Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled The Fly Ball That Didn’t Come Back Down. Please enjoy.
An amazing thing happened on August 24, 2019. A fly ball was hit into the air and didn’t fall back down.
It was during an otherwise meaningless game late in the baseball season between the Nauticals and the Kings. Both teams were well out of the playoffs at this point and had to be content with merely playing out the string. The game would have been completely forgotten if not for that fateful event that occurred during the third inning.
Home pitcher for the Seattle Nauticals Malachi Wallace threw an inside fastball to the Kansas City King right fielder Wallaby Jones. Jones took a bad cut and lifted the ball straight into the air, right above catcher Curtis Brown. Higher and higher it ascended until it reached its highest point about twenty feet into the air. Mask off, Brown patiently waited for the ball to descend while Jones half-heartedly jogged to first base.
Only, the ball never came back down. It remained floating in the air.
It took nearly a minute for everyone, the players, the fans, all manner of employees at the game and the like to realize what was happening. A palpable discomfort emerged with every passing second the ball refused to drop.
An event like this takes the human brain a while to process. We can talk of spontaneity, the desire of variety, the ability for the mind to adapt all we want and granted, much of that is true, but there are still so-called immutable rules of this universe that every individual expects to be followed. One of the most basic is what goes up, must come down. This is why it was beyond comprehension that such a rule would be violated.
This is why the reaction from the crowd was so gradual. A low murmur emanated as the spectators began to understand what was happening. Soon a flurry of possible suppositions and explanations were first discussed then practically shouted. The consensus amongst the crowd was seemed to be they had missed the play and didn’t see the ball descend. Or perhaps the ball was caught in a rafter. Or perhaps the ball had disappeared into the crowd. A few astute eyes and pointed fingers corrected such notions. It soon became apparent what was happening.
Brown, still attempting to play the game, looked at his manager pleadingly. His skipper was fixated on the ball with the rest of the crowd and it took a moment for him to realize his catcher was looking toward him for instruction. He eventually replied with a melancholy shrug. There was little he could do. The catcher’s eyes turned towards the home plate umpire. He said nothing. His eyes communicated more than words could ever say.
At that moment, Curtis was not the multi-million dollar catcher who alienated fans with his haughty attitude and lackadaisical play. Nor was he the intimidating giant of a man who had not even more than five minutes ago cursed at him for calling a third strike on him while he was at bat. No, in the umpire’s eyes, he became a little boy begging his proverbial papa, the elderly man standing behind the plate, for help. There was little he could do. He had seen nothing like this before. No one had. Such a thing had never occurred in history.
The umpire apologized to Curtis. He had no reason too. None of this was his fault. It was unfair to expect him to come up with a solution. He had no control over the situation. Yet he did. He sensed Curtis’s fear and apprehension. He wanted so badly to help.
Shortly after, the dugouts, bullpens, the outfield, the infield, even the crowd descended upon home plate. Roles began to fade. Players were no longer players. Coaches were no longer coaches. Fans were no longer fans. Everyone was just a human being again, witnesses to an incomprehensible event.
A mild panic ensued. Half the crowd pushed their way out of the stadium which started more than a couple of fights. Security eventually handled these incidents once they were able to put aside their own fears.
One of the more level headed players suggested that they continue to play after the conflicts in the crowd had dissipated. Baseball has several provisions where decisions are ultimately left to an umpire’s judgment. Clearly, the ball would have been caught. Just call the batter out and move on. A rational suggestion but one that was ignored. Nobody else either wanted to play or allow play with a rawhide Sword of Damocles dangling above their heads.
Player safety was a convenient excuse. There wasn’t any real fear of the ball falling on someone’s head unexpectedly, which perhaps is a legitimate trepidation but one that posed no real threat other than perhaps a bump on the head. No, people were afraid mostly because anomalies are always feared.
After much discussion and several phone calls, the umpires and the field supervisors decided to suspend the game.
It didn’t take long for the event to become a national and worldwide phenomenon. The game was televised, to a local audience at first, but it didn’t take long for the broadcast to gain national and worldwide exposure. A vast multitude of media outlets, as well as government agencies, rushed to the stadium in a mad haste. One side hoped to break the story while the other wanted to provide an explanation and prevent panic.
After the proper authorities managed to evacuate the crowd, players, and team staff from the stadium, only authorized personnel remained. This included various branches of the police force and other security personnel, individuals affiliated with Major League Baseball, city officials, physicists along with members of other branches of scientific study, and the various news networks that get involved when such things occur.
