This is another entry in “The Mind of Dwayne Hoover”. If you’re wondering what that means, check out the introductory post for a full list of entries in this series. Enjoy!
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, by W. P. Kinsella
“My name is Gideon Clarke, and, like my father before me, I have on more than one occasion been physically ejected from the corporate offices of the Chicago Cubs Baseball Club.”
In Big Inning (beginning?), Iowa there was baseball. Gideon Clarke knows this, just like his father knew it. Gideon’s father was struck by lightning and imbued with an encyclopedic knowledge of a baseball league called the Iowa Baseball Confederacy. The catch is that there is no evidence, physical or anecdotal, that this league ever existed. Old newspapers don’t have any box scores, former players, owners, even the commissioner deny the existence of this baseball league. The Chicago Cubs front office certainly will not acknowledge that, in 1908, the Cubs traveled to Big Inning to play an exhibition double-header against a team of Iowa Baseball Confederacy All-Stars. The town of Big Inning has since been renamed Onamata and the old baseball field is gone. It is as if every trace and memory of the Confederacy has been wiped from the face of the earth.
Gideon inherits the knowledge of the Iowa Baseball Confederacy when his father dies. He also inherits the obsession of finding proof that this league existed. After years of searching, one man reveals to Gideon that he remembers playing in the Confederacy, and with his help, Gideon finds himself transported back to July 4, 1908, the day of the scheduled double-header pitting the Iowa Baseball Confederacy All-Stars against the Chicago Cubs. Stan, a career minor leaguer, who has pursued his dream of a major league opportunity for far too long, accompanies Gideon on his travel back in time. This date is important, because this is the point that the Clarke family’s memory of the Confederacy stops. After this date, there is no mention of the league in their memories, nor is there any mention of why it ceased to be.
What happened during this game that ended the Confederacy?
It turns out that nearly everything happens over the course of over 2,000 innings of baseball. The Cubs and All-Stars battle each other in a ridiculously protracted game, whenever the Cubs score to take the lead in the top of the inning, the Confederacy comes back to tie the game in the bottom. Gideon’s friend Stan finds himself playing in the game, which is as close as he has ever come to fulfilling his dream of playing in the big leagues.
That is one of the themes of this book. While Stan is coming so close to fulfilling his obsession, Gideon is witnessing the vindication of his and his father’s years of research and frustration. Both of them have found everything they could have ever wanted in this baseball game.
“Why not baseball?” my father would say. “Name me a more perfect game! Name me a game with more possibilities for magic, voodoo, hoodoo, enchantment, obsession, possession. There’s always time for daydreaming, time to create your own illusions at the ballpark. I bet there isn’t a magician anywhere who doesn’t love baseball. No mere mortal could have dreamed up the dimensions of a baseball field. No man could be that perfect. … The field runs to infinity,” he would shout, gesturing wildly. “You ever think of that, Gid? There’s no limit to how far a man might possibly hit a ball, and there’s no limit to how far a fleet outfielder might run to retrieve it. The foul lines run on forever, forever diverging. There’s no place in America that’s not part of a major-league ballfield.”
But the game continues on. It is unmoved by the obsessions and dreams of those involved with it. Numerous times Stan and Gideon marvel at the fact that this game is essentially the same as the game played in the present. Similarly, the game played by the semi-pros of the Confederacy is exactly the same as that played by the best team in the game, their opponents, the Cubs. Indeed, the game chews up its participants and spits them out. Players go mad and leave the game. When Gideon faces Cubs pitcher Three Finger Brown, he describes “His uniform rotting off his body; the sole of his left shoe, flapping. He looks back from his blue-glazed face, weary, but his eyes burn so much I feel I can see the electric glow of them.”
It is not just the player’s obsessions that try to influence the game. The Cubs front office (business) tries to order them back to finish the Major League season, but the team remains in Iowa while they fall further and further behind in the standings. The U. S. president, Theodore Roosevelt (politics) drops by to give his thoughts on the game, but he takes his turn at bat, is struck out, and the game continues. Nature sends a never-ending downpour and lightning strikes, but the game continues on unabated. Even Leonardo DaVinci (science) appears and considers tinkering with his invention (he claims baseball as his own). But he can’t find a way to improve the game. Religion also takes its turn, in the form of the Twelve-Hour Church of Time Immemorial. Their constant refrain of “we shall not be moved” could be construed as the theme song for this particular game, but, in the end, they find themselves washed away with everything else, leaving only baseball.
Unfortunately for Gideon, he comes to realize that the Confederacy is doomed. Once the game is finished, he will be returned to his own time and possibly lose everything he has gained through this game. As he is told in the early stages of the game:
“Then you have learned one thing – that accomplishing your heart’s desire is not all as wonderful as you expected.”
For Kinsella, baseball is a magical game that has untold layers and reflections in American society. Kinsella is the author of Shoeless Joe, the book that is the basis for the movie Field of Dreams. He has also published a lot of short story collections, mostly having to do with baseball and Iowa (I think we all see the theme here). Portions of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy initially appeared in some of those short story collections. The Iowa Baseball Confederacy was a book that I considered my favorite for a while in junior high. Mostly because I really liked Shoeless Joe, but whenever I would name that book people would start talking about Field of Dreams (which I hadn’t seen). So, being the contrarian that I am, I chose Kinsella’s lesser known book as my favorite, even though I knew it probably wasn’t as good. This book was a pretty easy read (I finished it in a couple of sittings). It was enjoyable the second time around, as when I read it the first time I was probably 12 or 13 years old, so this time I was able to appreciate a lot more of the book. There are a lot of unexplained and mystical events, which some people have found difficult to swallow. I would recommend Shoeless Joe before this book, but if you like Kinsella’s style, this book has that in spades.