I'm a sucker for baseball stories. Anytime "Field of Dreams" is on TV I have to watch it. I spend hour upon hour listening or watching the Red Sox during the season and some of my greatest memories have been linked to baseball. David Duchovny obviously understands that there are a lot of people like me.
If you're not a baseball fan, you probably didn't get that much out of "The Unnatural," but if you have a soft spot for freshly-mowed outfields and late-inning comebacks, this is the episode for you.
Here's what happens in this entertaining story of an alien who falls in love with baseball:
Most people know of one major event that occurred in Roswell, New Mexico on July 2, 1947, but "The Unnatural" reveals a second story -- a story of baseball and aliens and the kind of passion that can turn a man (or an alien) into something completely different.
The story begins at the same time as the Roswell crash. While a spacecraft is carving a hole in the desert, miles away a rag-tag group of ballplayers is playing a night game. Negro League legend Josh Exley steps up to the plate to face off against a gangly, near-sighted white pitcher named Moose.
Moose's first pitch arcs toward the plate. Exley's eyes light up as Moose's gift drops into his wheelhouse. Turning on the ball too soon, Exley rockets the ball foul, sending it into the darkness. The left fielder gives chase, but the ball disappears into the tumbleweeds. As the fielder is staring into the night, the ball is tossed back to him, landing at his feet. Confused, the player tosses the dirty ball back into play. Moose rubs the rawhide and shoots another pitch into the plate but this time Exley waits for its arrival. With a mighty swing the ball shoots high and deep into left field. Without a doubt, it's a home run.
But it's more than a home run, it's a record. Exley has just hit his 61st dinger, beating Babe Ruth's record of 60. Exley's teammates, the Roswell Grays, surround the record beater, carrying him on their shoulders and yelping with little-boy delight.
The celebration is cut short when a group of Ku Klux Klan members rides onto the field, brandishing rifles and demanding that Josh Exley be turned over. The members of both baseball teams surround Exley, protecting the player from the sinister group. Suddenly, a well-thrown baseball smacks one of the Klansmen upside the head, dropping him from his horse. Moose winds up and tosses another ball, cracking a second whitesheet in the head. As a third mounted Klansman raises his rifle, Moose unloads a beautiful pitch, again hitting the mark. Moose's manager spits tobacco juice at the third Klansmen then rips his white hood from his head, expecting to see an unconscious local. That's not what he finds. Hidden beneath the sheet is a gray alien.
Flash forward 52 years. It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon in D.C. yet Mulder and Scully are holed up in the X-files office, scanning through ancient New Mexico newspaper archives from the '40s. Scully berates Mulder for wasting such a gorgeous day but Mulder is unscathed by her barbed comments. When Scully produces a non-fat tofutti rice dreamsicle, Mulder's demeanor changes. The little kid in him demands ice cream so after trading cliches with his partner, he makes a grab for the tofutti creation. In the melee, the tofutti spills across the newspapers, staining a yellowed sports section. Scully, realizing Mulder's been reading old baseball box scores, is dumbfounded. Mulder defends himself by lauding the glory of box scores, claiming that the columns of at-bats, hits, runs and average assure him that while the world moves forward, some things stay the same. Scully, however, isn't a baseball fan and Mulder's lesson on the simple beauty of the box score falls on deaf ears.
Mulder's attention turns to a newspaper picture with the caption "Local Roswell police officer Arthur Dales chats with Diamond Star Josh Exley." Seeing his old buddy Dales triggers Mulder's X-file senses. He rips the newspaper from its archive binding and rushes out of the office. Scully voices her disapproval of Mulder's defacement of government property, jokingly cocking her head and declaring Mulder a rebel. There's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing Scully in one of her smart-ass moods.
The mood is lost on Mulder for he's too busy visiting Arthur Dales at his apartment in a derelict district of D.C. But wait a minute, didn't we see Arthur Dales living in Florida in "Agua Mala?" Indeed we did, but this is the brother of Arthur Dales -- a man who is also named Arthur. Dales explains the name problem to Mulder, attributing the duplicate names to uncreative parents. Like his brother, this Dales mopes around his apartment in an ill-fitting bathrobe, spending his days in front of the television.