All the major news sources in the nation and worldwide were on hand, as well as hundreds of smaller rags. All of them there to tell their version of the same story. Physicists, atmospheric scientists, and other likeminded individuals, after much cajoling, were granted first access to the ball so that they may study it and perhaps provide an explanation.
Using long ladders provided by the fire trucks that were brought in, these men and women analyzed the ball along with its surrounding troposphere. Each of them were very careful. All assumed that the slightest touch would bring the ball down.
They performed all analysis possible without actually making contact with the well-stitched rawhide floating in the air. Despite all the effort, though, which included but was not limited to dropping other balls next to it from the same height, all investigation proved inconclusive. There was no reason for the ball to remain in the air.
The lack of conclusive answers was incredibly frustrating for all involved but no more so than for John Lincoln, the owner of the Seattle Nauticals. While these men and women of science performed their experiments, a discussion commenced with officials. Baseball commissioner Rodney Manfield decided all games in Seattle would be indefinitely moved to a neutral location until either the ball fell or the field was deemed safe to play. Most agreed with his decision.
The owner of the Seattle Nauticals, John Lincoln, did not. He had a business to run. Lost games meant lost revenue. This along with his already dour disposition compelled him to take action. When the guards were distracted with a minor incident with reporters, Lincoln took the opportunity to dash past security, to scamper past a confused scientist that had just descended, and scurry up a ladder to pull that ball down.
He ignored yells and screams. He ignored security who was right on his heels. He ignored the fact that he would be in serious trouble for doing any of this. Rationality had escaped him. His mind contained but one thought. Pull the ball down and end the madness. When he reached the top of the ladder, he grabbed the ball, his arm barely able to extend enough for his hand to clutch it, and pulled with all his might.
The ball refused to budge.
Out of sheer desperation, Lincoln leaped off the ladder still gripping the ball to the horror of those in pursuit and the folks watching from the ground. Everyone braced for a nasty collision with the ground.
John Lincoln did not fall.
The ball stubbornly stayed in the air. Lincoln dangled from it. Both knuckles were white clenching the ball with manic desperation. The fire chief on the ground commanded his crew to move the ladder beneath the hanging man once he regained his senses. His men, waking from their trance, did as instructed. John was euphoric when his feet once again touched the infield grass.
Seeing a man dangling from a baseball only increased the manic frenzy with the ravenous news correspondents. Such a sight was sure to cause panic with the populace. Panic equaled interest. Interest led to clicks and sales. Sales led to revenue. Being first meant a chance to make the most money.
Reporters and news personnel literally trampled each other trying to get to the right location for their cameras to report on the incident while it occurred. To accommodate a large number of people in a relatively small place required civility. Unfortunately, it was sorely lacking.
Ambulances were called to rush the injured away to receive medical treatment. The police and other emergency personnel did all they could to pacify the pandemonium. Very little of it worked. This chaos served as a backdrop to numerous additional attempts to bring down the ball. There was a strange belief by officials that bringing the ball back to earth would calm everyone down. Any notion of continuing to analyze why the ball floated in the air in the first place was abandoned when the first reporter was crushed beneath his colleague’s feet.
Nets were used. Followed by clamps and pulleys. All manner of tools were used to try and bring that ball down. Nothing worked. Then came the notion that the ball should be destroyed. Sharp tools were applied. The ball was doused with flames. Someone drew a pistol and fired at it from point-blank range.
The ball obstinately remained intact. It was impervious. Failure did nothing to calm the populace.
Slowly and reluctantly it was determined there was little anyone could do. The police and other emergency personnel moved to disperse all that had recently gathered there. It was an arduous battle but one they would eventually win.
Cameras were set up to provide all computers throughout the globe access to view the ball in the air twenty-four hours a day via online streams. Security was then set up along the perimeter of the stadium and only those with special permission were allowed entrance.
Tests were still done periodically as well as attempts to destroy the ball but the amount of activity within the stadium decreased dramatically. Outside the stadium, though, things had just begun.
The panic was not isolated to the stadium. Any sport that required any sort of ball flight was immediately postponed. That meant the baseball season was delayed indefinitely. As too was football. Basketball, though indoors, suffered the same fate. As did soccer. And rugby. And hockey, even though it uses a puck, just in case. In other words, the vast majority of sports were shelved until further notice. Even playing catch was outlawed. Throwing things in the air was banned. Any activities related to objects in the air, including juggling, were forbidden. Heavy fines and even jail time was given to violators of these state and local ordinances.
