Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Baseball

This is a story I wrote quite some time ago. Enjoy...

The Baseball
by Dan

For almost his entire life, Jacob Morris had something to look forward to. Jacob was an old man now, almost ninety, but still his moment awaited him. A moment when all his trials and tribulations would be justified. A moment when he would be complete.
It was such a simple thing, really. It had started when he was eight years old, and his now long dead father had lifted him on to his shoulder so he could see better at the ball park. He could still remember the smell of the roasted peanuts, and the burned hot dogs. He could still hear the crowd, cheering as the greatest baseball player of them all had swaggered onto the field. It was Babe Ruth, in all his magnificent glory. A huge man, not like the pansies who ran the diamond today. He was a man of presence, and to the eight year old Jacob he was a god.
Every moment of the game was a joy for Jacob. It was the first time Jacob saw the game with his eyes, rather than his mind, sitting before the old RCA, not able to tell the static from the cheers. His father had spent almost a weeks pay for tickets. Times were hard, for the entire country, but it was Jacob’s birthday, and a good father never let his boy down on his birthday. It was half-way through the fifth inning that the event that would change Jacob’s life happened.
With a sharp crack, a cheer, and a crowd coming to its feet, Babe Ruth hit yet another home run. Jacob chortled with glee as the ball sailed high, almost lost in the clouds, then hurtled back into the screaming masses below. . .
Directly into Jacob’s outstretched ball cap. His father laughed, the fan’s around him cheered, and Jacob whooped with victory. But the glory had only begun.
The Yankee’s won of course, and afterwards, the legendary Babe Ruth found young Jacob, and actually signed the prize. Jacob stood with awe as the Babe handed him back the ball, tousled his hair, and shook his father’s hand. That night Jacob fell asleep, The Baseball held tightly in his little hand. It was a day he never forgot.
Neither did New York City. The Baseball held a position of honor in Jacob’s room until the day that the Mayor of New York himself, at the request of community leaders, came to ask Jacob a favor.
The city of New York was burying a time capsule. This, the mayor explained, would be an airtight box filled with the objects of the times. Newspapers, clothes, record albums, the things that defined the city.
They also wanted The Baseball.
The Baseball would be sealed up with an explanation of whom the ball belonged to, and where it had come from. The capsule would be opened again in 80 years. Jacob resisted. He valued The Baseball more than anything he owned. Sometimes he would just sit and look at it remembering the crowd, the game, the joy. . .
“It will always be safe,” his father told him. No matter what happened, or where Jacob went, he would always know where the ball was, and that it was protected. Reluctantly, Jacob agreed.
At the ceremony, Jacob fought back the tears. He was cheered up by a personal letter from Babe Ruth, thanking him for his contribution. It was still difficult to watch that metal cylinder, so like a coffin, be lowered into the ground. Time passed.
Jacob grew. He fought in a war that involved the whole world. He married and had children. He buried both his parents, and a son who died in a war in Southeast Asia. He saw grandchildren born, and saw them provided for by his business, a mortuary. Through it all though, he waited. While stomping through the snow of Germany, he remembered the crack of the bat. Learning how to embalm a corpse, he thought of The Baseball, sitting on his shelf. At the funeral of his son, he thought about how he could not pass on The Baseball to that son, and how the boy would never come out of his own metal cylinder. He outlived his wife, and all but one of his children, for one reason; The Baseball.
After eighty years, already a new century, they dug up the capsule.