Dales is an ornery old character, but his mind is sharp and he clearly knows Mulder. He and his brother (the FBI Arthur seen in "Travelers" and "Agua Mala") used to stay up all night, talking about Mulder's exploits. Despite his admiration of Mulder, Dales is in no mood to chitchat so he slams his apartment door in Mulder's face. Mulder worms his way into Dales' apartment by convincing the old coot he's a true baseball fan. And how did he do that? By correctly reciting Mickey Mantle's lifetime home run stats. Mulder may be socially inept, but the man knows his baseball.
Once inside, Dales takes great delight in whimsically dismissing Mulder's search for extraterrestrials. If Mulder paid more attention to baseball, Dales asserts, all his problems would be solved. Unfortunately, Mulder isn't in the mood to discuss batting averages and the validity of the designated hitter. The picture he found in the old Roswell newspaper depicts three men: Dales, Josh Exley and the grim-faced Alien Bounty Hunter. It's that shapeshifting bounty bandit Mulder is curious about, but Dales refuses to divulge anything without telling the whole story. Prompting Mulder to insert "coffee money" into a baseball bank (a bank "named" Pete Rosebud) Dales begins to spin his yarn.
The scene turns to June 29, 1947. Arthur Dales (the one Mulder is talking to) is employed as a police officer in Roswell, New Mexico. On this fine June day, Dales stop by the Roswell Municipal Ballfield to speak with Josh Exley, the star player for the Roswell Grays. The ballplayers are casually strolling off the diamond, loading onto their team bus, preparing to travel to their next game. Dales approaches Exley, clutching a crumpled piece of paper. Sprawled on the paper, Old-West style, is a reward for the death of Josh Exley. Jackie Robinson's recent crossing of the Major League Baseball color barrier has opened up baseball to black players and rumors have been swirling throughout Roswell saying that the Yankees will sign Exley. Racist hatemongers have posted the death threats in an attempt to keep baseball "pure" by keeping it white. Dales isn't concerned with baseball or a racist agenda. He offers Exley a choice: Allow Dales to tag along as his bodyguard or let Dales protect Exley in a cell at the precinct. Exley opts for the bodyguard.
Dales is quickly accepted by the Grays, easily fitting into their jovial group. After a night of joking on the team bus, the Grays fall asleep. Dales is startled awake by a storm raging outside. Glancing toward the back of the bus he sees Exley sleeping with his head propped on a pillow resting against a window. Lightning flashes and Dales notices something odd about Exley's reflection. Moving closer it's clear that the reflection is that of a sleeping gray alien.
The setting returns to the present where the old Arthur Dales is letting Mulder in on a secret. Dales claims that all great baseball players -- everyone from Mantle to Koufax -- were aliens. Mulder assumes Dales is speaking metaphorically, but Dales counters with this classic quip: "Speaking metaphorically is for young men like you, Agent MacGyver. I don't have time for that. I only have time to speak the truth."
While Mulder licks the wound left from that MacGyver comment, the story returns to the past. It's now June 30, 1947 and a big crowd is assembling for an afternoon game at the Roswell Municipal Ballfield. A young kid named "Poorboy" (a character seen in both 1947 and 1999) meets up with a black friend and the two stroll into the ballpark. The boys are playfully arguing over Exley's home run statistics. Exley is within striking distance of Babe Ruth's home run record but there's debate over the validity of Exley's chase. If a Negro League player surpasses a Major League record, does it count?
Statistics Sidenote: The two boys are debating this point in late June, which means Exley already has 58 or 59 home runs. If Exley were to play a full Major League season, he'd probably hit 110-120 four-baggers.
Returning to the story: While Exley waits in the on-deck circle for his next at-bat, Dales sees two white men sitting behind home plate reaching into their shirts. Dales rushes toward Exley as the men pull guns. Successfully smothering Exley, Dales waits for the bullets, but they don't come. Peering over his shoulder he sees that the men are holding squirt guns, not real weapons. Dales helps Exley up, brushes off the slugger then walks, embarrassed, back to the dugout.
Exley could have used Dales' protection in the batter's box. The great hitter is beaned in the head by an errant curve ball. The catcher places his glove beneath Exley's unconscious noggin while teammates gather around. Exley regains consciousness and is helped back to the dugout. As he walks off with his team, Dales looks down at the catcher's mitt and sees a smoking green goo chewing through the leather.
