Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 45
Stories
The Cloaca Maxima
by Rob Steiner
The Species of Least Concern
by Erica L. Satifka
Lost and Found
by Christian Heftel
IGMS Audio

Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown
    by Jamie Todd Rubin

Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown
Artwork by Eric Wilkerson

Note: This article first appeared in the Creigh Monitor, Sunday edition, July 24, 2467. It is reprinted here with permission.)

It is 60 feet, 6 inches from the pitching rubber to home plate, a distance that Gemma Barrows traveled countless times in her 19-year career pitching in the majors. In one of those poetic coincidences sprinkled throughout the history of the game, Nisan is 60.6 light years from Earth. It is a distance that, until now, Barrows has never traveled. With her induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame three decades ago, Barrows was guaranteed a plot in the hallowed Memorial Park. Now, Nisan's first inductee is finally making the journey to Cooperstown.

On a blustery July 14, I watch as Gemma Barrows' casket is loaded onto the awaiting ship just outside the V.I.P. section of Terminal 2 at Gellin spaceport. Through its transparent surfaces I can just make out her quiescent figure within. She disappears into the belly of the ship. Then it is my turn to board. I say a nervous goodbye to my wife, my four girls, and my six grandchildren, and then follow the handlers down the gangway that leads into the cabin.

Each year members of the Federated Baseball Writers Association vote for one of their own to escort an inducted player to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year they bestowed that honor upon me. Boarding the skip ship, my heart is racing, and I keep thinking about the distance that will separate me from my family. Baseball is a sport of numbers, and yet I cannot find a number that compares with the staggering distance that 60.6 light years represents. We take such distances for granted. Skip ships cheat their way through space the way a good runner cheats off first base.

I ask one of the handlers how long the trip will take.

"About three hours," he tells me. Just about the length of a ballgame.

The cabin is full and Gemma Barrows' casket has a place of honor carved out on the starboard side, just behind the first two rows of seats. Among the notables I see milling about are several of Gemma's former teammates, including Leland Eisley, who was part of the famous "Gemini Twins" battery of 2429. I see Delli Glouche, who writes for Nisan's Baseball Week. I see Mark Nash and Sheila Nester, broadcasters from Sports World. A woman that I don't recognize is pointed out to be the current mayor of Langdon, Gemma's hometown. Sitting quietly in the front of the cabin, keeping to himself, is Gemma's father. Her mother passed away last spring.

It is easy to tell the baseball players apart from the rest of the passengers. The players all look so old. Even Gemma's father, who I am told is past the century-mark, looks younger than most of the players, including his late daughter.

I sit with Gemma Barrows for the entire flight from Nisan to Earth. Gemma's eyes are closed, a serene countenance, the fine lines around her eyes, and brown spots on her hands the only real hints of her age. To my eyes, she looks like she is sleeping.

When the captain announces the skip, my muscles tighten involuntarily. Gemma appears calm. She had only two modes: calm or intense. I forgot to pack my calm. So I do what I always do when I need to force myself to relax. I begin to hum the opening bars of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

My family suddenly seems very far away.

Gemma Barrows touched her first baseball when she was just a year old. The only child of Vassar and Selma Barrows, she spent the first seventeen years of her life on the Barrows' farm in Langdon, about forty kilometers west of Meterson. By all accounts she had a normal childhood. She attended Langdon Elementary School, and later the Verin County Consolidated High School. She was once asked in an interview when she first came to love baseball.

"That's like asking when I first came to love Shakespeare, or cotton candy. There's not a time in my memory when I didn't love baseball."

Late in her career, when speaking to students at Consolidated, she described herself as a "brute force" ballplayer.

"There were lots of kids that had more talent than I did; kids to which the physical aspects of the game came naturally. I wasn't one of them. I was a terrible baseball player right up until my sophomore year here at Consolidated. But I had a good coach that year, Sam Somerville, and he saw something in me that I guess I didn't, not at first anyway. He worked me twice as a hard as the other kids just so that I could make the cut. It paid off. I landed a spot on the J.V. team when I was still a sophomore."

