“Casey – Twenty Years Later,” by Clarence P. McDonald

I have previously shared here variations of the legendary poem, “Casey At the Bat.”  It’s interesting, coming across the various spin-offs and seeing how fans might opt to continue Casey’s tale.  In this piece by Clarence McDonald, mighty Casey gets a chance to redeem himself — much later in his life.

*

The Bugville team was surely up against a rocky game;
The chances were they’d win defeat and not undying fame;
Three men were hurt and two were benched; the score stood six to four.
They had to make three hard-earned runs in just two innings more.

“It can’t be done,” the captain said, a pallor on his face;
“I’ve got two pitchers in the field, a mutt on second base;
And should another man get spiked or crippled in some way,
The team would sure be down and out, with eight men left to play.

“We’re up against it anyhow as far as I can see;
My boys ain’t hitting like they should and that’s what worries me;
The luck is with the other side, no pennant will we win;
It’s mighty tough, but we must take our medicine and grin.”

The eighth round opened- one, two, three- the enemy went down.
The Bugville boys went out the same- the captain wore a frown.
The first half of the ninth came round, two men had been put out,
When Bugville’s catcher broke a thumb and could not go the route.

A deathly silence settled o’er the crowd assembled there.
Defeat would be allotted them; they felt it in the air;
With only eight men in the field ‘twould be a gruesome fray,
Small wonder that the captain cursed the day he learned to play.

“Lend me a man to finish with!” he begged the other team;
“Lend you a man?” the foe replied; “My boy, you’re in a dream!
We came to win the pennant, too – that’s what we’re doing here.
There’s only one thing you can do – call for a volunteer!”

The captain stood and pondered in a listless sort of way.
He never was a quitter and he would not be today!
“Is there within the grandstand here”- his voice rang loud and clear
“A man who has the sporting blood to be a volunteer?”

Again that awful silence settled o’er the multitude.
Was there a man among them with such recklessness imbued?
The captain stood with cap in hand, while hopeless was his glance,
And then a tall and stocky man cried out, “I’ll take a chance!”

Into the field he bounded with a step both firm and light;
“Give me the mask and mitt,” he said; “let’s finish up the fight.
The game is now beyond recall; I’ll last at least a round;
Although I’m ancient, you will find me muscular and sound.”

His hair was sprinkled here and there with little streaks of gray;
Around his eyes and on his brow a bunch of wrinkles lay.
The captain smiled despairingly and slowly turned away.
“Why, he’s all right!” one rooter yelled. Another, “Let him play!”

“All right, go on,” the captain sighed. The stranger turned around,
Took off his coat and collar, too, and threw them on the ground.
The humor of the situation seemed to hit them all,
And as he donned the mask and mitt, the umpire called, “Play ball!”

Three balls the pitcher at him heaved, three balls of lightning speed.
The stranger caught them all with ease and did not seem to heed.
Each ball had been pronounced a strike, the side had been put out,
And as he walked in towards the bench, he heard the rooters shout.

One Bugville boy went out on strikes, and one was killed at first;
The captain saw them fail to hit, and gnashed his teeth and cursed.
The third man smashed a double and the fourth man swatted clear,
Then, in a thunder of applause, up came the volunteer.

His feet were planted in the earth, he swung a warlike club;
The captain saw his awkward pose and softly whispered, “Dub!”
The pitcher looked at him and grinned, then heaved a mighty ball;
The echo of that fearful swat still lingers with us all.

High, fast and far the spheroid flew; it sailed and sailed away;
It ne’er was found, so it’s supposed it still floats on today.
Three runs came in, the pennant would be Bugville’s for a year;
The fans and players gathered round to cheer the volunteer.

“What is your name?” the captain asked. “Tell us you name,” cried all,
As down his cheeks great tears of joy were seen to run and fall.
For one brief moment he was still, then murmured soft and low:
“I’m the mighty Casey who struck out just twenty years ago.”


Quote of the day

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

Chad Harbach, January 2012


“Poem for My Father,” by Quincy Troupe

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


“The Man Into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball,” by Thomas Lux

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.
M.
, 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.
As if
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.


Books and movies and lists

Over the course of the last week, I’ve compiled a couple of different lists, both now live on my site.  One is a list of books, the other a list of documentaries and movies.

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.