Balls were one thing, but the greater fear was that a plane would fly into the air and never come back to the ground. A moratorium was placed on anything related to aeronautics or aerospace. Flights were canceled. Aerial travel, in general, was grounded. Only essential flights such as those shipping food products and other essential imports and exports were allowed to fly in the air and only under strict supervision. Such action had a dire effect on the economy especially for places that relied on tourism or other “non-essential” activities.
The fly ball incident, as it became to be known, only happened once in human history. Yet this one incident managed to change how people behaved worldwide. A gloomy pall metaphorically encompassed the earth. No peace could be found. The populace demanded a solution or at least an explanation as to why it occurred. A committee of the world’s greatest thinkers was formed to discover one. Surely, the world’s smartest individuals would be able to solve the issue.
Several hypotheses and theories were posited. Some were rational. Most were inane. None of them adequately explained what had occurred or what was occurring. That’s because, despite all the authoritativeness these postulates were delivered, nobody knew how this could happen. Nobody knew how this could be explained. Nobody understood what was going on.
This topic was at the forefront of all news and media shows, whether online or on cable. It was as if all other activity on the planet had stopped. Regardless of the show, regardless of its political leanings, regardless of the host, someone else was always to blame.
It happened due to climate change, some claimed. Others believed it was just a change of barometric pressure. Political parties blamed their opponent’s policies for all the sense that made. Some were convinced that it was God or some other deity or simply the universe playing a trick on humanity. The more extreme believed it was a sign that the end was near.
With no solution ascertained by these supposed intellectuals, the populace took to the streets to find answers. Global riots commenced, most fiercely in places most impacted by the grounding of air travel. Homes were burned, streets were destroyed, and mayhem ensued. People from all over were taking their frustrations out on random strangers, victimizing the innocent without care. How toppling over cars and looting buildings leads to solutions remains a mystery but it is what the populace decided was the best course of action. Sane thinking left long ago. There was no consideration. Civility was dead. People divvied into tribes to blame others and to justify their actions. The cost both in terms of finances and in terms of lives ruined was almost unimaginable.
Then on September 7th, 2019, the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.
Individuals watching the stream were the first to notice. Their vigil was rewarded with witnessing something live that most would see only in a replay. Accompanying chat rooms worldwide practically went ablaze when the ball plummeted to the ground. The second coming would have difficulty equaling the excitement felt that day.
It did not take long for word to spread. Webpages that provided streams of the ball were hammered by traffic from people throughout the planet rushing to see what had happened. A great multitude of sites crashed under the weight of this rapidly intensified activity. Everyone wanted to know what had happened and, more importantly, what had caused the ball to fall.
No explanation was discovered. No one was trying to bring the ball down at the time. The night was calm. The temperature was mild, not too hot and not too cold, much like it was the previous few days. Nothing collided with it. It was as if the ball had a mind of its own and decided it was time to come back down.
The media went wild once again. There was still a lot of handwringing despite the lack of understanding. The reasons for why the ball stayed in the air were posited as the reason for its descent. Political parties still blamed each other and used the same reasons as before. Many religious leaders still believed the end was near…
More studies were done. The air where the ball had resided was again inspected thoroughly. Many experiments were performed. There was nothing extraordinary about the ball. It was thrown around a bit and felt and acted like an ordinary baseball in every way. All analyses showed it was normal. Examinations concluded it was merely a regulation size baseball with a few nicks and scratches consistent with being hit with a baseball bat.
Then it was decided that there should be yet another attempt to destroy the ball. This time, the chosen method of destruction, a car crusher, had immediate and overwhelming success.
To the disappointment of all, no conclusion was ever reached. There was no explanation of the phenomenon.
Baseball was used as the proverbial canary in a gold mine to see if things were back to normal. People were uneasy during that first week of games when the season resumed. Almost every fly ball was met with a sigh of relief when it returned towards the earth, from the announcers, the crowd, and the players themselves, including the batter, the one who normally would be disappointed with a fly ball out.
After the first week of games, the general public was more or less satisfied that gravity was working as intended. Flights were eventually resumed and aerial travel returned to normal. Gradually, the incident faded from public consciousness. The chaos of the riots was cleansed in due time and though the impact of them would linger, people slowly moved on. In a few short years, it seemed as if the incident never even happened.
I’ve been to hundreds of baseball games, though none nearly as memorable as the one I attended that fateful August day. I was eight. It was my first game. My father took me. It was one of many memories we shared over the years.
Now I attend games with my son. I love every moment. Well, almost every moment, if I’m being honest. I wish he wouldn’t laugh at me every time I breathed a sigh of relief whenever a fly ball falls back to earth.
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