How Hans Became an American, by Elinor Nauen

This poem by Elinor Nauen is a bit longer, but well worth the read. It demonstrates how closely baseball gets associated with Americanism, even to those outside the nation’s borders. I especially love the line, “He goes home because he has nowhere else to go.”

*

I’ve been sitting at my desk a lot
staring at my father.
It’s a picture taken in summer
a few months before he died.
He’s looking at me
with a wry and knowing
–did he know?–
expression. He looks like a man
who needs a private joke
to get a proper snapshot.
He’s looking straight at me, even as I sit
in a cold May, a little too tired,
the Yanks getting beat 4-1 in the 5th
by Oakland out on the coast,
a lackluster they’ll-never-catch-up game
Rasmussen not getting shellacked
just doesn’t have anything
and neither do the hitters.
Gone native in his Arizona retirement
Dad is wearing a bolo tie and looks shrunken, frail.
I liked to kiss him on the top of his bony head
in the desert mornings.

He took all of us to a game only once, my first, I was ten,
Charlie was eight, Lindsay was twelve
and the baby was left home.
We drove all the way from South Dakota
up to Minneapolis
to see the Twins play the Yankees
(my team).
Daddy was a refugee from Nazi Germany
and Mom was English.
They were grownups
who’d never seen a game either. They went
because he was the father of Americans
and I was a little baseball fanatic.

Mom sat quietly for about twenty minutes
fanning herself with a straw sunhat and beaming
then asked, when does the game begin?
Look down there, we said.
It was already the second inning
but I still don’t think she spotted it.
I think she was waiting for the play by play.
The familiar radio sounds
so different in the ballpark.

Daddy wore plaid shorts over his white skinny legs
and puffed a cigar.
He began to like baseball
when he found someone
who knew less about it than he did.
He explained it all to Mom
mostly according to his own logic–
He had an accountant’s sense of symmetry
and the diamond pleased him–
the implication of infinity.
The profusion of numbers and their richness
impressed him…
and it was a damn nice summer day.
I think now of those bleachers
old Metropolitan stadium full of stolid Scandinavians
who never corrected him–
that would have spoiled their fun.
Mom would ask: Where’s that chap running off to now?
And Dad would explain:
He goes home because he has nowhere else to go…

My brother and I spent most of the time under the stands
scrapping with baby Twinkies–
Twins fans who didn’t take to our rooting for the enemy.
Charlie thinks he remembers a game-winning
Bobby Richardson grand slam.
I only recall the Yanks winning in the 10th
and the incredibly intense luxury of that lagniappe inning.

Daddy stuck with baseball too.
Like the voting
that made him proudest as a naturalized citizen
he quietly exulted
at being able to talk to his kids
about what they liked to talk about
which was sports. What pleasure
it gave him
to be able to call
(those Sunday calls!–this later
after we’d all left home)
and say, “So, Mattingly’s still leading the league”
or “I see where the Yankees aren’t doing to well.” …

But tonight there’s an amazing comeback
another 10th-inning heroic to call home about
(“I see where the Yankees are going great guns”)
thought it’s a few second basemen later
and the serene and splendid Willie Randolph
who pulls it out for the team.


Quote of the day

Ah, baseball… pointless and circular and beautiful.  Nothing better than an afternoon at the ballpark — that most perfect of diamonds — where life’s as simple as a slow roll foul down the first base line, where anyone can be the star, the chosen, the hard-breathing champ.

~Elinor Nauen

elinor nauen

photo by Albie Mitchell


“Baseball,” by Linda Pastan

Here’s a poem out of a book that a close friend gave to me a few years ago.  The book is Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend: Women Writers on Baseball, edited by Elinor Nauen, and it is a collection of stories, poems, essays, and memoirs about baseball written by women.  I love the layers of meaning in this piece.

Baseball

When you tried to tell me
baseball was a metaphor

for life: the long, dusty travail
around the bases, for instance,

to try to go home again;
the Sacrifice for which you win

approval but not applause;
the way the light closes down

in the last days of the season–
I didn’t believe you.

It’s just a way of passing
the time, I said.

And you said: that’s it.
Yes.