Returning to his precinct, Dales places a call to the Macon, Georgia Police Department. While Exley was laid out on the ballfield a teammate asked the hitter where he was from. Exley claimed he was from Macon, so Dales decides to verify that tidbit of information. The call is answered by the Alien Bounty Hunter, who for some strange reason is working as a police officer in Macon, Georgia. The alien tells Dales that the only Josh Exley he knows of was a young black boy who disappeared five years ago. Before hanging up, the Bounty Hunter asks for Dales' location. Unfortunately for Exley, Dales unwittingly reveals that he's in Roswell, New Mexico.
Later that day, Dales drops by the ballpark to watch the Grays. The two young boys tell Dales that the Yankee scouts are on hand to see what Exley can do. Exley is also aware of the scouts but instead of putting on a hitting clinic, he starts to play like a rookie-league utility infielder. With an 0-2 count late in the game, the Grays are the on the verge of losing. The Yankee scouts toss their scorecards aside and leave the stands, and suddenly Exley turns into his normal self. He rockets the next pitch into the outfield scoreboard, winning the game for the Grays.
That night on the team bus, Dales confronts Exley. He knows Exley played poorly on purpose because he's hiding something. Attaining fame in the Majors will inevitably reveal his secret, a secret Dales vows to uncover.
The uncovering happens later that night at The Cozy Cactus Motel. Dales is holed up in a room adjacent to Exley's. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Dales hears odd noises coming from next door. The curious police officer picks the lock and enters Exley's dark room. A quick flick of a nearby switch sends light spraying throughout the room, uncovering the svelte form of a gray alien. The alien is wearing a baseball cap and underwear and is also holding a wooden bat. Dales, seeing this Very Odd Sight, holds up his lock pick in defense and squeaks a pathetic cry. The alien answers with a similar high-pitched squeal and the two beings continue with this piercing exchange for a number of seconds. Finally, Dales faints, his eyes unable to fathom the image he's just seen. The gray alien relaxes, gently shaking its head in disapproval.
The gray moves Dales to a nearby chair and nurses him back to consciousness. Dales wakes up, hearing the voice of Exley coaxing him to come around. Looking over, he sees that voice coming from the alien, which causes him to faint again. Exley (in his alien form) is flabbergasted at Dales' pathetic nature. Finally, Dales wakes up and stays that way, giving Exley a chance to explain that he's really an alien. Dales, his mind groggy, is still unable to wrap his head around this development. Exley morphs into a beautiful woman, hoping a familiar form will ease Dales' nerves. As the woman settles onto Dales' lap a man opens the door to announce that the team is leaving.
At the back of the team bus, Exley quietly explains how all of this came to happen. Exley is a stray alien; a criminal in the eyes of his people. According to Exley, the grays don't approve of any mingling with humans. They're a remarkably different species -- they don't laugh, they don't smile and they don't encourage passion. Exley lived as a normal gray for years, but baseball made him change. The smell of the grass, the way the lights fall over the field during a night game, the perfect feeling that comes when you connect a bat with a ball -- all of this made him leave his former life behind. In describing this, Exley turns Dales into a fan. The passion Exley has for the game is contagious and you can see it seeping into Dales. Like all true baseball fans, Dales simply gets it.
Mulder, however, still doesn't get it. Back in the present day, he's trying to assign a concrete definition to what Exley was: Was he a man? An alien? A human-alien hybrid? Dales fends these questions off with a perfect response: "You certainly have a knack for turning chicken salad into chicken spit." Dales explains that Exley's defining characteristics were the same ones humans use to describe themselves. He had integrity and empathy, all of the (good) things that define a man. Mulder's eyes clear and he shuts his verbose mouth. Apparently, Dales has finally hit the mark.
Hitting the mark is the thought going through the mind of the Alien Bounty Hunter. Returning to 1947, the Bounty Hunter arrives in Roswell and begins spreading his alien love all over town. Taking on the appearance of Exley, the Bounty Hunter travels to the police crime lab (a primitive lab full of Mr. Wizard-like paraphernalia) where he destroys the green goo sample found on the catchers mitt and murders the scientist running tests on the extraterrestrial evidence. The crafty alien has just framed Exley for murder.
Dales finds the real Exley out at the ballpark, running sprints in the outfield by himself. Dales warns Exley about the murder, pleading with him to get out of town, but Exley has already made travel plans. He motions for Dales to pick up a nearby glove for a game of catch. While tossing the ball back and forth, Exley says he's had a talk with his family (the aliens) and he realizes he has to go back. Sirens sound in the distance and both men realize their time together is almost over. Before walking off, Exley asks Dales to remember him, to remember the things he did on the field and the love he had for the game. Dales smiles and promises to keep Exley's exploits alive. As the sirens get closer, Exley runs off, disappearing behind the outfield fence.