By her junior year, Gemma pitched Consolidated to its first regional championship in twenty years. Her fastball was in the mid-80s. Stephanie Danvers (who would, a decade later, become the manager of the Corwin Stallions) was a scout for Emory University when Barrows was at Consolidated.

"Lots of kids had fastballs, some of them faster than what Gemma was throwing at the time. But she had the best changeup I'd ever seen. A major league change. Her mechanics were perfect, and she knew exactly when to use it and how to sell it. She made the best batters in the league look silly with that off-speed stuff."

Emory University courted Gemma, as did a dozen of Nisan's top schools. But Gemma opted to enter the professional draft early in her senior year at Consolidated. She was seventeen years old when the Waterloo Black Hawks took her as a first round draft pick for their triple-A affiliate in Lawrenceport. Gemma played for a season-and-a-half in triple-A before being called up to Waterloo in the summer of 2413. She played in Waterloo for three-and-half seasons, before being traded to the Creigh Prairie Bison in 2417.

Over the course of nineteen seasons in the majors, Gemma Barrows racked up 289 wins, more than any other woman in the history of the game. Most of those wins came for the Bison, where she played the last fifteen years of her career. She won three Cy Young awards, pitched the Bison to four separate Nisan World Series, where she went undefeated in eight starts. The Bison advanced to the Quadrant Series four times in fifteen years thanks in large part to Gemma's stellar pitching.

All of these achievements would be enough to fill a plaque in Cooperstown, but she did something even more remarkable, something that no one else in the five hundred year history of the game had ever done, something that every statistical model said was impossible.

Of all the professional sports that humanity dragged into space, baseball is the game that has changed the least. Its long, vibrant history provides a foundation of tradition that makes the game something special. The rules of baseball have hardly changed over the course of five centuries. Where changes have been made, they have always leaned toward maintaining the tradition of the game. Nature adjusts to baseball, not the other way around. Take, for instance, the playing field.

From Rule 1.04 ("The Playing Field") of the Official Rules of Major League Baseball, 2467 Edition:

(a) Any playing field constructed by a professional league club after November 1, 2269, must reside within a gravity of 0.96 to 1.04 Earth equivalents, or use artificial gravity to adjust to Earth standard.

(b) If artificial gravity is used to augment the gravity of the playing field, the net gravity must be equal to exactly 1.0 Earth standard (1 "gee").

(c) Any field constructed according to 1.04(a) which does not use artificial gravity shall provide a minimum distance from home plate to the nearest fence, stands, or other obstruction according to Table No. 1 below to account for variations in gravity from Earth standard.

There is no jarring when we come out of the skip, no internal vertigo, no sign whatsoever that we'd left normal space or returned to it. The captain announces our arrival in the Solar System. You can almost hear the capital letters in his words. We will, he tell us, be arriving at Rockmount shortly.

Earth does not allow landings. Your ship docks at Rockmount, a massive asteroid in geosynchronous orbit, a counterweight to the Anchorside space elevator. A crawler takes you down the elevator to Earth. The ride in a crawler takes three days. Three hours to go sixty light years, followed by three days to go that last 40,000 kilometers.

Out my window the glow of the Earth dampens out the stars, one which is my home. It is a strange feeling to be so far from home so quickly. I look about the cabin. The party atmosphere continues, pitched with the excitement of our imminent arrival on Earth. I catch Leland Eisley looking at me, and wave him over.

Eisley looks ancient, a clear sign he was a baseball player. "Congratulations, Ed," he said, holding out a fragile-looking hand. I take it thinking: that hand once caught two of the most remarkable games in history. "I liked your piece on Marty Forrester in Sports Week. He was quite a character."

"Thanks," I say. "Can I ask you a question?"

"On or off the record?" Eisley jokes, giving me a sly wink.

"Everything here is off the record."

"Shoot."

"How did you guys get the nickname 'Gemini Twins'?"

Eisley looks at me curiously. "You really don't know?"

I shake my head.