Booklist: https://archivedinnings.com/baseball-books/

Film list: https://archivedinnings.com/baseball-on-film/

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Last of the Third, by John Lindholm

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.lindholm

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.


Deadball, by David B. Stinson

This weekend I finished reading Deadball: A Metaphysical Baseball Novel by David B. Stinson.  I stumbled upon this book accidentally, actually while looking for another book (I can no longer recall which) about the Dead Ball Era.  Stinson’s novel is not about the era — not really, anyways.  Rather, this novel is somewhat Field of Dreams-esque in that the book’s main character finds himself seeing the ghosts of long gone ballplayers and sometimes even the old ballparks they used to play in, but which have long since been abandoned or torn down.

The protagonist of this novel is one Byron deadballBennett, a.k.a. “Bitty,” though he despises the nickname.  Byron is a former minor league ballplayer who never made it past the AAA level, but continues to stay obsessed with baseball and with baseball history.  As a kid, Byron once saw the deceased Babe Ruth hit a home run at a local ballpark.  Upon crossing home plate, Ruth winked at Byron, then disappeared.  Byron’s parents and friends dismissed the experience as Byron’s imagination.  Years later, Byron now finds himself having additional, similar experiences.

The year is now 1999, and Byron works for the minor league Bowie Baysox, an affiliate of his favorite MLB team, the Baltimore Orioles.  In his spare time, Byron not only goes to Orioles games, he also steeps himself in baseball history.  1999 represents the final year for baseball in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, and with that in mind, Byron decides to travel to Detroit for the Orioles’ final series in that stadium.  He meets an older gentleman who calls himself Mac, though Byron suspects there is more to Mac than meets the eye.  For one thing, the bar where Byron meets Mac has been shut down and boarded up for years, as confirmed by the locals, though it certainly didn’t appear that way when Byron first came across it.

Byron’s road trip brings him not only to Detroit, but he also stops at the former site of Forbes Field, and he stops in Cleveland on his return trip.  Byron comes across a number of other characters, all who, like Mac, don’t seem like your normal, everyday humans-on-the-street.  Byron goes on various road trips throughout the season, visiting old ballpark sites in New York and Boston, and even stopping in graveyards to pay his respects to old ballplayers.  On his travels, Byron carries with him a copy of Lawrence Ritter’s Lost Ballparks, which he references whenever he finds himself in the presence of one of the old time baseball fields.  On occasion, the ballparks seem to come alive in his presence, and he starts to look forward to the occurrence.  Byron also has an encyclopedic familiarity with old ballplayers, and he is stunned to realize that the strange gentlemen he is meeting in his travels are all former, and now-deceased, ballplayers.

Byron’s friends, boss, and ex-wife are all concerned about him, of course.  They tell him it is time to stop living in the past and to let go of baseball so he can move on with his life.  The word “crazy” is thrown around liberally, and Byron sometimes even wonders himself.  He doesn’t understand how it is he is seeing these things, nor why.  In addition to the ghosts he comes across, Byron also meets a man named Peter, who is President of the Cleveland Spiders Historical Society and is very much alive.  Peter recognizes Byron’s ability to see old players and old ballparks, because he sees them as well.  However, Peter warns that he has known others like them, and those others no longer have any memory of ever having these visions.  Byron, in spite of his concerns about his own sanity, worries that he, too, will lose the ability to see the old ballparks.

Much of the novel is spent in the details of Byron’s exploration: descriptions of the ballparks, of the cities in which they are located, down to street-by-street directions at times.  These details sometimes border on tedious, but all the same, I had to admire their inclusion, as it makes it clear that the author, Stinson, has experienced these locations himself and is now gracious enough to share them with us.  The reader also doesn’t learn about the purpose behind Byron’s odyssey literally until the very, very end of the novel, which concerned me as I started to run out of pages and the resolution seemed nowhere in sight.  But a resolution does come, and it is a fascinating one.

I suppose I shouldn’t speak to the experience as just any casual reader, but as a baseball fan I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The pages go by quickly, and I found myself immersed in the details, the characters, and in Byron’s knowledge of baseball.  The descriptions of the ballparks Byron was able to see even made me jealous, wishing that I could be in Byron’s shoes, seeing these ballparks myself, rather than just reading about them.  If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend this one.