a diamond but a hexagon. Not four bases but six. First, second, third, fourth, fifth, and home. And sometimes there were other bases further out, into the outfield, beyond first or third or fifth base.
Glimpses in my mind as I was drifting off to sleep, unclear how the game worked. Pitcher throwing the ball underhand. Batsman with a flat bat like a boat's oar, like a cricketer. Hitting the ball as in baseball, as in cricket. Then running the bases. More than one way to run the bases. Running to any of the other bases in the hexagon and then back home again, that was the simplest way to score. Higher scores for running triangular patterns, home to second to fourth to home. Or for running out in a straight line to bases in the outfield, running out to third base and then to "further third" base, back down to third and home. Or running around the hexagon, all six bases.
Often there were half a dozen men or more on base. Each running his own intricate pattern. Men with mutton chop whiskers, flat-topped caps like ball players from 1900.
And other odd touches. Pitcher throwing a player out by knocking wooden bits off posts behind home plate. Bonus points scored by hitting the ball through wire wickets in the outfield. Fugitive glimpses in the dark of night, there was more to this ball game than I could fathom.
Lately it's been a third game flitting through my mind's eye as I'm halfway asleep. A game played on a vast flat field, in the frozen lands of the Great White North. Men in heavy suits, some of them wearing big padded gloves running up their forearms like gauntlets. Others carrying big rackets strung with sinew, like snowshoes. Well over a dozen men on each team.
Running on the field, chasing the ball. And the ball is a dark crimson leather ball, near large as a softball, with a long knotted tail streaming out behind it, a tail with feathers on it. Ball flies through the air, a man will catch it in his gauntlet, run with it, throw it. Or swing it by its tail and send it flying. A man will catch the ball in his racket, whirl around and send it through the air, or run with it balancing on the racket. The ball is dead if it touches the ground, then referee throwing it aloft, players rushing in with rackets or gauntlets as if in a scrimmage.
Goal the netted goal cage, ball streaks in, goalie let it through, the crowd goes wild! This is the game that was played in Winnipeg, in Medicine Hat, in Moose Jaw, back in 1922. People coming to see the game, riding in two-wheeled wooden oxcarts, over rutted dirt roads frozen hard. And down south of the border, in Mandan, North Dakota, and in Miles City and Bozeman, Montana. The Polar League versus the Plains League. Spectators on splintery bleachers shivering beneath Hudson's Bay point blankets at the North American championship match, held in Regina. Announcers barking over the loudspeaker in English, in French, in Gaelic, in Michif.
Dark blood-red ball flying through the air with its feathered tail streaming behind, like a little comet. Still not clear just what the rules are. I see it in brief snatches and glimpses, more than half asleep, in the watches of the night.
Labels: best_of, doors_of_perception