"You ain't kidding?" His laugh is phlegmy, the sound of crumpling paper. "It's not all that complicated. Everyone has a nickname. Gemma was 'Gem' for obvious reasons. Guys have been calling me 'Eye' or 'Eyes' ever since I've been playing ball.

"We did a lot of games together, and I would go around the clubhouse saying things like, 'Gem and I figured we'd . . .' or 'Gem and I worked out plan for . . .' I said it a lot, I guess, and someone, might have been Craig Hayes, finally said, 'Gem and I this, Gem and I that. You guys might as well be twins.' 'Gemini Twins,' Lucy Sanchez said suddenly. And it stuck."

I laugh, having never heard that particular story before.

Eisley's face turns toward Gemma, and the laughter fades. "I can't believe she's gone," he says, "but I'm glad she coming to Cooperstown."

When I was fifteen years old my father took me to a Bison game at Carue-Hauley Stadium, and I saw Gemma Barrows pitch. This would have been sometime in 2417, her first season with the Bison. The park had yet to be refurbished; the left field bleachers were still completely exposed to sunlight, wind, and rain.

My old man and I had been going through a rough patch. This game was a gesture on his part, and I took it as such. We called a truce, and under the blazing red-orange sun, we ate hot dogs and popcorn, and watched baseball. I kept score. My dad drank a beer, and when he'd finished off two-thirds, he handed me the cup with a look that said, "Don't tell your mother." It was another gesture.

Gemma Barrows started the game, but she didn't finish it. She didn't make it out of the third inning.

During the eighth inning with the Bison losing 15-3, my old man tapped me on the shoulder. "Come on."

"Game's not over yet," I said, flicking my pen against the scorecard.

"Come on," he said, and made his way down the aisle and up the steep, narrow steps that led to the concession concourse. I followed, and we fell in with hundreds of others who'd given up on the Bison that day. Outside the stadium, the crowd veered to the right, where the autotaxis waited in a glittering line. My father veered left, following the curve of the building and down a ramp to a nondescript double-door with the word PRIVATE on it. Across the street was a small fenced-in area and through the fence I could make out private cars.

"Player's cars," my father said, "this is where they'll come out after the game. Maybe we can get an autograph." I shrugged. I had no idea what I'd do with an autograph from a baseball player. But my Dad and I were getting along for a change, and I decided not to rustle the grass.

Eventually the players began to emerge from the door in clusters of two and three, wearing their street clothes. A few more fans had gathered, and some of the players walked over to where we stood, ready to sign a baseball, a scorecard, or t-shirt. The afternoon winds had picked up, and clouds raced across the sky, their shadows gliding over the pavement like two-dimensional ghosts.

When the door opened again, Gemma Barrows stepped out. She was dressed in street clothes, but her matte black hair was unmistakable. She didn't smile, she didn't seem to notice those of us standing off to the side. She walked head-down, lost in thought, perhaps trying to figure out how she only managed to go 2 innings that day.

"She was terrible," I observed to my father.

"She won't always be terrible."

Barrows didn't head to the fenced in parking where the other players had gone. Instead she walked passed us in the direction of the autotaxis. No one stopped her for an autograph as she passed by.

I chased after her. I'm not sure why. Pity, perhaps? "Miss Barrows?"

She stopped and turned to face me. I can still see that face, a much younger version of the woman I was escorting to her final resting place on Earth. "Yes?"

I looked around, uncertain what to do or say next. I saw that I was still holding my scorecard. "Can I get your autograph?"

A shadow seemed to lift from her face. It was like the sun emerging from behind a prairie deluge. Her eyes gleamed. "Of course, I'd happy to." She took the scorecard and my pen. "What's your name?"

"Eddie," I said, "Eddie O'Halloran." It was still a decade before my byline would shorten my name to Ed.

She wrote for what seemed like a long time, and then handed back the scorecard and pen.

"Thanks," I said.

She smiled, winked at me, and without a word, resumed her walk toward the autotaxis. But there was a bounce in her step that I hadn't seen before. I looked down at the scorecard to see what she'd written:

Dear Eddie, You made my day! Thanks for coming to the game. Come again, and I promise I'll do better next time. Best wishes, Gemma Barrows.

