The Screwball: Put it in neutral?by Azure Texan
October 24, 2013
For several years now, baseball super-agent Scott Boras has campaigned on behalf of a radical notion: namely, that Major League Baseball should stage Games 1 and 2 of the World Series at a neutral site. Herewith, then, are several such venues that Commissioner Bud Selig’s successor might consider, and, more importantly, the scenarios that just might play out.
If baseball is really seeking a neutral site for the first two games of the Series—if it really wants a place where the partisan fires are doused—the most obvious choice is, of course, Switzerland. A permanently neutral power as defined in Sections 5 and 13 of the Hague Convention of 1907, Switzerland has maintained its neutralist foreign policy through multiple martial conflicts and has even held referendums on the subject of abolishing the Swiss armed forces altogether, which, granted, would be a lot like B.J. Upton abolishing his ability to hit, but still—unless you’re slipping your car out of “park” in order to push it to the gas station, you can’t get more neutral than that.
The question is this: Where in Switzerland should MLB stage these games?
Pros: Gorgeous mountain; lovely views; well-maintained walking paths.
Cons: Potential for bad hops; lots of ground-rule doubles; kind of cold.
Con: Temptation to doctor the ball with foreign (albeit delicious) substance.
International Alphorn Festival
Pro: Nice grass, as the festival is held in the lush Nendaz Valley.
Con: Even more annoying than the International Vuvuzela Jamboree.
Victorinox facility, maker of the Swiss Army Knife
Pro: If the Astros reach the Series and Jose Altuve breaks his bats, it’s OK. Victorinox is developing a knife that includes a tiny Louisville Slugger.
Con: If partisan fervor does break out, things could get pretty stabby, not to mention toothpicky, tweezery, scissory, corkscrewy, chisely and nail filey.
Omega facility, maker of Swiss watches
Pro: Games would definitely start on time.
Con: Ironically, workers clock out at 5 o'clock, meaning that the games would have to wrap up by about 4:30-4:45—unless, of course, the league and the players union can hammer out a deal guaranteeing that players get time and a half.
Pro: As the archaeological site of a Roman settlement founded in 44 BC, Augusta Raurica boasts a game-ready Roman theater with bleacher seating.
Con: Great Caesar’s ghost!
Eidgenoessische Schwing-und Aelplerfest, a festival for Swiss culture
Pros: Festive atmosphere; built-in audience; delicious cheeses.
Cons: Takes place only once every three years; is difficult to pronounce, especially after too much Feldschlosschen bier; a player like Jose Altuve might get killed by the 83.5kg stone during the Steintossen competition.
Final choice: None of the above.
As it turns out, The Commish selects as the Series site a vast Swiss pasture where the locals play hornussen, a baseball-like sport in which the player swings a whip-like pole, or stecken, at a small rubber object, or hornuss. Game 1 begins, and everything is going well until the bottom of the 4th inning, when, in an adjacent field, the Swiss National Yodeling Festival gets underway. At first the yodeling is just a pesky distraction, much like the wave, but then the benches empty after Yadier Molina and Miguel Cabrera begin arguing as to whether polyphonic natural yodels such as the Ruggusserli are preferable to the simpler Jüüzli style of the Muota Valley.
Knowing a good opportunity when he sees one, The Commish arranges for Games 1 and 2 to be played at Neutral Milk Hotel. With designs on making money by saving it, The Commish hopes to take full advantage of a venue where he and thousands of others can not only watch the Fall Classic but also tuck in for the night. Being commissioner, he also hopes to upgrade to the penthouse, where he might or might not have a good view of an impartial dairy farm, and that the hotel will provide a free continental breakfast, which might or might not include neutral milk.
Game day approaches, and though The Commish remains confused as to whether Neutral Milk Hotel is a) a hotel premised on neutral milk, or b) a milk hotel that, like Switzerland, observes a code of neutrality, he publicly emphasizes the latter of the two possibilities, assuring fans and players alike that the milk hotel will exhibit absolutely zero partiality to either team.
“Got milk? Yes!” he chortles. “Got bias? Heck no!”
Later, when The Commish arrives to check into the hotel/baseball venue, he is surprised and disappointed to learn that it is neither, that Neutral Milk Hotel is, in fact, an American indie rock band, one whose fans wipe their butts with Maroon 5 Toilet Paper. In the days that follow, The Commish desperately seeks another place to play the games, going so far as to do a Google search on Unbiased Coffee Inn and Impartial Tea Motel. Whiff.
And so The Commish continues his search, even as the air pulses with Neutral Milk Hotel songs The Fool and Where You’ll Find Me Now.
While watching HGTV one day, The Commish has an epiphany.
“Listen,” he remarks to an underling, just after securing the site, “we’re lucky to be playing in an era of sensible trends in home decor. Otherwise, we might be fighting the extremist sensibilities that led to avocado refrigerators and orange shag.”
