On a hot, humid July day, I discovered the park squeezed in between Washington Street and the IUPUI campus near downtown Indianapolis. I had driven down University Boulevard hundreds of times without trying to find out where those joggers were going, the ones who occasionally drifted by on the south side of the campus. That day, though, my daughter and I ventured boldly across the lawn alongside the National Institute for Fitness and Sport. All of a sudden, the river appeared across my view, stretching west along an undeveloped south bank. Then, to the east, I had an uncharacteristically stunning view of downtown at the end of a broad cobblestone walkway. Dropping away from the walkway was a baffling maze of concrete steps, manicured grass, huge stone blocks, and rectangular pools and waterways. A set of stone benches terraced six high in a quarter circle simulated the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, like those at Ephesus in Turkey. Far off to the southeast was the marshmallow-topped building formerly known as the Hoosier Dome.
It was 86 degrees and I was sweating as we walked faster down the cobblestone walkway. Walking parallel to us in the grass were several people carrying clipboards. We passed them as we went toward downtown, with the RCA Tennis Championships on the north side. Before reaching the oversized green plastic frog sitting on a bench facing the NCAA Hall of Champions, we turned in to the park. A set of red pawprints made a trail on the concrete, leading from a rectangular pool over to the NCAA. This was supposed to be the trail left by the Indians’ mascot, Rowdie, after he fell in the water when a stray baseball hit him on the nose.
Defying the civil engineers who laid out the park’s sidewalks east-to-west, we cut south across the lawn to the Dr. Frank P. Lloyd Visitor Center. Once around the building, we saw the west entrance to Victory Field framed by the overarching exit sign for the park. After crossing the street toward the stadium, we passed a man and a woman just standing on the street corner. The man was talking into a cellphone, saying, “Yeah, we’re here on the corner of Maryland. Are you in the parking garage?”
At first I was intimidated by the throngs of people headed for the stadium and the long line at the ticket window. Then I found out that our online tickets enabled us to walk right up to the gate, where no one was waiting. An attendant scanned the barcodes printed on the tickets and we passed through the turnstiles. Our seats were right across from the gate, in the “party terrace.” Behind us, a British man explained baseball rules to his wife.
The date was July 19th, two days before the near-bombing of London on “7/21,” which was two weeks after the notorious “7/7.”
The concession ring wasn’t too crowded, so I went to stand in line for popcorn, wavering between the $1.50 box and the giant $3.50 tub. An older man in front of me turned and said, “I always pick the slowest line.” Then a younger man, carrying a clipboard, walked up and offered him money; the older man refused, and the younger man left. I bought a box of popcorn, then went over to the lemonade vendor, who was crushing beer cans and saving them. I bought a lemonade for only $2.75.
The white-uniformed Indians were in the second game of a four-game series against the black-uniformed Syracuse Skychiefs. The Skychiefs were unable to mount any kind of defense that day, usually striking out quickly. The frustration of their batters was reflected in the time one accidentally splintered his bat, sending a piece flying down the third base line.
The Indians started out scoring in the second inning with a home run by Brad Eldred that went flying over the left field picnic area. As the Indians kept scoring with increasing frequency, the Skychiefs called several timeouts to discuss strategy. Their befuddlement was mocked by a sardonic announcer who played an old Buffalo Springfield tune: “Something’s happening here / What it is ain’t exactly clear / There’s a man with a gun over there…” Well, I don’t think he intended to play that last line, unless he was also trying to make a political comment.
Eldred ended up being walked twice, then he scored another home run, clinching his eventual callup to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ty Wigginton also got a home run, but not before “missing” a homer early on. Wigginton had struck out in the first inning, then in a fit of rage tossed his helmet and bat onto the field, where a batboy dutifully retrieved them.
The serenity of the baseball field had been accented an hour into the game by a subtle moonrise, framed between the second and third smokestacks of the massive Citizens Thermal Energy plant to the south.
Afterwards, we walked back through White River State Park along the wide cobblestone walkway. It was nearly 10:00 and the temperature had dropped to about 76 degrees, just enough so that a slight breeze made the humid air drift away for a moment. In the dark, the trees alongside the path framed a line of antique-style streetlamps, and then we came up over the rise to find the river stretched out in front of us again.
Suddenly I was struck by the thought that this was like being in London, looking over the Thames River. In the spring of 1978 my family had visited an extravagant theatre in London that had been converted into a cinema, where we saw Star Wars, that operatic paean to Taoist philosophy and two-handed swordfighting. Around the same time, I bought a record album that included the Star Wars musical score, along with theme songs from British science fiction shows I had never seen, such as The Quatermass Experiment. This was during a time when IRA bombers and Palestinian terrorists were much in the news, and the line between good and evil seemed pretty clear to any comic-book reader. Every time I listened to that soaring, martial music from Star Wars, I knew which side I wanted to be on.
Coming shortly after the revival of The Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars story tapped into a deep longing in the general public for Manichean fantasies, in which the forces of absolute moral good face off against the forces of absolute moral evil. What made both sets of stories interesting is that you couldn’t objectively tell who would win, because the evil forces seemed so much more powerful. You had to believe that the good guys would win purely because of their intrinsic moral superiority. Both series eventually gave strangely introspective warnings about the error of trying to power up meek good guys enough to defeat impossibly powerful bad guys, but they started out with the assumption that the universal principles of good and evil were roughly equal in scope. Manicheanism depends on the fallacy that the creator of the universe is not the master of it, but merely a spectator who is betting on the guy in the white hat. That’s why it used to be called “heresy,” although later it was called “moral clarity.”
I left the riverside to drive back through the protective ring of working-class neighborhoods, past the men hanging out by the liquor store at 22nd and Illinois, to the sterility and tedium of the suburban fiefdoms. The Indians had decisively shut out the Skychiefs (13-0) not because of their intrinsic goodness, but because they played a better game.