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Dramatic structure, seduction, heroes and villains: Baseball has it all

Our biceps burn. Our throats are raw. Our ears ring dully. It doesn’t matter. We have to keep them going. Our silence will be taken as defeat. That we will not have — not here, not now.

Our biceps burn. Our throats are raw. Our ears ring dully. It doesn’t matter. We have to keep them going. Our silence will be taken as defeat. That we will not have — not here, not now. As Michael Cuddyer steps up to the plate, thousands of hands sporting Homer Hankies shoot into the air. Thousands of voices rise to meet him. With each ball, we cheer. With each strike, we observe a moment of silence.

But the thunder begins anew as Cuddyer shoulders his bat. With the satisfying thunk of a well-hit ball, we hold our breath, watching the tiny white globe that holds our hopes soar into left field.  Dazzled by our 1,000-watt stars, the left-fielder misses his catch. Our thunder crashes over the field. With one eye on the center-fielder chasing the ball, and the other on Cuddyer, we urge him on to first, then second. The ball is resisting the center-fielder’s efforts. Cuddyer fearlessly rounds second, racing toward third. The center-fielder hurls the ball to the cut-off man, who sends it flying to third.  Cuddyer throws himself feet-first into the bag, clinging to it like a life preserver as he slides past the plate. We shriek our triumph into the Teflon Sky. We own this place.

My friends and family are often surprised to hear that I attend baseball games with regularity and enthusiasm. My brother was particularly stunned when he learned of this a few years ago. We had well-defined roles: I was the theatrical, bookish geek, and he was the adrenalized, brawny jock. My ability to mourn the state of our bullpen or celebrate the skills of a good first baseman was a bit of a shock for him. He still seems to be in denial about it.

Cuddyer’s drama in Game 163
Why?  Cuddyer’s Triple from Game 163 is every bit as thrilling as the St. Crispin’s Day Speech from “Henry V.” The Tigers incited this incident with the villainous Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer in the third inning.  We came back with homers and RBIs, but the Tigers kept up with us. At the top of the 10th inning, the Tigers pulled ahead with a single run. If we could not match it, all would be lost. The crisis was upon us. Cuddyer’s triple roused our working-day warrior’s hearts as surely as Harry’s refusal to be ransomed. The fight had raged across 11 innings.  The next day’s possible game with the usurping Yankees Empire loomed large, complicating the scene. But the battle was ours in the 12th. Against all the odds, disgraced Alexi Casilla batted in impetuous Carlos Gomez for the game-winning run. Touch ’em all, dramatic structure.

It’s true. Dramatic structure, that great Aristotelian revelation, is woven into baseball as firmly as it is in Greek tragedy. Each at-bat is classic: a pitch, a decision for or against the protagonist, another pitch, and another, and eventually a climax that results in a hit or an out. If the game is really good, like Game 163, the tension mounts till it is nigh unbearable. One run is matched by another until, finally, one bad pitch or lost ball or line-drive single finishes the game. And a walk-off grand slam, like the one delivered by fallen hero Joe Crede back in May, shares a poignancy as great as “Les Miserables” ‘ “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

Audience participation
Now, you might be thinking, “What about the crowd participation? Theater audiences are quietly respectful, while baseball fans energetically cheer on the team.” Obviously, you have never heard an audience gasp as Agave displays the head of her son, the head she has just ripped off with her bare hands in a fit of divine madness. And we won’t even go into what the theater avant garde is up to with audiences. Dramatic structure, by its nature, seduces audiences into participating because we come to care about the events unfolding before us. This is as true for the stage as the field.

I will say, however, that the experience of being in the crowd for Game 163 was truly extraordinary. Yes, the size of the crowd was record-breaking, but it was more than that. It was the defiant spirit of the Twin Cities, of fly-over country, of underdogs everywhere that proclaimed our hearts are in the trim. We might have slimmer budgets, smaller markets and humbler players, but we are, nonetheless, a force to be reckoned with.  Our hoarse voices proclaimed, “Don’t count us out!”

We don’t have Broadway prestige or Yankee celebrity.  But we have each other:  we few, we happy few who were privileged to be present at the last struggle of the last season in the Metrodome.

Jennifer Tuder is an associate professor, currently on sabbatical, in the Department of Communication Studies and Department of Theatre, Film Studies, and Dance at St. Cloud State University.