But baseball was different. Schwartz thought of it as Homeric – not a scrum but a series of isolated contests. Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus ball. You couldn’t storm around, snorting and slapping people, the way Schwartz did while playing football.You stood and waited and tried to still your mind. When your moment came, you had to be ready, because if you fucked up, everyone would know whose fault it was. What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?
~Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding
This piece was published in 1996 in Avalanche, a collection of poetry by Quincy Troupe. It is not only a piece from a son to his father, but also a great tribute to the Negro Leagues.
for Quincy T. Trouppe Sr.
father, it was an honor to be there, in the dugout
with you, the glory of great black men swinging their lives
as bats, at tiny white balls
burning in at unbelievable speeds, riding up & in & out
a curve breaking down wicked, like a ball falling off a table
moving away, snaking down, screwing its stitched magic
into chitlin circuit air, its comma seams spinning
toward breakdown, dipping, like a hipster
bebopping a knee-dip stride, in the charlie parker forties
wrist curling, like a swan’s neck
behind a slick black back
cupping an invisible ball of dreams
& you there, father, regal, as an african, obeah man
sculpted out of wood, from a sacred tree, of no name, no place, origin
thick branches branching down, into cherokee & someplace else lost
way back in africa, the sap running dry
crossing from north carolina into georgia, inside grandmother mary’s
womb, where your mother had you in the violence of that red soil
ink blotter news, gone now, into blood graves
of american blues, sponging rococo
truth long gone as dinosaurs
the agent-oranged landscape of former names
absent of african polysyllables, dry husk, consonants there
now, in their place, names, flat, as polluted rivers
& that guitar string smile always snaking across
some virulent, american, redneck’s face
scorching, like atomic heat, mushrooming over nagasaki
& hiroshima, the fever blistered shadows of it all
inked, as etchings, into sizzled concrete
but you, there, father, through it all, a yardbird solo
riffing on bat & ball glory, breaking down the fabricated myths
of white major league legends, of who was better than who
beating them at their own crap
game, with killer bats, as bud powell swung his silence into beauty
of a josh gibson home run, skittering across piano keys of bleachers
shattering all manufactured legends up there in lights
struck out white knights, on the risky edge of amazement
awe, the miraculous truth sluicing through
steeped & disguised in the blues
confluencing, like the point at the cross
when a fastball hides itself up in a slider, curve
breaking down & away in a wicked, sly grin
curved & posed as an ass-scratching uncle tom, who
like old sachel paige delivering his famed hesitation pitch
before coming back with a hard, high, fast one, is slicker
sliding, & quicker than a professional hitman—
the deadliness of it all, the sudden strike
like that of the “brown bomber’s” crossing right
of sugar ray robinson’s, lightning, cobra bite
& you, there, father, through it all, catching rhythms
of chono pozo balls, drumming, like conga beats into your catcher’s mitt
hard & fast as “cool papa” bell jumping into bed
before the lights went out
of the old, negro baseball league, a promise, you were
father, a harbinger, of shock waves, soon come
I have known folks who mow their lawn this way. Pine cones? Run ’em over. Thick coatings of leaves? The mower can handle it. Rocks? Who cares if they go flying?
I don’t mow that way 1) because I don’t have the money to buy a new lawn mower every other month, and 2) because I learned in a most unfortunate manner what happens when the mower picks up a stray rock and sends it flying into a window.
Running over a baseball would surely wreak havoc on any mower, no manner how sturdy and well-built it may be. And any mower would wreak just as much havoc on the poor baseball.
each day mowed
and mowed his lawn, his dry quarter acre,
the machine slicing a wisp
from each blade’s tip.
Dust storms rose
around the roar: 6:00 P.
, every day,
spring, summer, fall.
If he could mow
the snow he would.
On one side, his neighbors the cows
turned their backs to him
and did what they do to the grass.
Where he worked, I don’t know
but it sets his jaw to: tight.
His wife a cipher, shoebox tissue,
a shattered apron.
into her head he drove a wedge of shale.
Years later his daughter goes to jail.
Mow, mow, mow his lawn
gently down a decade’s summers.
On his other side lived mine and me,
across a narrow pasture, often fallow;
a field of fly balls, the best part of childhood
and baseball, but one could not cross his line
and if it did,
as one did in 1956
and another in 1958,
it came back coleslaw — his lawn mower
ate it up, happy
to cut something, no matter
what the manual said
about foreign objects,
stones, or sticks.
There isn’t any actual new information on either page. Mostly I thought it would be nice to have a centralized location that I, and potentially others, can reference. I’m the kind of person who will occasionally do a web search for various lists of books or other sorts of media in order to get ideas, and I imagine there are others out there who must do the same. In the process of creating these lists, I’m noticed there are a number of movies that I’ve yet to write about here, so that’ll be a nice little project for me to get on.
Feel free to check the pages out, share them with others, or ignore them completely.
This weekend I finished reading Last of the Third by John Lindholm. I hadn’t heard of the book prior to coming across it, but the summary sounded fascinating — and, of course, it’s about baseball — so I figured I’d give it a shot.