That scorecard with Gemma Barrows' note is tucked securely into my jacket pocket as our ship docks at Rockmount, and we are escorted to the specially reserved crawler that awaits us.

I have a lot of time to think on the descent to Earth. The crawler moves at such a slow pace it hardly seems to move at all. Yet eventually it will take us safely through the atmosphere and down to the surface. It makes me think of small beginnings. In baseball, the most innocuous beginnings can lead to the most unexpected endings. Unlike football or basketball or soccer or hockey, there is no clock. Baseball is a game outside of time.

On August 25, 2429, I'd been a baseball columnist for the Nisan Sports Week for just over two years. Gemma's small beginning took place on that day, although I didn't learn of it until the following day. And even after I read about it and saw it in the highlights, it never occurred to me that it was the beginning of something momentous.

Barrows was in her 16th year in the majors, her 12th with the Creigh Prairie Bison. She'd been steadily racking up W's and if she could stay healthy and hang on for a few more seasons, she was almost certain to overtake Callista Seamus's 277 career win record. Sportswriters were already beginning to whisper the possibility of Gemma Barrows' name on a Hall of Fame ballot when the time came.

But she'd hit a rough patch earlier that season, and Bison manager Evander Neiland moved her to the bullpen for a while to shake things up. And that is why on a warm August day, with the Bison winning 7-2 over the Lake Monsters, Neiland brought in Gemma to relieve in the 8th.

Barrows was efficient that afternoon, sweeping away all six batters she faced, striking out four of them. She threw nineteen pitches. Such was the quiet grace with which the single greatest record in baseball began.

Tradition is the lifeblood of baseball, in many ways quite literally. Football players are allowed muscle enhancements. Basketball players are allowed artificial knee replacements. Golfers often use enhanced corneas. Many professional sports -- long distance running, for instance -- allow synthetic blood replacements, oxygen-rich plasmas that allow for greater stamina.

And consider those of us who don't play a professional sport. The Nisan Institute of Health says that by fifty, most of us will have had complete joint replacements; by our mid-sixties, we've had vision enhancements. And then there are body augmentations for fashion purposes.

Yet while physical enhancements have become a staple of modern culture, baseball repudiates them, an irony that will not escape baseball historians. Strict testing helps ensure that all major league baseball players play the game with their natural talent and physical abilities. For a kid who wants to grow up to be a major league ballplayers, they must decide early to avoid the kinds of physical enhancements that their friends, schoolmates, and peers are routinely getting.

This lack of physical enhancement is reflected in baseball's demographics. It is rare for a major league career to last more than two decades. On the other hand, the game of baseball today is the same physical sport played by the pantheon of legends the game has created. You can't say that about football or basketball.

Gemma Barrows played for ninteen seasons, an above average duration for a major league career. You would think that after two decades of watching friends and family stay young and spry, while a ballplayer ages visibly before their eyes, the first thing a player would do upon retiring is trade in their old, beat-up equipment for shiny new gear. But that rarely happens.

In the quiet desolation of retirement, a baseball player lives with the ever-present glimmer of hope that maybe -- just maybe -- she has one more season left in her. It is a hope that dies only when the body gives up the ghost. A retired catcher with aching, arthritic knees will not consider knee replacement on the will-o-the-wisp hope that he may one day leg out a double, or extend it into a triple, diving head first into a cloud of dust.

You can find retired football players living comfortably in their mid-130s. You can find retired basketball players still gathering for neighborhood pickup games in their 90s. Baseball players rarely live into their 90s. According to the Major League Players Association, without the benefit of modern medical enhancements, the average lifespan of a major league ballplayer is 79 years.

Sitting in a specially reserved car on the Loop from Anchorside up to Albany, I think again about the distance I've traveled over the last few days: more than sixty light years, an almost inconceivable stretch of space in an almost insignificant stretch of time. Most of the others are sleeping, wiped out from the long ride down from Rockmount. Gemma looks as peaceful as ever, and I wonder what she might have thought of this journey of hers.

