In honor of today’s tennis marathon

Roughly an hour ago, the fifth set in the Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut went past the 50-50 mark in games. In their honor, I present this excerpt from W.P. Kinsella’s “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.”

“The game shall continue until it is resolved,” says Klem.

“But why,” asks the reporter.

“Sir,” says Klem, drawing himself up until he is as tall as the reporter, who is not very tall. “I need not justify my decisions, any more than I need justify a call of ball or strike, safe or out. The game will continue because I believe that it should.

It always seems to take about two hours to play nine innings. Twenty-seven innings by noon. An hour break for lunch. Twenty-seven more innings by seven P.M., plus whatever can be squeezed in before darkness.

The rain does not seem either to speed up or to slow down the game. The ball is deader than usual. The infielders play in close, as if they were playing softball. The outfielders are barely recognizable as such. They play so shallow they could be mistaken for roving shortstops in the present-day major leagues.

There is no urgency to the game. Even in the pouring rain, there is the same easy lethargy of a sunstruck afternoon where bodies are bathed in sweat rather than rainwater.

“There is more than a contest of wills going on,” I say to Stan as the Confederacy bats in the ninetieth inning. “No one can pitch for ninety innings, three consecutive days – there’s something terribly wrong here. They’re both pitching like it’s the third inning; O’Reilly’s curve is a joy, Brown’s fast ball still rocks his catcher back on his heels.”

All I know is, it’s great baseball,” says Stan, shaking water off like a dog. “I’ve never played in this kind of competition. And I can keep up. I’m still hitting over .300. Lots of the Cubs aren’t doing that.”

Baseball is the only thing on the minds of these men. Those who marched to the Crusades had less dedication. But I seem to be the only one interested in what is really going on here. What, I wonder, are the real stakes of the game?

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