And indeed, The Commish is pleased to see Game 1’s ceremonial first pitch delivered against a neutral backdrop of beige walls with lilac crown molding. When the leadoff batter strokes a 2-1 fastball through the living room wall, however, he quickly realizes that a Tudor-style home in the Morningside section of Atlanta is not an ideal place for a World Series.
Pledged by the Lateran Treaty to permanent neutrality in international relations, Vatican City is an ideal place for the Series’ first two games.
Or so The Commish believes.
The logical error is revealed in the first inning of Game 1, when the slap-hitting shortstop, batting second, marks himself with the sign of the cross and promptly strokes a 690-foot, two-run homer into the wind, a feat made all the more remarkable in that the bases were empty at the time of the blast.
Cowboys Stadium—make that AT&T Stadium—is hardly a neutral venue during certain autumn Sundays. There, partisan fans routinely scream things such as “How ’bout them Cowboys!” and “You’re right, they totally suck!”
Apart from that bit of rabid factionalism, the stadium is used routinely as a neutral site for college and high-school football games, many of which inspire no more than a dozen drunken fistfights afterward. Conscious of this fact, The Commish enters into a gentlemen’s agreement with Cowboys owner/president Jerry Jones, and Games 1 and 2 are slated for the stadium.
In late October, having achieved a merciful exit from the deafening din of 105,000 partisan Rangers fans, not one of whom had to rearrange his tailgate-party plans, the Pirates file a formal grievance with the league office while preparing for Games 3 through 5 at their home field of PNC Park.
Driven by failure, The Commish is excited to discover the doctrine of terra nullius, a Latin expression derived from an ancient Roman law meaning “land that belongs to no one, not even Ted Turner.” Upon searching in earnest for a terra to which nullius most readily applies, he first hits upon a 795-square-mile unclaimed territory between Egypt and Sudan called Bir Tawil. But since Bir Tawil has no settled population, he fears it won’t supply enough parking attendants. (As a consequence of the decision, White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson files a lawsuit against Major League Baseball for lost revenue associated with his failed Tawil To Win project.)
Next, while studying the common heritage of mankind principle, The Commish ponders the possibility of the international seabed as the neutral site. Ultimately, however, he fears the affects that polymetallic sulphides might have on R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball. Researching further into the principle, The Commish discovers that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 stipulates that space is not subject to national appropriation, meaning that the moon is totally in play. Upon learning that space travel does not apply to frequent-flyer miles, he decides to confine his search to planet Earth.
The Commish then discovers that Marie Byrd Land, a portion of West Antarctica lying east of the Ross Ice Shelf and south of the Pacific Ocean, qualifies as neutral territory, and the two-game venue is set. When several Latin players object to the selection by citing Antarctica’s frigid weather, The Commish counters that it can’t be colder than San Francisco in August.
“Es verdad,” nods Angel Pagan.
Game 1 begins, to an audience of Emperor Penguins and research scientists, but when a first-inning drag bunt turns into a snowball measuring two-and-a-half feet in diameter, The Commish quickly realizes he’s failed yet again.
A total blast
Defeated but undaunted, The Commish discovers that “terra nullius” and “no man’s land” have different connotations. Once used to define a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms, no man’s land later became associated with the space between enemy trench systems in World War I. Later, during the Cold War, it was defined as the territory near the Iron Curtain where watch towers, minefields and unexploded bombs made picnicking unwise.
These days, it often refers to the barrier space between Cuba proper and the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Deemed the Cactus Curtain ever since Cuban troops in 1961 planted Opuntia along the fence surrounding the base, the space became a little less dangerous in 1996 when President Bill Clinton ordered that motion and sound sensors replace the minefield on the U.S. side. Seizing a rare opportunity to introduce the American pastime to embittered Al Qaeda detainees, The Commish decrees that the first two games shall be played in the Cactus Curtain. This excites the new color commentator, who now has a chance to say, “Joe, he got Allah that one!”
In the fifth inning of Game 1, the Yankees stumble into fortune when they find a replacement for Derek Jeter hiding behind a prickly pear. They are less fortunate, however, when Brett Gardner chases down a fly ball only to discover that no one removed the minefield on the Cuban side of the curtain.
As the world’s smallest (61.2 square miles) and perhaps most vulnerable (its tiny military functions in a largely ceremonial role, often while wearing uniforms that include white epaulets and decorated cuffs) republic, San Marino has long maintained a neutral stance in international relations, losing its status in de facto fashion only when the Royal Air Force bombed the holy marinara out of the enclaved European microstate on misguided suspicions that German forces were storing munitions there during World War II.
Upon learning of the tiny republic, and reckoning that its economy could use a red-white-and-blue boost, The Commish decides to schedule Games 1 and 2 within its neutral confines, arguing that San Marino’s evenhanded attitude will assuage any lingering stress from the previous year’s minefield episode.
“That blew up in our face,” admits The Commish, “particularly Gardner’s.”