It occurs to me then that there is a number in baseball that compares to the astronomical distances between the stars. It is a number that goes back to the beginning of the "modern era" of the game, generally agreed to be the turn of the century in 1900. The number is 85. In five centuries of baseball played since 1900, there have been only 85 perfect games.

A baseball game is considered perfect when no runners on one team reach base. There are no hits, no errors, no walks, no catcher interference. No one makes a mistake. The pitcher and his or her team is perfect. A no-hitter is one step down from a perfect game, but it is a big step. And another big step down from the no-hitter is the shutout.

But consider the number: 85 perfect games in 500 years of baseball. One baseball statistics expert I spoke to told me that an estimated 2.5 million games of professional baseball have been played in the last five centuries. But only 85 of those games have been perfect.

Two of those 85 games took place on Nisan, and the first of these came on August 30, 2429.

Bison manager Evander Neiland used a five-pitcher rotation back then. After Gemma Barrows great relief performance on August 25, Neiland put her back into the starting rotation, and penciled her in for the August 30th start against Waterloo.

I was covering an Ocean League game that day, the Dolphins vs. the Whalers, and I had no idea what was happening in Creigh, until Sandra Tate, who wrote for the Lapps Island Gazette, and who often sat next to me in the press box, grabbed my bicep in a vice grip and said, "Ed, Gemma Barrows has a no-no going into the sixth against Waterloo."

No hitters are fragile things, like soap bubbles drifting just above the feather-topped prairie grass. A strong breeze, or a brush against one of those brown stalks, and the bubble disintegrates. When Gemma took the no-hitter into the eighth inning, I gave up all pretense of trying to follow the Dolphins and Whalers. In Creigh, the score was 1-0 and word quickly spread that Nisan might be on the verge of its first perfect game.

At some point, the Bison game had been put onto the giant screen in center field so that the crowd of 48,000 Whalers fans could see the perfecto-in-action. The entire stadium seem to hold its breath with each pitch, and breathe a collective sigh of relief when the pitch resulted in a strikeout, groundout, or popfly.

At the top of the ninth inning, with two outs, and Stella Rogin at the plate for Waterloo, the scoreboard looked like this:

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

W

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

B

0

0

1

0

0

1

0

0

 

2

5

0

Gemma Barrows had two modes: serene and intense. The look on her face in that final inning was intense. It was the look of someone who had moved to another plane of existence, a plane that only 83 pitchers before her had visited.

She delivered a ball to Rogin, followed by two strikes. I was on my feet, the entire Whalers stadium was on its feet, and from what I could see on the screen, the entire city of Creigh was on its feet. All eyes were on Gemma Barrows.

She threw a fastball down the middle. Stella Rogin got under it. The ball shot high up above the infield. Gemma pointed up into the sky at once, directing her teammates to the ball. Kenny Zim charged in from third base, waving everyone else off with wildly exaggerated gesticulations, his head tilted into the sky, his jaw slack. He looked like a little kid trying to catch raindrops in his mouth. He got under the ball, held up his glove, and caught it with a gentle THWAP against the leather.

Gemma's knees unhinged and she collapsed at the foot of the mound, her face buried in her mitt. For a moment she was alone, shaking in great spasms. Then her teammates flooded the field, surrounding her, and lifting her onto their shoulders.

When the cameras next caught sight of Gemma, her dust-stained face was streaked with dark tear-tracks.

Cooperstown sits on the south end of lake Otsego, a long, narrow lake that runs north-south through some of the most beautiful hill country I have ever seen. Over the centuries, the shoreline of the lake has gradually transformed so that today, to the eyes of a baseball-primed observer, it looks like a baseball bat set down in a field of Kentucky bluegrass.

