This piece by Yusef Komunyakaa was published originally in Magic City in 1992. It serves as a nod to black baseball as well as a depiction of baseball as play in juxtaposition to the working lives of black Americans. Life is hard for these young men, but the game provides them with an outlet to help them get through it all.
Most were married teenagers
Working knockout shifts daybreak
To sunset six days a week–
Already old men playing ball
In a field between a row of shotgun houses
& the Magazine Lumber Company.
They were all Jackie Robinson
& Willie Mays, a touch of
Josh Gibson & Satchell Paige
In each stance and swing, a promise
Like a hesitation pitch always
At the edge of their lives,
Arms sharp as rifles.
The Sunday afternoon heat
Flared like thin flowered skirts
As children and wives cheered.
The men were like cats
Running backwards to snag
Pop-ups & high-flies off
Fences, stealing each others’s glory.
The old deacons & raconteurs
Who umpired made an Out or Safe
Into a song & dance routine.
Runners hit the dirt
& slid into homeplate,
Cleats catching light,
As they conjured escapes, outfoxing
Double plays. In the few seconds
It took a man to eye a woman
Upon the makeshift bleachers,
A stolen base or homerun
Would help another man
Survive the new week.
You lose, you smile, and you come back the next day. You win, you smile, you come back the next day.
~Ken Griffey, Jr.
The adrenaline is pumping before or during a game – you’re excited, you’re anxious. But the biggest things are just having fun and being confident. There really is no alternative because you just can’t be negative. And a huge part of developing that confidence is by working hard every day, and I don’t think that is limited to the baseball field. I think that bleeds over to all aspects of anything that you’re doing or working on in life.
Like Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra, pitcher Satchel Paige was known for his one-liners . The “Rules for Staying Young” are a set of these one-liners that were quoted so often while he was alive they were carved into his gravestone.
Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
If you stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society — the social ramble ain’t restful.
Avoid running at all times.
And don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
Baseball is a game of long-suffering, and if one doesn’t have the endurance to get over the hard times, bad hops, bad luck, failure-at-the-rate-of-70%-or-better hitting, and all the other things that happen that try one’s patience, they won’t last long in the game.
~ Peter G. Doumit
Every now and then, I’ll go out and do things with other people, whether it be for a work function or just hanging out with friends or colleagues in general. Certainly this partaking in social rituals is a normal part of being a member of society and the human race, although, introvert that I am, I often do so begrudgingly and with a sense of discomfort and dread.
I went out for dinner on Friday evening with some folks from work, though I was actually looking forward to this particular outing. It had been a high stress week on the job, so the thought of some good food and a cocktail out with some company struck me as appealing.
The catch to this, I realize in retrospect, is that I am not the kind of person who can go out with just anybody solely for the sake of going out with somebody. Granted, this is not a brand new epiphany that has only occurred to me in the last couple days — when it comes to dating, for example, I won’t just go out with anyone who happens to be available. There has to be some level of interest already established, and my date certainly won’t be reaching any metaphorical bases until I deem an appropriate level of worthiness. In non-dating scenarios, ironically, it becomes a bit more complicated. Agreeing to go out for a casual not-date drink with a colleague or acquaintance does not generally come with the implication that someone might be looking for more. It’s just about “hanging out” or “blowing off steam” or whatever-you-want-to-call-it.
The reason I find this more difficult is because it makes it harder to say no. Saying no to a proposed date is socially acceptable. If you don’t meet my standards, then I won’t date you, period. Most people respect that equation. Simply hanging out, however, comes with a more lax set of expectations. It is a societal norm to hang out with folks even when we aren’t all that close to them. We meet old acquaintances for lunch or we go out with co-workers during happy hour, even though we may not even like them. If you say no to these invitations, you are dubbed “antisocial” or “unfriendly” or, most confusing of all, “stuck up.”
All that said, I agreed to this outing on Friday evening primarily due to the appeal of potentially letting go of the tensions brought about by the workweek. I should have known better than to go out with a couple of co-workers in the attempt to accomplish this. I wish I could say there was a high point to the conversation that commenced, but there really wasn’t. I’ll own up to the fact that I didn’t do much to help matters: I made no effort to try to redirect the conversation, merely eating my food and sipping on my whiskey and Coke in relative silence. As a quiet individual, I find that trying to steer a conversation being dominated by two or more other, louder people often feels like more effort than it’s worth.
Fortunately for me, we had decided on meeting at a local sports bar, which meant that Game Two of the NLDS was playing soundlessly on all the televisions in the establishment. So while the conversation devolved from the exasperations of online dating to an all-out gossip/bitchfest about work (that topic I was hoping so much to avoid), I frequently glanced over to see how the Rockies and the Brewers were doing. I confess that I had largely stopped watching the Royals as their 58-104 season dragged on — even as things started to pick up for them in September, I couldn’t bring myself to watch. But no matter how distant my relationship with the game might seem at times, baseball always holds a greater appeal for me than listening to negativity from other humans.
I have family members living in Wisconsin. Combine that with the opportunity to watch former Royals Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, I defaulted to rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers. I was pleased to see that they were up 1-0, and the score remained that way until our dinner outing (thankfully) ended. It made me smile a little to see that they did go on to win the game, and it was good to see both Cain and Moustakas at the plate again. I miss having them in Kansas City, but I can’t help but be happy for them and their opportunity to play some more October baseball. I hope the Brewers continue to do well.
All this, I guess, is just a long way of me saying that I like baseball infinitely better than I like most people, even though baseball obviously wouldn’t exist without people. I meant to write a lot more about baseball itself here, which clearly did not happen, but at least I can still say that the “moral” of this post is that baseball continues to provide a nice escape whenever our lives throw us into these somewhat uncomfortable situations, no matter how distant we might feel from the game.