Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Mary at the Bat

Jane Austen coaching Greg Maddux on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame 
(photo credit: Marie Sprayberry)

"... and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country... "
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1

Inspired by baseball’s opening day, this month’s JASNA CWNY meeting will welcome our own Marie Sprayberry speaking on “Jane Austen Fantasy Baseball”. We all know Jane Austen invented baseball. Lisa Brown has reminded us that Catherine Morland grew up playing the game. OK it might not have been exactly the same thing. 

Thinking about opening day brings to mind the great rivalries in baseball like the Yankees and the Red Sox. That got me thinking about the great rivalries in Jane Austen's novels such as Elizabeth Bennet and Caroline Bingley, or, what may be the greatest of them all, Fanny Price and Mary Crawford as they compete for Edmund's attention. 

Suppose Mary and Fanny had, like Catherine, played baseball. Imagine the scene: a hot summer's day late in the season. Mary's bat has carried the Mansfield Nine almost to the championship, but she still must face Fanny Price on the pitcher's mound.

With apologies to the late Ernest Thayer, I present the final moments. (The original can be found here.)

Mary at the Bat

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mansfield Nine that day;
the score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Henry died at first, and Aunt Norris did the same,
a sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

Maria Bertram stood to go in deep despair. The rest
clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
they thought, if only Mary could get but a whack at that –
they'd put up even money, now, with Mary at the bat.

But Tom preceded Mary, as did also Johnny Yates,
and the former was so sickly and the latter would orate,
so upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
for there seemed but little chance of Mary’s getting to the bat.

But Tom let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
and Yates, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
and when the dust had lifted, and the crowd saw what had occurred,
there was Johnny safe at second and Tom a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a buzz of bees;
it rumbled through the valley, and the Avenue of Trees;
it ran throughout the shrubbery and recoiled upon the flat,
for Mary, mighty Mary, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Mary’s manner as she stepped into her place;
there was pride in Mary’s bearing and a smile on Mary’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, she lightly doffed her bonnet,
no stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Mary who was on it.

With lavender she took her bat and rubbed it all well down,
while staring at the pitcher perched high atop the mound.
And there was Fanny Price, alone, with the spheroid on her hip.
Defiance gleamed in Mary’s eye, a sneer curled Mary’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
and Mary stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the pretty batter the ball unheeded sped--
"Tis not my style," said Mary. "Strike one," the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"A duel! A duel with him!" the Colonel shouted in the stand;
and it's likely he'd have killed him had not Mary raised her hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Mary’s visage shone;
she stilled the rising tumult; she bade the game go on;
she signaled to Miss Fanny, and once more the spheroid flew;
but Mary still ignored it, and the umpire said: "Strike two."

“Obstinate and Headstrong”*, all said it was a fraud.
but one scornful look from Mary and the audience was awed.
Those hands that played the harp so well were tight with stress and strain,
and they knew that Mary wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Mary’s lip, her teeth are clenched in hate;
she taps, just like a lady would, her bat upon the plate.
And now Miss Fanny holds the ball, and now she lets it go,
and now the air is shattered by the force of Mary’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and Edmund's heart is light,
and somewhere Janeites laugh, and somewhere children shout;
and there’s joy in Thornton Lacey for - mighty Mary has struck out.

*Contemporary accounts suggest the presence of many Mansfield fans from Derbyshire in the stands.

Come and join us to find out what "Jane Austen's Fantasy Baseball" was really like.

Event:     JASNA CWNY April meeting
Topic:      Marie Sprayberry speaking on Jane Austen Fantasy Baseball
Where:    Pittsford Barnes and Noble, Community Room
When:     Saturday, April 16, 2016 at 1 pm

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