The Tibetan Book of Softball

In late 1978 a group of softball players from New Jersey went to Tibet to find out more about a game played for many centuries in the Himalayas. The game was called “ba-glang-jambuling,” literally meaning “brain-that-hasbeen-hit,” “slow-the-pitch,” or “inner ball.”

The expedition was led by Arnold Wax, player-manager of the Eleventh Street Titans, the perennial last-place team in the Trenton Sunday Twilight League. Wax had seen references to baglang-jambuling in reading both the Katha Upanishad and the Bhagavad Gita during the off season. The game resembled the one he played on Sunday afternoons, yet in some ways it was different. For instance, in Tibet no one stayed in last place year after year.

Wax decided to sell his art supply business, go to Tibet, and find a wise man who could fill him in on ba-glangjambuling. He also financed the trip for all the other Titans who could get away.

The fellows played exhibition games against barefoot children in Darjeeling for a month, then began their long trek into snowcapped mountains. Battling other Americans for space on the narrow trails, they advanced toward the mountain valley near the Sikkim border where ba-glany-jambuling had originated. The high altitude, cold nights, and beef jerky dinners soon conspired to demoralize the climbers. The outfielders among them all turned back even before reaching the harrowing Laughing Noda pass. Wax himself became dismayed to find no sign that softball had ever been played anywhere in Tibet. Six weeks out of Darjeeling he had yet to see a home plate. Still he pushed on.

To make a long story short, the team eventually ran into Swami Verandahmanaha, a sage familiar with ba-ylanyjambuliny. The American softballers sat for many hours in the swami’s modest alabaster cabin and made him perform oral history.

The precious tapes were brought back to this country, transcribed, and then translated into German by mistake. The extra expense of a second translation, from German into English, the language of the Trenton Titans, was borne by Arnold Wax with his usual equanimity.

I. Nature of the Game

You people ask, “What be this game?” Here what it be.

Originally the ball was man’s stomach filled with tall reeds. Then we move on. Soon it was yak’s bladder filled with rum. The heavens turn once more and all things change yet are the same. So finally we send away to Chicopee, Massachusetts, in order to have a spaldiny.

Take the spalding and weigh in your hand. Now take human brain and weigh in other hand. Do you not see both weigh the same? And the seams are near alike? Shake yourselves from your Western lethargy! In slow-the-pitch we are playing with human consciousness itself! The spalding be the brain and the brain be the ball, all thoughts and dreams and fears curdled up inside.

You say, “What the hell he talking about?” Here what I mean.

At the center of our game is the object we call spalding. Every time we pitch and hit and overthrow the first bagman with our spalding, we use the spalding-object. But that not what make each play so different. Is not the rushing brook the same yet always wet? So too must we distinguish between the it-state and the being-state of that which we knock about. The it-state never change: once a spalding, always a spalding. But the being-state vary with every toss. You cannot play inner spalding. You can play inner ball. Is that not clear?

People wonder if slow-the-pitch still played here in mountains. It always played! But monks and sherpas play the inner ball with no more need for leagues. Our last league folded back in 1745. Many places lower down where mountain sickness not so common still need fellow to call balls and strikes, but true inner ball as played around here need none of that. I play this very minute and you not see! I just hit into double play! Let the Western shackles fall from your eyes!

VIII. Nature of Beer

Seriously, you not playing half bad in Trenton. You keep large dogs tied to backstop and pack entrenching tools in the equipment bag to fill potholes after heavy rain. There always be girls getting suntans near foul lines, and plenty of six-packs getting sweaty in the summer shade, and that be good too. Pay no attention to my wisdom. Pass the Bud.

XXVI. Nature of Time, and Time Out

In slow-the-pitch men live in three time frames at the same time, otherwise not playing inner ball.

The first time-space frame is the now-and-here, when you are married, earning the tiny paycheck every week, tending the dying houseplants, eating the daily vitamins, eyeing the fastwalking women from your crosstown bus, and generally playing slow-thepitch no better or worse than anyone of similar height and weight.

