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Suppose the bases had been set 80 or 86 feet apart. The fielders simply would have positioned themselves differently, and a ground ball to short would still be a ground ball to short, 6-3 in everybody's scorebook.
I do believe this: baseball's inherent rhythm, minutes and minutes of passivity erupting into seconds of frenzied action, matches an attribute of the American character. But no existential proclamation, or any tortured neo-Freudianism, or any outburst of popular sociology, not even—or least of all—my own, explains baseball's lock on the American heart.
You learn to let some mysteries alone, and when you do, you find they sing themselves.
A TOWN WHERE SOMEONE DRIVES A KAISER
Alongside the two-lane blacktop that crosses northeast Oklahoma, the land rolls bare and poor. Outside of villages called Broken Arrow and Chouteau lie shacks and rusty house trailers where survivors of the Cherokee Nation live in poverty. This is not farming country. It is hard, red, intractable soil that we have abandoned to the Indians.
Then, as the road crosses into Arkansas and into the village of Siloam Springs, a wonder of pastureland abruptly appears. Siloam Springs is Wally Moon's domain. Wallace Wade Moon, late of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now head baseball coach at John Brown University. Enrollment: 550. Team batting average: .362.
On the telephone Moon said he had a few more minutes of desk work to do before he could meet me. Waiting for him, I asked the lady behind the front desk of the East Gate Motel to explain the relative prosperity of Benton County, Ark.
"It's a little embarrassing," she said. Behind her spectacles, her eyes were pale and pleasant.
"Chicken droppings," the lady said. "I guess that's the best way to put it." Then she explained. Northwest Arkansas had been as poor as northeast Oklahoma until after World War II, when some men decided to try chicken farming in the Ozark foothills. "That went pretty good, you might say," the lady continued, "but it sure left a lot of chicken droppings. They smelled. So the farmers spread the stuff across the fields and hills, and after a few years the soil got a darn sight richer. Real good grass grew. After that, some other people brought in cattle, and the cattle grazed good and times got even better. Not that we don't have some poor, but Benton County's doing fine right now.