In honor of Major League Baseball’s celebration of Jackie Robinson yesterday, and in memory of Chadwick Boseman, who passed away yesterday and who had played Robinson in the movie 42, here’s a short piece I found about Robinson and his role in baseball and in society.
He never asked to be a hero
For him, playing ball would be just fine
Potentially his chance was less than zero
To overcome that black-white racist line
Unlike Duke, Dimag and Mickey
Jackie entered through back doors
The stage was set by Mr. Rickey
For Robinson to fight that Civil War
Sports, they say, mirrors society
So, they should have hung their heads in shame
For what was then America’s propriety
Brought prejudice to every game
The Brooklyn Bums, at long last, found salvation
When Robinson’s talents were revealed
With the awesome double-play combination
Reese and Jackie brought to Ebbetts Field
Stealing fan’s hearts with baseball fire
Displaying skills in every way
Robinson played with such desire
Stealing bases most every day
They could never expect from him the expected
He turned the most racist hate to love
And finally he was most respected
Respect that came from more than bat and glove
For Jackie, baseball was more than just a game
He opened doors for Campy, Mays and others
Number 42, now in the Hall of Fame
Proved men of all colors could play in life as brothers
He never asked to be a hero!
Here’s a fun little limerick for your reading enjoyment. I, for one, am appreciative of the laugh this morning. Personally, I’ve always rooted for Ketchup in the Hot Dog Derby. Relish is my least favorite (to this day, I despise anything pickled), but somehow Relish seems to win a lot of the time. Ick!
With Baseball hotdogs on the run
Caught up in, excitement and fun
Watch where you go
Before you know
You might slip and fall on your bun!
This parody of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey At the Bat” was published in 2019 by Mitchell Nathanson, author of A People’s History of Baseball. Not only does it incorporate modern-day metrics like WAR, PitchTrax, and exit velocity, the poem also paints a frighteningly accurate picture of today’s in-stadium crowds. The piece is very well done, and in spite of shaking my head in recognition, I find that I rather enjoy it.
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney whiffed again, the eighteenth K that night,
A sickly silence fell, for somehow baseball wasn’t right.
A straggling few got up and left, annoyed they even came;
And most who stayed were kind of drunk or wagered on the game.
Yet still to come was Casey, whom the fans had long extolled,
Though at the age of 31 the metrics deemed him old.
But first ahead was Flynn, a player much accursed;
His BABIP was atrocious, and his WAR was even worse.
Another guy came up as well, his name recalled by few;
Confusion sowed by double switches made in hour two.
But Flynn defied the numbers, making contact with the ball;
And sent it on a mighty arc — it caromed off the wall.
—The guy should be on third,— a salty graybeard spat and cursed,
As Flynn removed his batting gloves, a jogger still at first.
The other guy, as well, reached base, a waiver-wire addition;
Dropped by a last place club dumping salary without contrition;
And when the blaring music stopped, fans noticed what occurred,
Instead of crossing o’er the plate, young Flynn just jogged to third.
As Casey stepped into the box, the scoreboard roared “Make Noise!”;
Which the crowd most surely would’ve done, if not for all their toys.
About 5,000 hometown fans were checking in on Twitter;
So most remained oblivious to Casey as the hitter.
Ten thousand eyes were somewhere else as he scratched upon the dirt;
And Velcro-strapped his batting gloves and touched six places on his shirt.
And kissed his bat, then tapped the plate nine times or maybe 10;
Then from the box did Casey step, and start it all again.
The pitcher’s antics on the mound were also quite a show;
Whole seasons seemed to pass before he hinted at a throw.
Yet here it came, the cowhide sphere, arriving at great speed;
‘strike one,— the umpire firmly called. But PitchTrax disagreed.
The fans who watched upon their phones could see it plain: outside;
Unless their phones had zero bars, or batteries had died.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” the fans all stood and roared;
At least so roared the older ones, the younger ones seemed bored.
Two strikes remained. The oldsters, fretting, began to wring their hands;
While younger fans, in hour four, sped toward concession stands.
Then Casey dug in once again; the second spheroid flew,
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, ‘strike Two.’
“Fraud!” cried the maddened few at all the blue-clad, rulebound fools,
While waving off the heady clouds sent up from nearby Juuls.
Now Casey’s face grew stern and cold, the fans all rose as one;
As midnight neared their hope was clear: just let the game be done.
As Casey runs the metrics, and adjusts his swing for lift;
The fielders check their little cards, and drift into a shift.
And now the pitcher fires a rocket off, despite his ample gut;
And now the air is shattered by great Casey’s uppercut.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sport is as it used to be;
And fans still hang on Casey’s fate, not exit velocity.
But that era’s gone — don’t cry into your $15 beer;
While all the laughing children shout, “Football season’s here!”
This piece by Rochelle Nameroff was first published in 1990 in the collection Into the Temple of Baseball. It reminds me a lot of playing ball, really just sports in general, in the backyard with my brothers as a kid. My oldest brother is twelve years older than me, and he was (still is) quite the sports fanatic. Thus, he took it upon himself to pass on to his younger siblings (and now on to his two sons) whatever knowledge he could about the different sports and how to play them well.
“There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball.
Unfortunately, neither of them works.”
It was all so serious
as he taught me,
digging the knees together:
a deliberate hunkering,
the back & forth wiggle
shifting the weight.
It screws yr behind in the ground he said.
Protection I guess
or the secrecy of boys.
He called it
The Stan Musial Crouch,
& man how I practiced
getting it right to unwind
breathless exquisite & deadly.
The permission to love
without going crazy.
& o big brother,
how much I remember.
