Literature Study GuidesThe NaturalBatter Up Part 1 Summary

The Natural | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Natural | Batter Up!, Part 1 | Summary

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Summary

Fifteen years later Pop Fisher, coach of the New York Knights, laments the curse that seems to control his terrible team. Pop wishes he had become a farmer rather than a coach as he scratches his infected fingers under their bandages. Pop's star player, Bump, goofs off as usual, despite Pop's desperate attempts to focus him. A "tall, husky, dark-bearded fellow" approaches and announces that he is the team's new left fielder. Pop is confused why anyone would sign a player as old as this one. Roy, who is now 34, responds that despite his age, "I'm good for ten years." Pop tries to argue with Roy that they have no room or money to take him on, but to Pop's dismay, the contract has already been signed. Finally, Pop comes around to the idea of a new player and sends Roy to the clubhouse for a uniform.

In the clubhouse Roy feels nervous around the trainers and players, suffering flashbacks of his last encounter with the Whammer. When Pop enters the room, the players tease and heckle him; it's clear no one takes him seriously, following Bump's terrible example. The players also tease each other, even Bump, refusing to focus on any of the coaches' or trainers' authority. Max Mercy arrives, much to Roy's astonishment, although the reporter clearly does not recognize Roy. The team has unsurprisingly lost their game, but when Pop tries to lambaste them for their poor performance, Bump keeps interrupting with jokes. Pop tries to reassert his authority over the team, saying, "As for you, Bump Baily, high and mighty though you are, some day you'll pay for your sassafras. Remember that lightning cuts down the tallest trees too." This embarrasses Bump, which only makes him angrier.

After the game Pop lends Roy money to get a room until his first check. He arranges for Roy to stay at a hotel with a few other single players. On his way out to meet the team trainer for dinner, Roy encounters Bump, who is also staying in the hotel, in the lobby. Bump convinces Roy to swap rooms with him for the night because Bump has "a lady friend visit[ing] me and there are too many nosy people on [his] floor." Roy agrees and goes up to the fourth floor, where Bump is staying. He sees a door ajar and assumes it is Bump's room, but inside a stunning redhead is combing her hair in the mirror and wearing nothing but a bra. She screams when she seems Roy, and he quickly rushes to Bump's room next door.

At dinner Roy can't stop thinking about the girl. Red Blow, the trainer, talks at length about the team's slump. He details Pop's personal professional flop years earlier and the obsession Pop has with breaking that curse: "he has spent twenty-five years and practically all of his pile trying to break the jinx, which he thinks he can do by making the Knights into the world champs that the old Sox never did become." Now Judge Bannon, who bought into the team during a time of financial weakness, takes advantage of Pop and tries to push him into retirement. Roy promises to give his all to the team and help Pop break the jinx. That night the redhead sneaks into Roy's room, and the two make love.

Analysis

The reader's first impressions of Pop are very similar to the Fisher King in Arthurian legend—Malamud makes a clear reference to this legend through Pop Fisher's name. In legend the ailing Fisher King's health and land have deteriorated since he failed to claim the Holy Grail. The Fisher King's hands were burned by the grail, a detail that offers another parallel to Pop, whose hands are bandaged from his rash. The Fisher King's lands are a wasteland, just as Pop's field is parched and dry: Pop says, "It's been a blasted dry season ... The grass is worn scabby ... and the infield is cracking." He goes on to describe how this reflects his own internal state, saying, "My heart feels as dry as dirt for the little I have to show for all my years in the game." He wishes he had been a farmer rather than a coach because he has "that green thumb" that might have made the earth flourish. Later the reader learns that 25 years earlier, Pop's mistake cost his team the World Series. Since then he has spent his life trying to reclaim the "Holy Grail," but he is too old to do it alone. He needs young, new talent to help him achieve the dream and it is clear his current star, Bump, isn't up to the task. The situation mirrors the legend's quest: to break his curse, the Fisher King needs a young knight to help him reach the Holy Grail. Again, Malamud emphasizes this parallel by naming the fictional baseball team the "Knights." Before Roy arrived, Pop had been putting his faith in Bump, but like Roy, Bump is more interested in himself than the team, playing practical jokes and blatantly disrespecting the coach. Although talented, Bump does not have the moral grounding or chivalry required to be a knightly hero.

Now, 15 years after he was first introduced, Roy is 34 and should have obtained some moral and emotional maturity, yet psychologically he remains similar to his teenaged self. During his 15-year hiatus from the game, Roy appears to have learned nothing about himself. Still interested only in playing the game for his own glory, Roy is socially awkward and driven by lust for the beautiful redhead—later revealed to be the temptress Memo. Throughout the novel the reader watches with frustration as Roy chases after Memo, even though she is obviously uninterested in him, and sacrifices everything, even his legacy in the sport, to have her. In this way he is more like a lovesick teenager than a man in his 30s. For many of Malamud's messages to land, Roy must be naïve and self-centered. But because Malamud works in the tradition of the vegetative myth—meaning Roy will only be able to play one season, with one cycle to rise and fall—his character must also be older, with no possibility of a comeback.

This part foreshadows the eventual demise of both Bump and Roy with Pop's warning that "lightning cuts down the tallest trees too." Neither Bump nor Roy think they can fail. When Roy joins the team, he says, "I'm good for ten years." Likewise, Bump feels so invincible in his position as star player that he pours dry ice down the umpire's pants and is downright insubordinate to his coach. Both men are driven by their egos. In this way each baseball season, like the seasons in a vegetative myth, creates the rise and fall of a tragic hero.

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