The ballplayers, caps over hearts, line up patriotically along the first and third base lines in stiff rows. Only the Travs' No. 15 swings and sways a little to the star-spangled music, unable to help himself. It's a tribute to the music of the night, to the return of spring, to The Game.
Once again the ritual is under way. And I hear myself murmuring the Shehecheyanu, the Hebrew blessing said on holidays and festivals: Blessed be the Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has preserved us in life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this season. Thank you, Lord, for letting me make another opening night.
What a voice the frock-coated Mr. Kelly has. It matches his outfit: majestic. They can hear him out on the berm behind the outfield fence where families have spread their picnic blankets, and over in the beer garden along the right-field line where the smokers are quarantined, and high up in the little skyboxes, which still seem like an imperial imposition on this most republican of sports.
Like the Constitution itself, baseball artfully balances liberty and order. On the baseball field, as classically proportioned as Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, a base-stealing, wild-pitching, beanball-throwing, umpire-taunting sport meets neat, unassailable, predetermined geometric order.
The game's carefully delineated lines stretch from perfectly pentagonal home plate past the carefully circumscribed diamond of an infield into eternity. Such is the vision: An aristocracy of merit arising out of the rough-and-tumble of equal opportunity. Like it says on the dollar bill, a New Order of the Ages.
After the first sip of cold draft, the first bite of hot dog, the first look up at the Little Rock skyline across the river, and beyond that the dark, dark night sky, the world seems like a mighty fine place. Everything is as it should be. It's spring, the stars and planets move in their celestial order, the universe testifies to the elegant grace of time, and you're at the very center of it.
War, famine, pestilence, death, all that editorial grist, have been left behind. The Game envelops all. Time itself dissolves, for theoretically a tied baseball game could go on forever.
Who won, who lost? The score is Midland (Tex.) Rockhounds 3, Arkansas Travelers 2 when the game is called on account of a tornado in the eighth. (How do you mark that on the scorecard?) One minute you're deep into admiration for a perfect play in a perfect world, the next you're dodging a tornado. That's Arkansas. That's life. All the sweeter for being so fleeting. The moral of the story: Be sure to enjoy the game before it's called.