This piece makes me want to go back in time a few months — back to the last days of winter as Spring Training was just getting underway and the threat of the coronavirus still seemed too far away to be of any concern.
We’ll get it back next year.
Late February, and the air’s so balmy
snowdrops and crocuses might be fooled
into early blooming. Then, the inevitable blizzard
will come, blighting our harbingers of spring,
and the numbed yards will go back undercover.
In Florida, it’s strawberry season—
shortcake, waffles, berries and cream
will be penciled on the coffeeshop menus.
In Winter Haven, the ballplayers are stretching
and preening, dancing on the basepaths,
giddy as good kids playing hookey. Now,
for a few weeks, statistics won’t seem
to matter, for the flushed boys are muscular
and chaste, lovely as lakes to the retired men
watching calisthenics from the grandstands.
Escapees from the cold work of living,
the old men burnish stories of Yaz and the Babe
and the Splendid Splinter. For a few dreamy dollars,
they sit with their wives all day in the sun,
on their own little seat cushions, wearing soft caps
with visors. Their brave recreational vehicles
grow hot in the parking lot, though they’re
shaded by live oaks and bottlebrush trees
whose soft bristles graze the top-racks.
At four, the spectators leave in pairs, off
to restaurants for Early Bird Specials.
A salamander scuttles across the quiet
visitors’ dugout. The osprey whose nest is atop
the foul pole relaxes. She’s raged all afternoon
at balls hit again and again toward her offspring.
Although December’s frost killed the winter crop,
there’s a pulpy orange-y smell from juice factories….
Down the road, at Cypress Gardens, a woman
trainer flips young alligators over on their backs,
demonstrating their talent for comedy—stroke
their bellies, they’re out cold, instantaneously
snoozing. A schoolgirl on vacation gapes,
wonders if she’d ever be brave enough
to try that, to hold a terrifying beast
and turn it into something cartoon-funny.
She stretches a hand toward the toothy sleeper
then takes a step back, to be safe as she reaches.
This piece by Carl Sandburg oozes with imagery, and I love it. Sandburg captures a moment in time in his description of the end of this long ballgame, called due to the impending sunset. He originally published this poem in his 1918 collection Cornhuskers.
I remember the Chillicothe ball players grappling the Rock Island
ball players in a sixteen-inning game ended by darkness.
And the shoulders of the Chillicothe players were a red smoke
against the sundown and the shoulders of the Rock Island
players were a yellow smoke against the sundown.
And the umpire’s voice was hoarse calling balls and strikes and outs
and the umpire’s throat fought in the dust for a song.
I’m still holding out hope that Spring Training won’t be the only baseball we get this year. In the meantime, we look for other ways to stay engaged with baseball. This piece by Lynn Rigney Schott was first published in The New Yorker on March 26, 1984. The author’s father, Bill Rigney, had played Major League Baseball with the New York Giants from 1946 to 1953. He then went on to serve as the manager for the Giants, making him their last manager in New York as well as the team’s first manager when they moved to San Francisco. Rigney would also manage the Los Angeles/California Angels and the Minnesota Twins.
The last of the birds has returned —
the bluebird, shy and flashy.
The bees carry fat baskets of pollen
from the alders around the pond.
The wasps in the attic venture downstairs,
where they congregate on warm windowpanes.
Every few days it rains.
This is my thirty-fifth spring;
still I am a novice at my work,
confused and frightened and angry.
Unlike me, the buds do not hesitate,
the hills are confident they will be
in the glass of the river.
I oiled my glove yesterday.
Half the season is over.
When will I be ready?
On my desk sits a black-and-white postcard picture
of my father — skinny, determined,
in a New York Giants uniform —
ears protruding, eyes riveted.
Handsome, single-minded, he looks ready.
Thirty-five years of warmups.
Like glancing down at the scorecard
in your lap for half a second
and when you look up it’s done —
a long fly ball, moonlike,
into the night
over the fence,
way out of reach.
This piece by R. Gerry Fabian, first published in 1983, is short, yet dramatic. The author’s use of spacing with the words do a fantastic job of emulating the experience of watching a baseball launched off the bat and landing in just this manner.
of the bat
a l o n g drive
This poem is short and sweet, and it’s one that so many folks can identify with. We can’t all be great ballplayers, but one doesn’t have to be able to hit a fast ball to be in love with the game. I came across this one in Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.
I didn’t even make
the seventh grade
girls’ third team
Last Easter, scrub game
with the kids,
a foul right through
Captain Kelly’s French doors,
had to pay.
Still, these sultry
the dark ballet
of players sliding
and shout “Safe!
He’s safe! He’s home!”
and so am I.
Here’s a piece by Michael Ceraolo based on the Jun 24, 1946 crash involving a bus carrying the Spokane Indians of Minor League Baseball. The bus crashed on Snoqualmie Pass in Washington State in what is considered one of the worst accidents in the history of American professional sports. Nine players were killed in the accident, and six were injured. Eight of those who died had served in World War II.
Since I was the player-manager
(though only 25),
I will take the responsibility to speak for the rest
Frederick “Marty” Martinez
and me, Mel Cole,
were members of the Spokane Indians team
On June 24, 1946,
enroute to Bremerton for the next day’s game,
our bus swerved to avoid an oncoming car,
falling three hundred feet down and bursting into flames
Marty, George Risk, the three Bobs, and I
were dead at the scene
Vic died on the way to the hospital,
George Lyden died the next day,
and Chris died two days later
Vic, not yet 19, was the best prospect among us;
the rest of us were older and had served during the war,
probably ending any major-league dreams for us
The driver of the oncoming car was never found