The novel’s main character, twenty-two-year-old Shawn McMaster, used to play baseball in his home town of Quail, Pennsylvania as their star left fielder. Shawn was a brilliant fielder, but really just an average hitter, and his performance at the plate caused him no small amount of anxiety. As the story opens, however, the reader quickly realizes that Shawn is in hiding, and we further learn that he hasn’t been home, nor played baseball, in four years. Shawn’s reason for going into hiding remains a mystery for much of the book, as Lindholm reveals that detail of the story inch-by-excruciating-inch over the course of the novel.
One night, Shawn’s whereabouts happen to get discovered by Larry Schneider, better known in Quail as Larry Last, the town oddball and best friend to Shawn’s grandfather, DJ McMaster. Larry relays the details of Shawn’s location to Shawn’s parents, and Shawn’s mother, Greta, convinces her son to return home at last.
Things are awkward, of course. While things in Quail don’t seem to have changed on the surface, Shawn soon realizes that his disappearance has had a profound impact on his parents, his friends, and his girlfriend, CeCe. He continues to struggle with his own self-deprecation, however, and it’s not until his father’s sudden, unexpected death that Shawn finally pulls his head out of his self-loathing and realizes that it’s time to take some responsibility for himself and those he cares about.
Meanwhile, the McMaster property in Quail is in trouble. Larry Last, who was with DJ McMaster in his last moments alive, has a couple of clues on how to save the property, but he is struggling to make sense of them. Lindholm does a fantastic job of dropping enough hints to keep the reader puzzling over the mystery, but not so many as to make it easily solvable. When the solution finally presented itself, I had to tip my hat to the author for his cleverness.
The plot does not follow a linear timeline, but rather jumps back and forth between the novel’s present events and flashing back to those events that brought the characters to where they now stood. I like the general structure of utilizing flashbacks in a story like this, though at times I found myself wishing it didn’t happen quite as often in this book. Most of the chapters are short, and most chapters take place in a different point in time, and so I found myself constantly having to refer back to the dates at the start of each chapter in order to orient myself. I certainly wouldn’t change the structure so much as just combine some of the shorter chapters into longer ones.
I have to confess, there were several instances while reading when I grew quite irritated with both Shawn McMaster and with his girlfriend CeCe. Then it occurred to me, about halfway through the novel, that my irritation with these two characters mirrored my irritation with the college-aged folk whom I deal with on a regular basis. That being said, I came to realize that Lindholm’s character development with regards to these two was actually spot on, and that my frustrations were not due to bad writing, but to really good character portrayal. I’m sure that sounds like a rather convoluted reaction, and it probably is. But it makes sense to my own mind, anyways.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It is nice, for a change, to have an outfielder be the star of the baseball team, rather than a pitcher or a shortstop or the team’s slugger. It’s definitely a coming-of-age story, though it’s one that happens in an older age group than usually seen in literature. Last of the Third takes the familiarity of baseball, small towns, and pie, and adds a couple of interesting twists to make it unique.
When I first started reading this poem by Edgar Guest, the first stanza gave me the impression that this would be about a man who used baseball as an analogy through which to teach his children important lessons about life. Boy, was I wrong. As I read on, I found myself smiling a bit, and even had to chuckle by the end.
The smell of arnica is strong,
And mother’s time is spent
In rubbing father’s arms and back
With burning liniment.
The house is like a druggist’s shop;
Strong odors fill the hall,
And day and night we hear him groan,
Since father played baseball.
He’s forty past, but he declared
That he was young as ever;
And in his youth, he said, he was
A baseball player clever.
So when the business men arranged
A game, they came to call
On dad and asked him if he thought
That he could play baseball.
“I haven’t played in fifteen years,
Said father, “but I know
That I can stop the grounders hot,
And I can make the throw.
I used to play a corking game;
The curves, I know them all;
And you can count on me, you bet,
To join your game of ball.”
On Saturday the game was played,
And all of us were there;
Dad borrowed an old uniform,
That Casey used to wear.
He paid three dollars for a glove,
Wore spikes to save a fall
He had the make-up on all right,
When father played baseball.
At second base they stationed him;
A liner came his way;
Dad tried to stop it with his knee,
And missed a double play.
He threw into the bleachers twice,
He let a pop fly fall;
Oh, we were all ashamed of him,
When father played baseball.
He tried to run, but tripped and fell,
He tried to take a throw;
It put three fingers out of joint,
And father let it go.
He stopped a grounder with his face;
Was spiked, nor was that all;
It looked to us like suicide,
When father played baseball.
At last he limped away, and now
He suffers in disgrace;
His arms are bathed in liniment;
Court plaster hides his face.
He says his back is breaking, and
His legs won’t move at all;
It made a wreck of father when
He tried to play baseball.
The smell of arnica abounds;
He hobbles with a cane;
A row of blisters mar his hands;
He is in constant pain.
But lame and weak as father is,
He swears he’ll lick us all
If we dare even speak about
The day he played baseball.