Ask Ceil – It’s Raining Baseballs

Dear Ceil,

Why is the slow, boring game of baseball so popular in America?

Napping in Napierville

Dear Napping,

It’s late May and you’re watching a game. It’s two outs, bottom of the 4th and your team is coming up empty in an 0–1 game. The most exciting thing that’s happened is, because of the crappy angle you have in the stands, you momentarily thought a home run was hit when it was actually a high infield fly ball. The second baseman didn’t even break a sweat getting to it. The busiest person in the park is the beer vendor, and players are discussing various spitting techniques. Even the head coach has an electronics catalog on his clipboard, on top of the lineup.

But there’s a second, very important part of baseball that you’re missing. It’s vital to your health and well-being, and you have to go to the games to find out.

Baseball is really a series of health and fitness tests for the fans.

First, there’s the eye test. Let’s say a guy’s been taking a lead from first. The pitch finally comes where he decides to break and take second. The catcher stands up, makes the throw, almost in the dirt at the second-baseman’s feet. The runner slides. The umpire gets into position in front of the play, and calls him out.

If you are in the stands, approximately 1,000 feet away, and you can see that the umpire clearly blew the call, you have passed the test! You will note that umpires don’t have very good eyesight, and some of them are virtually blind, unable to accurately make a call from their typical five-foot distance. (In his book, “The Umpire Strikes Out”,  Major League Umpire Ron Luciano recounts the time that he called a player safe, but made the arm signal for “out”. When the player asked him which it was, he replied—I’m paraphrasing—“Well, 100,000 people in the stands and on TV saw me signal that you were ‘out’, but only you and I heard me call you ‘safe’. So I guess you’re out.”)

Second, there’s the coordination test. So, it’s 2:15pm and you’ve been drinking beer since 1:30. You leave the stands to purchase some concessions. As you walk back, laden with your small feast, you round the corner into the stands. You eye your seat in section 326, four rows from the top of the stadium, at the end of a climb steep enough to make Sir Edmund Hillary look around for a free seat further down. With nachos and cheese in one hand, an ice cream for your kid in the other, and a bottle of beer delicately tucked between your arm and your stomach, you triumphantly overcome step after step, stopping only occasionally for a rest and to lick ice cream off your hand. You reach the top, secure in the knowledge that you are still physically able to perform trying feats in high-altitude, low-oxygen settings. You have passed the coordination test.

Third, mental focus. If you ever wanted to see if you were starting to lose your mental edge, baseball is the game for you.

You’ve been sitting in the stands for about an hour and a half now, you’ve finished your nachos and you’re thinking about flagging down the beer guy for your second beer, but he’s a few sections away, so you have time. The game has been moving a little slowly, but then suddenly you realize that they’ve changed pitchers. What? When did that happen? Or maybe it occurs to you that your team has a guy on third base. When did he get there? Is it the fifth inning? Is it the sixth inning? Who made that last out? If you can answer any of these questions, you have passed the mental focus test.

I often fail the mental focus test. It’s ok though, because the beer guy is usually just a few sections away.

Fourth, athletic ability. You’re talking to your friend who accompanied you to the game, and at some point you end up talking about the last time you bought a decent pair of running shoes. A big debate ensues about brand quality, social responsibility and—holy Lord, here comes a foul ball, glancing off the player’s bat, right at your friend’s head! You already had your glove on, you dive across her and the two 10-year-olds sitting next to her (ok, maybe not right at her head, but for sure someone could have been hurt) and you make the grab. You get a replay on the big screen, and a slightly pasty child starts to cry. (Realizing you hate the sound of children crying more than you want the ball, you toss the ball to the kid, resulting in another big-screen moment for you, and now the sound of two ten-year-olds fighting over a ball.) For those of us who are less athletically-inclined, you may test your physical acumen as teenagers shoot hot dogs and t-shirts into the stands between innings. And during the 7th inning, you can stretch.

All things considered, our national pastime may be the best thing for us. As Spring is almost knocking on our door, do yourself a favor. Take half a day off from work, walk down to the stadium and buy yourself a ticket to a game that, competitively speaking, means nothing. You’ll be helping yourself and your health. Feel free to bring a friend. Heck, feel free to bring me.

Dear Ceil,

Why do people say “right as rain”? It’s been raining here for three days straight, and there’s nothing “right” about it.

Precipitating in Pittsburgh

Dear Precipitating,

According to several internet sources that seem to be somewhat valid, or at least spent more than five minutes looking into it (that’s three minutes longer than I did!), the general rightness of rain seems to be related to the straight way that rain falls down. So, the definition of right here is more about righting something to make it straight. Except rain doesn’t usually fall straight down, except on those bucolic spring days that exist on the rare Sunday in early April, but more frequently in our imaginations. Most of the rain I experience, as I live on top of a hill, is a driving, sideways rain that chills you to the bone and makes you curse the ecosystem. Nothing right about that either. (Inaccurate colloquial expressions, I shake my fist at thee!)

So, the term seems to have popped up at a time when people were saying “right as…” about as often as I (unfortunately) hear “true dat”. There is, in fact, a general discussion about the kinds of things that people felt “as right as” on World Wide Words; my favorite of the list is “right as my leg.” (Because, see, your leg is straight, but then there’s also a right—and a left—leg! [Insert guffaw here.] Right… as my leg! Get it?!)

“Right as rain”, it purports, likely has stuck around because people enjoy the alliteration. And since this is such a scholarly and well-researched article, I feel inclined to believe it. Plus, the general idea is supported by many other websites.

But then, there are some people who feel free to strike out on their own, and provide an etymology based on their gut. It’s my best practice to read all the opinions on a given subject that I’m researching, and believe them all. There are two other explanations for this phrase that may be true in part, but really, I just like them.

On English for Students, they believe that “The reference is to the value and goodness of rain which is critical to crops and farming.” But we are so often told not to go out in the rain, or we might catch a cold. So, which is it? Is rain bestower of bounty, or bringer of death? I believe rain loves us, and if it could, would give us a big, clammy hug. says, “It originated in Britain, where rainy weather is normal.” Those poor, soggy Brits. It’s no wonder that Handel composed his “Water Music” while he was in London.

Finally, the imaginatively named knows that the expression “was first recorded in 1894.” But, as it does not offer a publication name or author, I can only assume that there is a person whose job it is to record these types of things, and that is when he wrote it down. He is, I am further assuming, part of the organization of “they”, being the group of people who decide things, conduct secret government strategy meetings, and prohibit the wearing of white after Labor Day.

So which definition are we to believe? Or are we to make up our own? No matter which one you agree with, I’m sure you’ll be right as my leg. (Still loving this.)

Ceil Kessler is a fan of all kinds of words and phrases, particularly those that involve baseball. She was a Mets fan for years and years (before moving to Pittsburgh and—sadly—becoming a die-hard Pirates fan), and still remembers Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Gary Carter, the baseball idol of her youth, tragically died of brain cancer yesterday at a ridiculously young 57 years of age. Gary Carter, my you rest in peace, and find yourself catching in front of Ron Luciano on the Field of Dreams.

Here is the website for the Gary Carter Foundation.


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