“Since 1927, this capsule has held for us a reminder of what we used to be, who we were. It has waited patiently for us to pull it out of the ground, and remember a simpler time.” New York had a new mayor now, though to Jacob he seemed too much like the man from 1927 to tell the difference.
“Also waiting patiently,” the mayor continued, “was this man,” he motioned to where Jacob sat, and in an instant a phalanx of video cameras was pointed his way. Jacob did his best to not look like a crotchety old man, though he knew that was what he was. He was here for only one reason. He wanted The Baseball.
“Eighty years ago, this man gave a gift to this city. The gift of a baseball. Not just any baseball however, but one of special importance to a nine year old boy. A ball signed by the legendary Babe Ruth.”
Ooh’s and Ah’s rose from the crowd at the mention of the Great Bambino. Babe Ruth was and always would be, an honored hero. And now, once again, was Jacob.
The capsule was now buried in the middle of a K-Mart parking lot. Sometime during the mid Seventies the store had been built. By the time the historical foundation had found out, they were already having their first Blue Light Special. The current owner of the store was being paid a great deal of money to have his parking lot dug up in this ceremony. Jacob had been here before. After he found the store here, he would sometimes drive here late at night to be close to The Baseball. It cleared his head and allowed him to think. After his wife died last year, he’d had his granddaughter Stacy drive him here for four straight hours. It was one of the reasons they had put him in the home.
Soon, the backhoes were digging, and it wasn’t long until Jacob heard the men yelling over the din that they had found it. A small crane pulled the case out, laying it on a thick red carpet laid out for this reason. To Jacob, something seemed wrong. He scowled through the applause. This was not the case that had been buried in 1927. No one else had been there when it went under, and they didn’t see the difference. Jacob stood and moved forward with a strength he hadn’t felt in years. He pushed through the crowd until he could see them opening it. When it opened, there was applause, then silence at the puzzled look on the face of the historian who had pulled back the lid.
Sitting on the very top of the momentos in the capsule was a newspaper. Jacob noticed that the picture was almost like a mirror of the scene around him. He then realized that it was the scene around him. There he was in the corner of the picture, a look of amazement on his face. He barely noticed the flashbulb go off in front of him. The paper was the New York Times, and it was dated July 17th, 2007.
Numbly he read the headline.
He could not read the rest of the story, the historian who now held it was shaking. Jacob was beginning to feel suspicious. Someone was pulling a prank, and if they had done something to The Baseball. . .
What could he do? How could they find who did this. It would have to have been done before the store was built, unless they actually had torn up the parking lot at some point. No, that didn’t make sense. Why go to the trouble? Could this really be . . . what the hell was it?
The chief historian was beginning to pull more things out of the case. A type of blanket, made from a metallic looking material. A device that looked like a computer screen and keyboard, but could not have been more than a quarter inch thick. Suddenly, the man pushed everything back in, closing the lid.
“Call the university! We need a scientist!” Jacob noticed someone run toward the K-Mart. Most people just gawked. It was almost dark before someone arrived. He had the look of a snobbish intellectual, his glasses riding on the tip of his nose. He did not seem to be happy about being here. Jacob had waited, and was losing the adrenaline rush he had experienced before. He stood wearily as the new arrival spoke tersely with the historian, and then opened the capsule.
In a moment, no one could get the scientist’s attention. He searched through furiously, marveling over each new discovery. Jacob sat back in his chair, and soon dozed off. His dreams disturbed him. Most of them dealt with the loss of The Baseball. He dreamed of his father, and of his own life. He had waited for this moment, only to have it interrupted by some strange new discovery that now lay where The Baseball should have been. What use was there now? He felt himself aging in his sleep. Growing older even than he already was. Just when his dreams told him he would never wake up again, a loudspeaker sounded, waking him.
He was not sure how much time had passed. Enough though that a stage-full contingent of scientists now stood and knelt around the objects scattered there. At the microphone, meant for a simple ceremony, a stunning announcement was about to be made. It was the scientist from before who spoke.
“For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dr. Barnes from the engineering department of the University. I was called down here today to what we all thought was the opening of a time capsule from the year 1927. What we believe we have actually discovered is. . . well a care package from the year 2087, some 80 years in our future.” There was a collection of disbelieving gasps from the audience. Dr. Barnes continued.
“For those of you who don’t believe this, we have set up a demonstration,” he motioned to an assistant who began playing with a small box on a tripod. In a moment, a three dimensional image of Dr. Barnes stood on the stage, about half as tall as his live counterpart. It spoke.
“For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dr. Barnes from the engineering department of the University,” it continued through what the real Dr. Barnes had said, then began to look like the scientist, watching an invisible image to it’s right.
“This is a holographic recording of today’s events. Reporters from the New York Times, USA Today, and American Gazette may see the articles they will write about this if they wish. There is also a collection of various items, to include some medical instruments, years ahead of our current technology.” A reporter in the front row raised his hand.
“Do we know where this thing came from?” He asked, pointing a directional mike at the scientist.
“As yet no. But we do know that it was no accident. Whoever put this here, and now, did it on purpose. We surmise it was in order to improve their own society. Our problem now is the potential for paradox.” Puzzled looks from the reporters made Dr. Barnes continue. “We don’t know if our benefactors intended only for us to use these items, or to develop them further. They may have wanted to change our future, their past, and consequently their present. If that happens, the people who sent this back may never send it back, causing a paradox.” The reporters were dumbfounded and said nothing.
“Was there anything else in there?” The question came from behind. It was the forgotten Jacob who spoke, forgotten by the nurse from the resthome, who still gawked from the audience, forgotten by the scientists. Dr. Barnes brow furrowed, not recognizing this man. One of his assistants however spoke up.
“Are you Jacob?” he asked. Jacob, old beyond old only nodded. The assistant walked forward, placing a box in Jacob’s trembling hands. The box was black metal, but felt warm to the touch. Jacob tried but couldn’t open it. The assistant placed his finger flat on top, and the box sprung open.
Jacob’s heart leapt with joy. Inside was The Baseball. It was just as he remembered it. The years had not faded the writing at all, and the leather was still a crisp white. Of course, for all he knew, the original capsule had been dug up right after its burial, replaced with the one from the future. Only this object was from 1927, separated from the box that held it by 160 years. It was all Jacob cared about.
The feeling of youth coming back to him, he smiled at the young assistant, whispering a thank you. He then walked down the steps to the stage, ignoring the looks and questions from the reporters. He went straight to his nurse.
“I can go back now,” he said. He looked at The Baseball all the way back to the home, and set it on his nightstand back in his room. He stayed up most of the night, remembering the crack of the bat, and the cheers of the crowd. The world could have its new medicines and technology. Jacob knew things would turn out all right. In eighty years, someone would care enough about an old man to put The Baseball in that capsule. He held it now, just looking at all it represented. And as he had all those years ago, Jacob Morris fell asleep, The Baseball in his hand.


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