Unlike the arcs of soccer or basketball fields, which can be nightmares of geometry, the lines of baseball are straight and true.

Lines used to bracket a baseball field, to create the boundaries of its being, are formed by calcium carbonate. They do not occur naturally. They can be angled and re-angled as long as they are of regulation length. The boundaries are the essence of home field advantage.

In the days of Riverfront, the basepaths were still visible in football season, just as home plate was easily picked out during winter. One season always promised the next. The base paths were there, but they weren’t.

Most pro fields use a white powder known as calcium carbonate (and you thought cocaine was the only sugary dust capable of capsizing careers and trafficking in the billions.) Calcium carbonate is a form of metamorphic rock. And metamorphic rock, dear readers, is what happens when immense heat and enormous pressure are exerted upon objects of the earth for extended periods; nine geologic innings, perhaps.

Base paths are, in other words, marble: That which is favored for some of the most delicate and intricate art the world has ever seen. When Michelangelo and Bernini chiseled and scraped, this is what fluttered to the floor.

This form of stone is so supple it was used translucently cover the faces of women shaped from it.  That means that when calcium citrate forms the outer edges of a thing, the viewer can still see the full face of a person. It invites seeing. Marble is simultaneously hard-packed and soft, as rocks go.

You can buy marble dust in little bags at art supply stores or as lime in giant sacks from sports retailers Museums use marble dust to recreate sculptures– 3D-print a fake of the whole thing or patch up the real item. And so the same chemical composition can shape the window to a face or stand in as a cheap replica of something greater and far more rare. The fate of it lies in its intended use.

Calcium carbonate is, in its cheapest form, chalk– educational and easily erased. Between innings the grounds crew might scrape away the earlier part of the game with a shovel, blending it with the surrounding dirt. The baseline thus becomes part of the field, unseen but still present. More white dust is applied, wiping away the distortions the sliding, running, ball skipping, and tagging have caused. It is time to begin again.

With a few manufacturing tweaks, it becomes filler for grey slabs or sidewalk and rough outer walls of ball parks. It heralds its finer form on the infield. When artists use marble dust, they might mix it with paint to create more texture or repair a fresco. It creates and re-creates.



10 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    Poetry, education, and a geology lesson. You may have topped yourself, MBE. We had a bocce court in the yard for a while. I used white line paint to mark it. What I should have used, is calcium carbonate.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Very kind of you 🙂 I wonder if I was actually a Floridian, for I have never played bocce.

  2. earmbrister

    Poetry in motion, if you can call painted lines motion. Thank you MBE for yet another pleasurable read.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That is lovely! I’ve never thought of the painted lines as such. Thank you for that.

  3. Scott C

    Funny that something so impermanent like the lines on a baseball field call to us from a sport that has been a permanent fixture in so many lives. With all the changes baseball has had over the years, they still us chalk at the MLB level. In high school, at least where I’ve been the last thirty years they used white paint, it was easier to apply and evidently more cost effective. Although I must say as crooked as some of those lines were the groundskeepers most of been singing “Build Me Up Buttercup.” as they were applying it.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Impermanent lines and permanent memories– that is wonderful. Wish I’d thought of it 🙂

  4. Rednat

    thanks Marybeth. the fascinating thing to me about a baseball field is that because the lines are at a 90 degree angle technically the field of play goes on for infinity. we are all technically standing in the field of play as we speak

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s awesome– thanks for the geometry class reminder. I did love me some rays 🙂

  5. NorMichRed

    As a U.C. Geology alumnus from many years ago, thanks MBE for your article embracing the wonders of calcium carbonate! Another gem from your talented quilled pen! The beautiful hills of Cincinnati and the Tri-State are provided their topographic splendor by limestones (calcium carbonate) from the Ordovician Period (laid down in shallow seas roughly 440-480 million years ago). It was a time rich in diverse marine life, though fishes hadn’t yet made the scene. My former U.C. professors Richard A. Davis and David Meyer co-authored an outstanding book about life in the Cincinnati area a few years ago: A Sea Without Fish: Life in the Ordovician Sea of the Cincinnati Region, for any who might like a longer look at the amazing geology and fossil record exhibited in road cuts and backyard outcrops in the area. As a U.C. teaching assistant in the 1970’s, I got to take many students on field trips to see this amazing laboratory of ancient history! And now, back to those geometrically infinite chalked base lines and the green space around them inhabited by our Boys of Summer! Let’s get after those pesky Bucco’s!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Geology is fascinating! I was always jealous that my sister had a chance to take a college course about the geology of the National Parks. Thanks so much for bringing this in 🙂