Sunday, September 02, 2012

Life, Physics and the 7th Inning Stretch


On August 31, 2007, I went to a baseball game.  My convention-buddy, Joe McKersie, along with another friend, was with me.  It was a muggy Friday evening.  We watched the home team, near the bottom of their division score six runs on the visiting team, the division leaders, the Giants, to win a thrilling game.  I celebrated, having decided, as a Dodger fan, to root for any team trying to beat the Giants.  
This game took place in Yokohama, Japan.  The Yokohama Bay Stars versus the Tokyo Giants.  LIke the laws of physics, the rules of the game don't change whether its played in Los Angeles, Tokyo or on the moon.  
I like baseball.  In fact, I used to hate the game.
My dislike for the game came from the one season of Little League I played.  I played the year before my need for eye-glasses was diagnosed.  I hated getting up to bat.  I only made contact with the ball once during that season.  A foul ball that crashed into the fence protecting my team's dugout.   
In Japan, there is no seventh inning stretch.  If you stand up to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," you and your friend will be the only one doing so.  
The team I played on lost our first five or six games in a row.  Being the nerdy kid I was, I was teased by other members of the team, the ones good at playing the game.  There was this one guy, who I'll call "Kid," who was particularly merciless.  He was a good hitter and fielder, he looked like a pro when he stood at the plate.  He was also something of a "rowdy" kid, who acted like he didn't care about anything.  The Kid got in trouble a lot at school.  
One time, while standing in line for batting practice, the Kid turned back to look at me.  He spotted something over my shoulder.  He nodded at it and smiled at me.  
"Hey, look!  Your dad is here."  
When I turned around, I saw a fat black man wearing ragged clothing pulling stuff from the school's trash can.  I remember trying to figure out if the insult was intended to be racial, economic or both.  
In Japan, they call "strike-balls," instead of "balls-strikes."  So if you see someone still at the plate with a "2-3" count, then you're somewhere in Japan.  
The Coach didn't like the Kid much either.  Coach was a young guy, in his early twenties, slender and taunt, built like he was made from wires.  Coach mainly didn't like the Kid's attitude.  When running laps around the bases, for instance, the Kid would trot along, kicking up the dirt in the base-path, as he dragged his feet along.  The coach would yell at him from in front of the dugout.  
"Get a move on!  Get a move on!"  
As the season progressed and we kept getting beat, the yells became louder, with more obvious anger behind them.  
"Get your butt moving!"  
The Kid would just smile and nod at the coach.  He'd keep on trotting along.  I guess he thought because he was one of the best players on the team he was immune.  
In Japan, they have cheerleaders at baseball games.  Yes.  You read that right.  Cheerleaders at a baseball game.  
One practice, after our sixth loss in a row, the Kid was running laps around the bases and the coach was yelling at him again.  
"I said, Get Your Butt Moving!"  
As the Kid trotted past third, he gave the coach a thumbs-up.  This was the pitch that broke the bat.  Coach came up behind the Kid, grabbed him back the back of the neck and pushed him forward.  
"I told you to get your Butt Moving!"  
The Kid stumbled forward.  The Coach came up behind, to give him the kick in the pants he'd often promised to do, I think.  
Before Coach could do anything, the Kid turned around and took a swing at him.  
"Why you little..."  Coach tried to grab at the Kid.  The Kid trotted backwards then turned and sprinted away.  Coach ran after him.  The Kid ran past home plate, faster than he ever had before in practice.  He was trapped by the backstop, though.  No place left to go.  
The Kid grabbed a bat hanging from the chain-link of the backstop, turned around and took a swing at Coach.  
In Japan, the vendors walking through the seats follow a pattern.  First comes the guy selling food.  No hot dogs.  Noodles and rice balls are the norm.  Second comes someone selling drinks.  You'll see these tiny Japanese girls carrying these huge kegs of beer on their backs, filling the cups they pull from sheathes by their side.  
Following them comes what I call the "trash girl."  She is carrying a plastic bag in her hands.  The first time I noticed the trash girl was in second inning.  The woman sitting to my left tapped me on the shoulder.  When I looked, I saw she was trying to hand me an used noodle box filled with crumpled up napkins.  When I looked at her with "Huh?" on my face, she pointed to the end of the aisle where the trash girl was collecting all the used foodstuff containers from everyone.  When we left the stadium at the end of the game, it was as clean as when we got there.  
Coach jumped back just in time to avoid the Kid's swing.  The Kid swung again and he jumped back, again just in time.  He then ran to the other side of the backstop to where other bats were hanging.  The Kid gave chase.  Coach got a bat and turned around to block a third blow.  
Everyone else started moving up now.  Inching toward the scene as the aluminum bats went Clank, Clank, Clank.  We all stood there like we would during a game delay, gloves hanging by our side, waiting to see what was going to happen.  