Handlers from the Baseball Hall of Fame meet us at the Loop station in Albany and escort us by ground car to Cooperstown. We arrive to crowds filling the streets of the small town. A brass band plays "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "The Star Spangled Banner" as we pull up before the main entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame. More handlers and representatives are there to take Gemma's body and prepare it for burial in Memorial Park. One of them, a tall, lanky man with deep-set eyes and grooved look to his face asks if I would like to escort Gemma's body along its way.

Vassar Barrows, Gemma's father stands beside me. He didn't speak on the ride from Albany. He just stared out the window, a grim, distant look on his face.

"I think perhaps Mr. Barrows would prefer to do this on his own," I say.

Barrows looks at me, and appears momentarily startled, as if he hadn't expected this extra time with his daughter. "Thank 'ee," he says, his prairie accent coming through strongly.

I step aside and the tall man signals to some others, who take the casket from its van. They attach a small antigrav unit and float it into the building, followed solemnly by Vassar Barrows.

"Can you direct me to my hotel?" I ask one of the handlers.

"Of course, right this way," he says.

"And maybe a good bar, too. I could use a drink."

The bar is quiet, only a few patrons scattered through the premises this early in the afternoon. Later, I imagine it will be nearly impossible to move through the crowds.

I'm finishing my second beer, a hoppy Earth beer that tastes nothing like the beer my father gave me on that day, decades earlier, when I first saw Gemma Barrows pitch.

"Another one?" the bartender asks. She's a large woman with a cheerful smile.

"Just one," I say.

She takes a fresh glass and pulls at the tap. As she does this, she looks at me. "You're Ed O'Halloran, the sportswriter, aren't you?"

"Guilty."

"You're here escorting Gemma Barrows?"

"Yes."

"First time on Earth?"

"Yes."

"Well, you couldn't have asked for a better place on the planet to visit. Sad that is has to be under these circumstances." She knocks the head off the beer and slides the glass over to me.

"We're proud of our girl," I say.

"You should be. Two perfect games. I mean, it's unheard of." Her eyes brighten, "Say, were you at either of the games?"

"No. I was covering another game the day she threw the first perfecto. And the other one --" A smile spreads across my face.

"What?"

"September 5, 2429."

"Good memory."

"I ought to remember it," I say, "it's the day my oldest daughter, Marsi, was born."

"No kidding? Same day that Gemma threw that second perfect game?"

"Same day," I say.

The bartender leaves me to my beer. Same day as Marsi. Marsi came early that morning, and I remember sitting with her in the hospital room while Janie slept. Marsi and I watched the miracle happen together, she curled into the crook of my arm, eyes still dark, so tiny.

September 5, 2429, five days after Gemma Barrows' perfect game against Waterloo. The day Marsi was born. And the day the impossible happened.

Gemma was back on the mound that day to pitch against the Skimmers, her first appearance since the perfecto. The Skimmers were a last-place team in the Prairie League Central division. They rarely filled half the seats in their stadium on the banks of the Hauxet River. But on September 5 they had their first sellout of the season.

They played the "Star Spangled Banner" before the game, and Marsi cooed in my arm, as if to say, "What's that sound, Daddy?"

"That's the sound of baseball," I whispered to her.

Gemma Barrows received a standing ovation when she took the mound in the bottom of the first inning, a magnanimous gesture from a usually hostile crowd. The gesture notwithstanding, the Skimmers were there to win. Johnny Sparhawk moved Red Lasker into the leadoff spot that day. Lasker was the one real star the Skimmer's had on their roster. He had the league's second highest on-base percentage. It was a move that said the Skimmers meant business.

Lasker was a patient batter, and after three pitches, he was ahead in the count 3-0. Gemma's next pitch was a bullet down the middle that Lasker didn't bat an eyelash over. Then another strike, a mean fastball on the inside corner. She followed that up with her trademark changeup that had Lasker way out in front for strike three.

From there, the strikeouts began to tally, and by the end of the seventh inning, with the Bison leading 7-0, Gemma had retired all twenty-one batters she'd faced, fourteen of them on strikeouts. It was a milestone of unprecedented moment. Counting the twenty-seven batters she retired in her perfect game five days earlier, and the six batters she retired in relief before that, Gemma Barrows had retired fifty-four consecutive batters, the equivalent of two consecutive perfect games. But she didn't stop there. In the eighth inning, Barrows struck out the side, bringing her strikeout total to seventeen.