The second frame is the back-then. You may be thirty or forty years old in the now-and-here, but when you rush out to take your spot in right center, you are twelve or thirteen, too. Invisible child leave bench with you at breakneck speed, get mitt on and smack it with fist, call encouraging ideas to other players. You are in the back-then, many years ago when sun would shine.

What about third time-space frame that happen in inner ball? That come about when first time and second time collide. Say you are cut-off man on long base hit that go almost to wall. Out you rush waving arms in the now-and-here, but get into good position the way you used to in the back-then. Outfielder, he pick up spalding, run toward you and make big javelin wind-up to get spalding to you quick. He do so, but with no padding in glove you hear sharp stinging sound come from hand. Now what happen? Your mind go into distant future. “I am getting old for this,” you speak to yourself. Maybe you see choir of angels. This best time of all in slowthe-pitch, for now you taste of life at three points in the lifetime. Is this moment to shift into inner ball? No, Western fool! Get ball back to infield. There be time after to contemplate all these mysteries.

XXX. Nature of Thirst

What wras I saying ‘bout thirst? Inner ball make man scorched in throat. Mantras uttered on relay to home, or when boosting batter’s courage from bench, take liquid from human voice. Here high in Himalayas, a mountain range, we have eternal snow to suck on. Down in Trenton area, it okay to settle for whatever be beer of day.

XXXIII. Nature of the PitcherMan

The pitcher-man is both the head and feet of your team, the left and right ear, the parking lot and the sky. He cannot judge fly balls, the pitcher, nor can he take the grounded spalding upon the good short hop, and so he stand on mound.

Pitcher-man know the nature of the arching strike pitch. This come down from fifteen feet like the swallow, drop through strike zone and come across zone at one and same time. It may move with spin, if pitcher-man have many good fingers left, or it may float down like love note from second-story bedroom window in blinding Sunday evening light. It be strike if not bounce in dust in front of plate, or carry well over head of catcher into umpire s quarters.

What are traits of good pitcher-man, you ask?

The pitcher-man is calm, almost dead, during the action. He breathe through one nostril only. Nothing bother him, not stupid error by third bagman, nor heavy rain nor sleet nor snow. He know how to reveal the spalding to hitter, so hitter fall under spell and know not when or where to swing. He also use eye power to tell hitter that all not well for hitter’s side. Even if hitter blast one up middle, pitcher-man not worry, sometimes even smile inwardly at infield rocks, think of beer.

XXXVI. Forget Beer, Watch Garb

Uniforms make the man in inner ball. They glitter like gold, fit perfect about the hips. White shoes be a must if you are to pass for Cesar Cedeno. For a finishing touch, remember to tie the laces.

LXXXXIII. What Be TenthMan Magic?

Now we come to tenth man, one of most important figures in slow-thepitch. What is extra outfielder doing, what the hell he for?

This is what make game perfect, Western softballers. Fourth man in outfield is aspect of godliness. All is harmony now that number of players in outfield is divisible by two.

No one of four out there can predict when he be tenth, that is catch. This role slip and slide among all, as the planets in the heavens or the wind in the sky. But when you are truly tenth, you feel it in your bone. The fly ball run into glove even as the hare find its hutch. You catch the bounding ball on one good hop, even as ox jump upon your lap. The sinking line drive never reach planet, for you make the headlong dive, just as leopard leap on winsome doe.

All things become possible when you are touched with tenth-man magic. But when that magic shift to teammate, errors pile up next to your name.

LXXXXVI. Going Down in Strikes

Play all home games on field where bases be tied down. Nice slide into second is spoiled when bag come undone and runner finish sprawled in high grass well behind short, especially late in August. That is to know Laughing Noda, the curse of the extinet volcano. Which bring us to the fallacy of the Western six-pack. Here high in Himalayas, there be seventh ghost can to drink after rest of pack gone. So it make sense, when you are having more than six, to play inner ball. Go down in strikes in peace, Western softballers, and love.