Unfamiliar with San Marino, an MLB intern types the name into Mapquest and then prints the directions. When Game 1 at last arrives, a surprised Yasiel Puig shouts “Dios mio!” upon seeing the locale’s most prominent resident lounging poolside in an orange-and-aqua Speedo. Shortly thereafter, the embarrassed intern is forced to issue a sincere apology to Dan Marino.
Out of this world
In search of the truly exotic, The Commish boldly goes where no man has gone by proposing the Romulan Neutral Zone as the World Series venue. Established by a treaty that ended the Earth-Romulan War, the Romulan Neutral Zone is a demilitarized section of outer space into which entry by either party, be it Earthling or Romulan, is considered an act of war. Despite the evident dangers, The Commish brushes aside objections by reminding his peers that while visiting Philadelphia last summer, he ate a cheesesteak at Pat’s before crossing the street to eat one at Geno’s, and no one got hurt.
“Actually,” quips The Commish, “no one even got cheesed.”
And so, having failed to heed Star Trek doctrine, The Commish selects the site by executive fiat, unfazed by the imminent provocation of a military response. After traveling through an intergalactic wormhole established by Darren Daulton, the squads at last arrive at the RNZ. Batting practice is quite a show, with some balls traveling upward of eight parsecs. By the same token, several players get uncommonly winded while doing pregame sprints.
Unbeknownst to the players, the Romulans arrive in a warship rendered stealthy by a cloaking device and deadly by plasma torpedoes, thalaron generators and, interestingly, a carbon copy of a Steve Dalkowski fastball. But just as the Romulans are preparing to fire, they catch a glimpse of the ethereal Chase Utley, the solar system’s finest example of DNA done right.
Feeling their E.T. hearts go pitter-pat, the Romulans have at last found common ground with Earthlings, even if it’s in zero-gravity space several million light years from Earth. Attack aborted, the Romulans stay and watch the game while getting their first taste of peanuts, Cracker Jacks and the bile brought up by Angel Hernandez. Afterward, they speed away with a sizable collection of Chase Utley bobbleheads, with promises to return bearing their own most sacred bobblehead, that of Supreme Commander Bill Lee.
You wouldn’t think a Dutch island where the Swedish champion Hjalmar joined his pal Orvar-Odd in a bloody battle against the 12 sons of Swedish berserker Arngrim, and where the burial mounds of the slain berserkers are haunted, could ever qualify as neutral territory, but The Commish, being The Commish, isn’t concerned with what you think. (Nor is he concerned with Norse mythology.) Instead, he has just discovered that Samso, 43.2-square-mile island just east of the mainland of Denmark, is carbon-neutral.
Upon selecting the island site, The Commish demands that the Pirates reach Samso via wind-powered galleon. He then demands that the A’s travel in a ship powered by the manure from the visitors dugout. In time, The Commish makes his way to Samso by way of 5,289 spring-loaded catapults. Once there, he gazes upon stadium lights powered by the offshore wind farm, locker rooms heated by burning straw and an ambulance powered by locally produced biofuel. It is only when the game begins that The Commish encounters an unexpected problem: Al Gore and Ed Begley Jr., each seated in the luxury box, are duking it out over the efficacy of the sacrifice bunt.
La komisaro estas idioto
Reading online, The Commish discovers the existence of Neutral Moresnet. Not for neutrality alone has Moresnet grabbed his attention; its status as the hub of the Esperanto movement has really gotten him “ikscitita,” which is the Esperanto word for “excited” and perhaps also a strip club in Helsinki.
Long an advocate for greater communication among the diversity of Major League players, and with hopes of extending the MLB brand into non-English-speaking countries, The Commish considers the international language a way for “Yadier to speak with Yu, and you to speak with us.”
Or so the new slogan goes.
With the League Championship Series completed, the MLB contingent jets off to Europe to prepare for the two-game showdown. Upon arrival, however, The Commish sees not the black-white-and-blue flag of Moresnet but the black-yellow-and-red flag of Belgium. Perplexed, he inquires at the Esperantist Information Desk, where he is told in a rather discourteous tone, “Hej, dumbass, Moresneto disfalis en 1920. Cu vi ne legis Vikipedio?”
Historic site, indeed
Determined to redeem his historical blunder with an historic act, The Commish discovers via late-night reading that Mount Vernon—considered “The Tomb and Home of George Washington"—served as a neutral site during the American Civil War, meaning that no combatants could wage battle there lest they be asked to leave the premises, and without a refund.
Given that the Series will pit the Braves against the Red Sox, i.e., the South against the North, The Commish decides that Mount Vernon will make for an ideal venue, so ideal that the pre-game taste test pitting collard greens against baked beans will surely end with everyone kissing their sisters.
But when game day arrives, The Commish immediately gets nervous. First, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa begins launching water balloons from the parking lot, and then Jayson Werth shows up, looking as much like a seething menace as a Civil War reenactor. Later, when plate umpire Joe West calls interference on Ms. Jablonski’s third-grade class, The Commish knows once and for all that he bungled the job, and in historic fashion.
Worst. Field trip. Ever.
Azure Texan is a writer living in Austin.