Legend has it that by the bottom of the ninth inning, all work on Nisan -- the entire planet -- had come to a halt. I can neither confirm, nor deny that, although I noticed that when the doctors and nurses came into our room to check on Janie and Marsi, they lingered a few moments to see if Barrows' perfect game would be disrupted.

Gemma had a scare when Marci Chu (our daughter was not named after her) hit a scorcher down the third base line, but Kenny Zim's reflexed were as perfect as Gemma's pitching. He dove to his right with his gloved hand extended across his body and nabbed the line drive.

Later, Leland Eisley told a reporter, "I didn't give her any signs in the ninth. She was on autopilot and I wasn't going to mess with that. It was as if we could read each others minds. I knew what she was going to throw, and where, and she never missed, never crossed me up."

Gemma Barrows threw six more pitches that inning, all of them for strikes. She ended up with nineteen strikeouts that day -- and her second consecutive perfect game.

Gray overcast blankets the skies of Cooperstown on Induction Day. In a perfect world, the skies would be blue, the sun high and warm, the air sweet. But rainouts are as much a part of baseball as anything, and just like a rainy day at the ballpark, we play through.

I sit on stage with Gemma's father and half a dozen notables, many of whom will be speaking at the induction. Before us, thousands of people spread across a lawn of grass greener than anything I've ever seen. Perhaps my eyes are just used to the prairie yellow, or rusty brown color that all grass on Nisan takes. On Earth, everything seems green and vibrant.

Each speaker takes his or her turn at the podium, offering thoughts, remembrances, and encomia to Gemma Barrows. I'd been asked if I wanted to speak, but declined. I am a sportswriter, not a public speaker, and besides, this day is about Gemma Barrows, not Ed O'Halloran.

So I sit quietly listening to the words, and touching my jacket pocket nervously, feeling for the folded scorecard within. Over the years, that old scorecard had become my own special part of Gemma Barrows. I remember wondering what good an autograph would be when I first got it. Now, I think I knew. At some point, I had decided that I would donate the scorecard to the Hall of Fame, to keep among their collection of memorabilia, so that others might share in Gemma's generosity.

The last person to speak is Gemma's father, Vassar Barrows. He is 101 years old, but doesn't look a day over sixty. When he rises to speak on behalf of his daughter, the entire field rises with him. He strides to the podium amidst a rumbling percussion of applause, his head bowed, and he plants his large hands on the polished wood. The rain is now a gentle mist. A silence spreads over the audience, and for a moment, it is like the quiet that had taken Whalers field when Gemma was dealing the final pitch of her first perfect game.

"You'll forgive me for my somber mood," Vassar Barrows says. "Please don't take it as bitterness, but as an old man who misses his little girl. I am extraordinarily proud of our little Gem. I can still see her, barely able to hold herself upright by the fence where we kept the sheep. I had a baseball in my pocket, and I rolled it over to her. She picked it up with smile on her face, and proceeded to gnaw on it like it was a rasp-fruit." Gentle laughter bubbles up from the crowd.

"I suppose that's where it all started, although I'd be lying if I said I knew from the start that Gemma would be a baseball star. She grew to like the game, and then to love it, but so did a million kids, so did I when I was her age.

"On the farm, death is just another part of life," Vassar Barrows says. From my vantage off to the side, his face looks grave, but I see something else, too. Barrows is not speaking to the audience. He is speaking to himself. "You expect death now and then, but not your children. Never your children.

"I see a lot of baseball players here today. But I don't see a lot of old ballplayers. Eisley over here might be the oldest among you. Baseball players sacrifice so much for the game that they love. More, I think, than a fan can ever really understand. They often do this alone. My wife, Gemma's momma, would never allow that. But neither would she quash our daughter's dreams. So if Gemma was going to play the game, if she was going to forgo the kinds of improvements that have kept me on the farm for aught hundred years now, well, then Selma was going to give them up, too, so that our little girl would not have to do it alone." He pauses, collects himself, and then continues. "I think Selma's greatest sacrifice was giving up any chance of being here today to see Gemma inducted into the Hall of Fame."

