This piece was written by former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant. In 1965, Grant became the first black pitcher to win 20 games in a season in the American League and the first black pitcher to win a World Series game for the American League, throwing two complete game World Series victories.
Life is like a game of baseball,
You play it every day.
It isn’t just the breaks you get,
But the kind of game you play.
So stop and look your whole team over,
And you’ll find dedication there.
You’re bound to be a winner,
With men who really care.
Your pitcher’s name is Courage,
You need him in the game.
For faith and trust your keystone men,
The grounders they will tame.
Your center fielder is very fast,
Though small and hard to see.
So watch him, son, when he gets,
The ball. He’s Opportunity.
In left field there’s Ambition,
Never let him shirk.
For in right field there’s a husky man,
I’m told his name is Work.
At first base there’s Religion,
He’s stood the test of time.
At third base there’s brotherhood,
The stalwart of the nine.
Your catcher’s name is Humor,
He’s important to the scheme.
For with honor warming in the bull pen,
The game is always clean.
With Love on the bench,
You’ve perfection no less.
With a winning team,
And joy and happiness.
Your other team is Strong, son,
Greed, Hatred, Envy and Defeat.
Are four strong infielders,
You’ll have to buck to make your game complete.
Deceitfulness and a man called Waste,
Are always playing hard.
Selfishness and jealousy,
None can you disregard.
Carelessness and Falsehood,
Are the big boys in the pen.
You’ll have to swing hard, son,
When you come up to them.
There’s one more man you’ll have to watch,
He’s always very near.
He’s the pitcher on that team,
And I’m told his name is Fear.
This game will not be easy,
There’ll be trouble, there’ll be strife.
To make the winning runs, my boy,
For this game is played on the field of life.
So stand behind your team, my boy,
There’ll be many who’ll applaud.
Just remember that you’re the player,
And the umpire here is God.
This piece was published in the June 1988 issue of Poetry. I like the ephemeral feel of this piece. The use of the words “dream” and “memory” are so indicative and appropriate.
It took time to study who was missing
from the dream ball club that paraded
through the dark in uniforms and numbers
holding up posters of the lost teammate
as if campaigning for their man.
I had to walk the dream railroad track again
where my son followed me at first, then took
the lead, balanced, leaped forward over the ties,
And to sit with the inquisitor who wore
my dachshund around his neck like a precious
fur with lacquered eyes.
I had to listen then to memory,
your fastball, your grand slams out of the park.
And go back to the bleachers at Yankee Stadium
where you took me at 7 though I was not the son
whose hear, that sly courser, unseated him.
He was the one you saved your prize for,
the baseball Babe Ruth signed.
At the game you tried to show me what you saw
but I was gabbing about something else:
another hot dog, how many more minutes.
It took time, Father, to see
you swinging, connecting.
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.”
This piece, published by Spitball Magazine in 2013, was written by a Tigers fan living in California. I think it’s safe to say that every baseball fan has the experience outlined in this poem at some point or other.
It’s all I can do
To pay attention and drive
While the last half of the 9th is played out
The last battle of the regular season
It’s now or never
A baseball cliche, but who cares?
It is now or never
I listen to games from spring to autumn
Grab the morning paper
Read, critique, coach aloud to no one and anyone
I count the games, study the box scores
When the magic number is 1
I believe in magic
Until the third out.
It happens in the parking lot.
I leave my car and wander down the street
Buy some bread I do not want
Stare mindlessly at a purse in a shop window.
Then I see the clerk in the wine store, his head in his hands,
Eyes covered, and I know, I know despair.
I back up, go inside.
He has the game on,
The final season wrap-up among all the bottles of wine.
He lifts his head, looks at me
“Let me know if I can help you,” he says dejectedly.
“Thanks,” I say, and pretend to shop. Just to keep company.
We both know there is nothing to be done.
Here is another “Shakespearean Baseball Sonnet” from Michael Ceraolo, recently published in First Literary Review. It highlights the natural scenic beauty that comes with baseball, which is certainly one of my favorite parts of the game.
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the uncovered seats with sov’reign eye,
Kissing with golden face the outfield’s green,
Shining its beams down from our city’s sky.
But other times the bases clouds to race
Over the ballpark’s unseen pre-game face,
And under the tarp hide all the bases,
Waiting for the storm’s move to other places.
And then when again the sun did shine bright
With only the finest natural light,
The clouds had moved on to another clime
And the game’s splendor would begin on time.
The groundskeepers’ work we do not disdain;
They have saveth today’s game from the rain.
This piece was published in the short-lived National Daily Baseball Gazette on April 20, 1887, and it is believed to be among the first-ever poems inspired by the game of baseball. I wasn’t able to find a title nor an author for the piece, but it is interesting to read, including the note about butterfingers.
Then dress, then dress, brave gallants all,
Don uniforms amain;
Remember fame and honor call
Us to the field again.
No shrewish tears shall fill our eye
When the ball club’s in our hand,
If we do lose we wil not sigh,
Nor plead a butter* hand.
Let piping swain and craven jay
Thus weep and puling cry,
Our business is like men to play,
Or know the reason why.
*Hence the term “butter-fingers,” which, twenty years ago, was applied to a man or a boy who didn’t hold a ball.
Just as fair warning: this poem is pretty depressing. Published in the Brooklyn Eagle in 1883, it describes a player who has passed away. But wow, whoever he was (real or imagined), he sounded like quite the ballplayer.
J. smith is dead. That fine young man
We ne’er shall see him more,
He was a member of our club
His private virtues were immense,
His manner was free and bluff,
He wore a paper collar, and
Was never known to muff.
He rarely took a drink more strong
Then lemonade or pop ;
He hated drunkards, and was a
His nose was Roman, and his eyes
Continually were peeled ;
He made a splended umpire, and
A beautiful left field.
His hair was red, and shingled close ;
Much sunburned was his face,
He never showered with more effect
Than on second base.
Being a man, he had his faults,
As likewise have we all ;
He felt a preference for the New
York regulation ball.
Though not a matrimonial man,
He dearly loved a match,
And, like his sisters, had but few
Superiors on the catch.
He had a noble mind, as eke
A very supple wrist ;
And when he pitched he gave the ball
His own peculiar twist.
Of politics and church affairs
He held restricted views ;
His feet were usually encased
In canvas, hob nailed shoes.
But he is gone. With ins and outs
Forever he is done ;
He broke his heart and hurt his spleen
In making a home run.
His body we have planted now,
His soul is in the sky ;
The angels reached from heaven down
And took him on the fly.