Then, the Kid swung too hard.  Coach dodged the blow and the Kid spun halfway around.  Coach dropped his bat and leapt on top of the Kid.  He wrapped his arms around him, forcing him to drop the bat.  He the drove him to the ground.  
Coach then straddled the Kid across his waist and started hitting him.  
The fans are segregated in Japanese stadiums.  The home team fans sit along the first base line and the right field to mid-center field in the bleachers.  The visiting team fans sit along the first base line and the left field to mid-center bleacher seats.  
When the team they are routing for are in the field, the Japanese fans will sit there in silence as they watch.  They may applaud at good defensive play.  When their team is up to bat, though, they start chanting.  Every player on the team has a chant the fans sing just for him.  And they don't heckle the other team.
The Kid tried to fight back at first, but after several blows to the face he just covered up.  Coach slowed down his pummeling then, landing blows wherever the Kid wasn't protecting himself.  
The rest of the team clustered around.  There was shouting and yelling, like at a normal fight, but I don't remember if they were rooting for the Kid or for Coach.  I was silent.  I wasn't going to root for the Coach out loud.  
Two of the bigger kids stepped in.  They tried to grab Coach's arms and pull him off.  He shrugged them off the first two times, but then let himself be stopped.  He stood up and stared down at the Kid, red faced and heaving.  
The Kid got up.  Without saying a word, he started sauntering off the field.  Coach yelled something at him, angry sounds barely formed into words.  The Kid without looking back, raised his hand and flipped coach off.  One of the Kid's friends on the team ran to join him.  Practice ended after that.  
No one leaves a Japanese baseball game early.  With their team down 6 to 1 at the top of the ninth, the Tokyo Giant fans started chanting and cheering them on all the time.  The Giants scored four more runs to make it 6 to 5 before making their final out.  The Giant fans, who I was sitting amongst, applauded their efforts and then started filing out.  
The next practice we had new coaches.  The Head Coach was one of the fathers of one of the other players.  The Assistant Coach was an older guy, with a big belly and a short crewcut that sounded like what a coach was supposed to sound like.  One time, in what was an encouraging tone of voice, the Assistant Coach told me that, since I was the weakest player on the team, I was going to be put in right field and given only a limited chance to hit.  It was my way of supporting the team's effort, he told me.  He seemed intent on getting me to understand.  I nodded and went to where he pointed me. I began hoping the end of the season would come soon and I wouldn't have to go through this any more.  
It was physics that brought me back to baseball.  
It started with the discovery that the playing field is infinite.  It covers the entire universe.  In the original rules of the game, the playing field is the area that exists between the foul lines, running through first and third base.  These foul lines have no end.  They extend forever. 
When I looked at a baseball field's map with this in mind, I was struck by a resemblance to a Minkowski diagram.  This is a graph that shows the "future light cone" extending from a point into the future.  These Minkowski diagrams illustrate the properties of space and time based on Einstein's Theory of Relativity.  
With the interaction of ball and bat, a curving path through this diagram is created.  "Space-like" curves are in play.  "Time-like" curves, like those of particles moving faster than the speed of light, are in foul territory and are not allowed.  
There is no clock that runs the game.  Time is an emergent property, coming out of the discreet interactions leading to specified boundary conditions.  Three outs ends a side.  Both sides batting ends an inning.  There is no predetermined moment for the game to end.  A regulation game can be six innings.  It can be nine.  It can extend forever, like the digits in an irrational number.  
And this lack of time constraint means that it is always possible to win in a baseball game.  Even if you are down by fifteen runs, with two out and nobody on base, the rules give you the chance to win.  It may be statistically highly improbably, like a broken glass leaping from the floor to reassemble in mid-air and land on the table.  But quantum physics allows that it CAN happen.  
On August 31, 2012, I went to a baseball game.  My convention-buddy, Joe McKersie, along with other friends, was with me.  It was a muggy Friday evening.  We watched the home team, the Chicago Cubs, near the bottom of their division score six runs on the visiting team, the division leaders, the San Francisco Giants, to win a thrilling game.  I celebrated, as a Dodger fan, rooting for any team trying to beat the Giants. 
I am still in a baseball game.  Somewhere, a game is being played.  Someone is striking  out.  Someone is being regulated to playing in right field for the "good of the team."  But until the terminal conditions of the universe is met.  The game goes on, and we still have a chance to win.  
Go Dodgers!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Erick, I am experimenting with anonymous commenting.

September 12, 2012 at 5:40 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

Congratulations. Your experiment was a success.

September 12, 2012 at 9:16 PM  

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