He pulls a pale blue handkerchief from his pocket, steps back from the podium, dabs at his eyes, and then blows his nose. The sound reverberates across the field.

"Well, I didn't come here to make speeches. On the trip over I got to thinking how this would be the only time I'd make it to Earth. I'm glad Gemma was able to bring me along with her. But I also realized that I would eventually be returning home alone. Gemma never had any children -- another sacrifice at the altar of baseball -- so what stays behind is all I have left of her. I'd ask you all, as a personal favor to me and Selma, to take care of our little Gem. Thank you."

After the funeral service, I have a private moment in the Hall of Fame Gallery, walking alone among the ghosts of the greatest players that ever played the game. Gemma Barrows' plaque is at the far end of the enormous gallery, the latest of the greats to be admitted in such exclusive company. I walk past hundreds of familiar names to get to her, and as I feel my knees go a little weak, I also feel their presence steady me.

My footsteps echo off the marble floors, and it takes a long time to reach the spot reserved for Gemma Barrows. When I get there, she is smiling down at me in bronze from the wall, a ceiling spotlight fixed perfectly upon her rueful countenance. Below her face is the following inscription:

GEMMA ("GEM") MILLET BARROWS

Waterloo, P.L., 2413-2417

Creigh, P.L. 2417-2432

Won more games (289) than any other woman in the history of baseball. Played in 4 Nisan World Championships with a perfect 8-0 record. Had a lifetime 2.87 E.R.A. 3-time Cy Young Award-winner. From August 30 - September 5, 2429, she pitched two consecutive perfect games.

I feel a pair of eyes behind me and when I turn, Gemma's father is standing quietly at a respectful distance.

"Didn't mean to startle you, son."

"You didn't. I was just about to head out."

"Going back to Nisan?"

"Yes. I grab the Loop back to Anchorside this evening. I miss my . . ." The words trail off. I was going to say that I miss my girls.

Vassar Barrows gives me a wistful smile. "You get home safe now. I'm sure your family misses you, too."

"How about you? When do you head back?"

"Oh, I'm not in any big rush. It's my first time on Earth, and I may take a week or two to see some of the sights. The missus would have insisted."

An awkward silence falls between us, and we stand beside Gemma's plaque with the eyes of a hundred Hall-of-Famers on our shoulders. Barrows holds out a hand. "I want to thank you for bringing her here. She couldn't have asked for a better escort."

I take his hand. It is rough and hard, a farmer's hand. "It's my honor," I say.

"Safe travels, son," he says, and I start back down the long gallery. Two-thirds of the way down, I pause before the plaque of Derek Jeter and look back. Barrows is just a shadow beside his daughter's plaque. I walk back toward him.

"Mr. Barrows?"

He turns, raises an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"I --" I reach into my jacket pocket and take out the old, faded scorecard. I unfold it carefully and hold it out. "I want you to have this."

Vassar Barrows takes it with a curious expression on his face. "A scorecard?"

"It's from a game that I saw Gemma pitch when I was fifteen years old," I explain. "She . . ." I get no further. His breath catches when he sees the autograph and what she'd written. He says nothing for a long time, just stares at the piece of paper in his hands. The paper is like a moment pulled out of time.

"She kept her promise, didn't she," Gemma's father says.

"Yes, she did."

"Thank you for this."

"You're welcome." I turn away, and start back down the gallery. His voice stops me one last time.

"You made my day, too, Eddie," Vassar Barrows says.

I keep walking, counting the hours until I'll be back home with my wife, and my girls, and my grandkids. I think about the distance between the pitching rubber and home plate, 60 feet, 6 inches. I think about the gulf of 60.6 light years that separates me from my family, and realize with sudden and terrible knowledge, that is it nothing compared to the gulf that now separates Gemma Barrows from her father.


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