The story opens in 1981, about a month into the baseball strike that truncated the season. The first-person narrator, who remains unnamed, finds the absence of baseball ‘‘a disruption to the psyche.’’ The narrator is an older man who considers himself a ‘‘failed shortstop’’ and who once had aspirations of playing professionally. On his way home from work one evening, he drives by the deserted stadium and parks in his usual spot at the far corner of the lot. He notices small weeds coming up through the empty parking lot, before discovering a strange door cut into the green boards of the stadium wall. The door seems to be somehow magical, ‘‘more the promise of a door than the real thing,’’ and it inspires him for the first time in his forty-year career as a locksmith to break the law. He uses his locksmith tools to pick the lock, and enters the empty stadium.
Inside the ballpark, the narrator is spellbound by the magic of the ball field, but is disturbed by the artificial turf. Taking off his shoes, he finds ‘‘it is like walking on a row of toothbrushes.’’ He muses that ‘‘it was an evil day when they stripped the sod from this ballpark,’’ even as he notices a lone weed growing out of the pitcher’s mound.
Over the following days, the narrator nurtures an idea, an idea so marvelous that it feels ‘‘like knowing a new, wonderful joke.’’ But he has no one to share this idea with until he remembers that there is a rich and powerful man who has season tickets in a box near his. This man is a true fan, one who stays to the end of even lost or rained-out games because he truly loves ‘‘the beauty and mystery of the game.’’ Also, like our narrator, this wealthy man sits in the stands on the first-base side of the park. The narrator believes that the positions from which fans choose to watch the game are a powerful sign of the way they see the universe, and that those who choose to watch the game from the same position are like members of a secret club. The narrator introduces himself to the rich man’s secretary as a fellow fan, and then waits all afternoon for an interview. Finally he is ushered into the office, where he is recognized from the ballpark. The narrator tells the rich man that he has an idea, and a key to the ballpark, and tells the rich man that he seems like ‘‘a man who dreams.’’ The narrator invites the rich man to meet him at the ballpark, and they agree to meet at one o’clock the next morning.
The narrator meets the rich man at the door in the wall with a pizza box in his hands. They walk to the left field corner, where the narrator unveils a perfect, green, square foot of real grass. The rich man touches it reverently. ‘‘Oh, I see,’’ he says. The narrator pulls a knife from his pocket, and cuts a hole in the artificial turf, into which he places the grass. The two men have a cryptic conversation in which the rich man indicates that he understands what the narrator has in mind, and asks if he can come back the next evening, with friends. The narrator suggests that perhaps those friends have friends as well, and the rich man says he imagines they must.
Thus begins the nocturnal procession of older men bearing squares of grass. They come every night, slowly replacing the artificial turf with squares of grass. Then they bring tools, hoses and sprinklers and rakes and bags of soil to build up the infield. Little by little they rebuild the ball field.
As he watches this process, the narrator thinks about his daughters, the one who lives in Japan, and sits behind first base, and the one who lives in his town, and sits behind third base with her husband. He feels this as a sort of betrayal, and decides that because she has gone over to the people of the third base, he cannot trust her or her husband with the secret of the nighttime visits to the ball field. The narrator also does not tell his wife where he goes at night, although he loves her deeply, and realizes he is disturbing her sleep by creeping out at night. The other old men share this problem, imagining their wives think they are out with young girls, imagining that the wives have hired private detectives to discover their secrets. This gives them great pleasure, because their secret is so innocent.
Night after night the men meet at the ball field, and the narrator watches as ‘‘row by row,’’ the artificial turf is replaced with real grass. The narrator imagines how it will be when the strike ends, and they all return to the ballpark, each carrying the secret of these nights. The narrator looks forward most to the surprise, wondering what the ball players will think when they return to the stadium and find ‘‘the miracle we have created.’’ The story ends with the narrator, alone in the stadium, putting his face to the wet grass, ‘‘which, wonder of wonders, already has the ephemeral odours of baseball about it.’’
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, W.P. Kinsella, Published by Gale Group, 2010