That night at the ballpark, Dales makes an enormous sacrifice for his friend. Fedora-wearing government types grill Dales, asking for Exley's location, but Dales doesn't bite. At the same time, Exley is playing in his final game -- the game we saw in the teaser. After cracking his 61st homerun the same events from the opening play out: Exley wins the game, his teammates celebrate, the Klan arrives and the alien Klansman is uncovered. The "human" ballplayers scramble away as the gray Klansman regains consciousness. Exley, however, stands his ground. The gray morphs into the Bounty Hunter, rising to his feet and producing the alien-killing stiletto. In a weird speech, the Bounty hunter demands to see Exley's true form so he can die with honor. Exley refuses, instead focusing on the record-breaking home run he hit moments before. Again the bounty hunter demands to see his true face, but Exley says that his human face is his true face. The bounty hunter raises the stiletto and plunges it into the back of Exley's neck. The ballplayer crumples to the ground just as a pickup truck roars onto the outfield.
The driver of the truck is Dales. After his interrogation at the Roswell Ballfield he found a map Exley had left behind, detailing the location of his final game. Dales is too late to save his friend -- he drives up just as the Bounty Hunter is stabbing Exley. The alien killer rushes off on horseback, leaving Dales to care for the mortally wounded Exley. Cradling Ex in his arms, the ballplayer tries to push Dales away, fearful that his green blood will wound his friend. But the blood isn't green, it's red. Exley's passion for baseball allowed him to become human in his final seconds.
While Dales holds Exley's dying body, mournful gospel music drifts in and the scene fades back to the present. The gospel voices grow stronger as the old Dales looks up at the ceiling. In a shot from above, we see Mulder silently watching Dales -- the old man's hands are gently clutched over his heart and his eyes are welling with tears.
The music fades into the background while Mulder digs in at home plate, preparing to hit baseballs into an empty diamond. Poorboy (the young kid seen throughout the episode) drops balls into a pitching machine as Mulder takes his cuts. Scully walks from behind the backstop, folds her arms and explains that she received an urgent message on her voicemail from someone named "Fox Mantle." Mulder pauses, looks over his shoulder and motions for Scully to approach the plate. Scully complies, sidling into the batter's box. Mulder instructs her to grab the bat, teaching her to grip the handle as though she was shaking someone's hand. He stands behind her, holding the bat at the base and higher on the neck, allowing Scully to grasp it in the middle. "Hips before hands," Mulder says. "Hips before hands," Scully repeats. Poorboy feeds a ball into the machine and the agents swing, dropping a pop fly into shallow right field. As balls fly toward the plate and the pair swing together, Mulder says that swinging a bat and concentrating on that little ball can make all the problems in the world go away. This classic exchange is worth repeating:
Mulder: All right, what you may find is you concentrating on that little ball, the rest of the world just fades away. All your everyday nagging concerns. The ticking of your biological clock. How you probably couldn't afford that nice, new suede coat on a G-Woman's salary. How you threw away a promising career in medicine to hunt aliens with a crackpot, albeit brilliant, partner. Getting into the heart of a global conspiracy. Your obscenely overdue triple-x bill. Oh..I..I'm sorry. Those last two problems are mine, not yours.
Scully: Shut up Mulder. I'm playing baseball.
As Scully laughs, they continue to hit ball after ball, each arcing pop fly glowing momentarily against the night sky then fading into darkness.
Shippers probably thought this was a romantic moment, but it wasn't. Mulder wasn't luring Scully to the ballfield so he could touch her hips and grip her hands, he was sharing something that everyone should experience at least once. Hitting a baseball with a wooden bat is the essence of purity. The closing ramble from Mulder may have seemed purely humorous, but it had a lot of truth in it. Hitting a ball, concentrating only on the act of connecting, does make it all fade away.
Sorry for that editorial comment -- I couldn't resist. Growing up playing baseball and experiencing many of the things talked about in this episode make "The Unnatural" that much better for me. Sure, there were plot holes and certain things could be perceived as contrived, but at the heart of it Duchovny found the passion that makes people love the game.
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.