When Rita Came to Bat
Saturday, 24 September 2005
Baseball metaphor out-reigned Rita!
Baseball is a signature American sport, though the signature is gradually being forged in cultures around the world. A countrified cousin of Britain’s beloved cricket, baseball has a few curves unique to the family tree. One of them is the role of the “catcher”.
The baseball is a lightning rod of sorts, charged by the pitch, the hit and the throw. It is grounded by being caught. A batter, if they “connect” their bat with the ball, becomes charged as well, only to become grounded out if touched by a caught ball, or forced to a base that has been grounded by a caught ball. A batter who fails at every attempt to connect their bat to the ball is sent back to a bench, where they sit in waiting with other uncharged batters.
Charged batters advance the bases in a process similar to ionization, with higher states having greater importance to lower states. If a batter makes it to the fourth state, making their entirely around the bases, a point is scored and the batter is grounded out with the rest. The role of the catcher is to catch charged balls, or to catch charged batters, or both.
A catcher’s mitt is a well-padded, cup-shaped glove specifically designed for high-energy impacts. This describes the Gulf Coast, as barrier islands pad the shorelines, and sea walls “line” the shores. These things break the waves, and cushion the blow, should any storm approach the home plate. Rita fit nicely in the Gulf Coast glove, being nearly the same size and shape, and impacting it face on.
We said that Rita “struck” Texas. Ball’s don’t make strikes, batters do (unless a ball strikes the pitcher, etc). The metaphors lashed, beat down on or slammed were used. These metaphors hold something in common – they all refer to a solid object being swung and making contact with another solid object. Now Rita is the bat or batter, and Texas is the ball.
How can these two metaphor sets exist on the same playing field? Call in the umpire!
While any hurricane may behave as a bat, hitting any shore, Rita just so happened to approach a glove-like shoreline with her rotund physique. Rita is both batter and ball. This duality – even multiplicity – is not uncommon to metaphor, as the metaphors we choose are often gilded in our own perspective. Take the typical storm-type metaphors “struck”, “slammed” or “smashed into” and compare them to “pounded”, “hammered” or “beat”. While all these metaphors agree that a storm and its target are both singular, solid objects, one perspective metaphorizes the storm as a single event, while the other metaphorizes it as a series of events. Perspective is written all over one’s choice of metaphor.
Did Rita’s bat hit the Texan ball, or did Rita’s ball hit the Texan glove? Did the batter hit their target, or did the pitcher miss theirs?
And America wasn’t always a baseball fan. Nor was it always sporting about a potential threat. Would we have used a baseball metaphor if the event occurred in the 1700’s? What if this were a monsoon in Asia? Time and location lead to perspective and description.
Earlier, as Rita had passed through the Florida Keys, she was said to be on her way to the Gulf Coast. At that time, she was neither implied as batter nor ball, but a roaming vandal. She had a trajectory, which implies a flying solid, but the baseball metaphor was not yet being played by the media. Metaphors grow into usage, and back out, as we describe changing things.
Changing times beget changing perspectives, which beget changing metaphors.