Water has been
flowing through the streets of Big Inning for days; houses on the lowest land
have been evacuated. As the water rises, everything that floats is washed into
the current of the Iowa River and disappears forever in the direction of
Missouri. The livery stable is the first building to collapse. With a groaning
of timbers the long structure eases sideways and slowly folds itself fiat like
a cardboard cutout. A dozen more buildings follow the livery stable into the
roiling current. The general store is turned sideways on its foundation. Soon
Main Street looks like an old man's face, a tooth here, a tooth there, no two
waters continue to chew slowly at the riverbanks until the area 50 yards behind
home plate looks like a green-tongued buffalo jump. Water laps at the legs of
the first-base stands and sprays the lowest two-by-fours that brace the
bleachers behind home.
Late on the 30th
day of the game, the Black Angel, a sinister and mysterious statue that usually
occupies a place in a cemetery in Iowa City, suddenly appears on the banks of
the Iowa River, just outside Big Inning. The statue stands between the water
and the railroad spur. People are alarmed by this, but no one can convince the
Black Angel to leave.
In the top of the
1,898th inning, Noisy Kling connects with one of O'Reilly's fastballs and sends
it not only deep to left, but above and beyond. Fleet-footed William Stiff gets
a great jump on the ball and sprints up the slow incline of leftfield. The ball
is over his head, but he appears to be gaining on it. We can actually see the
trajectory of the ball, like a white planet being fired into orbit.
Stiff runs at a
fierce speed, arms stretched in front of him. The incline grows steeper as both
ball and ballplayer approach the horizon. Kling has rounded the bases and
stands with one foot planted on home plate. Stiff is now only a stick figure on
the horizon, running upward toward the edge of the earth, the ball still just
beyond his reach.
The ball, past
its zenith, descends beyond the horizon an instant before the dark speck that
is William Stiff appears to leap into infinity and disappear.
run," says Klem. "Next batter. Play ball!"
score to tie the game, but we never see Stiff again. A few days later, though,
reports that a dazed man in a rotting baseball uniform, his
shoes worn through to his bleeding feet, was found sprinting across the red
sand of New Mexico, dodging the yucca and cactus, straining forward toward an
imaginary fly ball. The sheriff's party that rode him down reported he had to
be hog-tied before he could be taken to the hospital.
On the 32nd day
of play, as the Iowa Baseball Confederacy All-Stars take the field in the top
of the 2,026th inning, the Black Angel of Death takes her place, defensively,
batters are anxious to test the new rightfielder. Finally, with two out, Kling
hits a soft line drive down the rightfield line. The Angel glides after the
ball as if she is on ball bearings, cradles the ball in the cold feathers of
her extended wing, leans back and fires it to Bad News Galloway at second