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
The author of this piece states that he wrote the poem when he was in third grade. I have to say, he was much more talented as a third grader than I was — and a better ballplayer, based on the events he describes in this tale.
Spring is the time that baseball starts,
It is in our minds, it is in our hearts,
The score is tied, 3 to 3,
It is the bottom of the 9th,
And it is up to me,
The coach gives the signal,
It is ok to swing,
I swing the bat and I hear a bing,
Oh gee, Oh no, it is a pop fly,
Way up in the sky,
I feel sick like I am going to die,
As I round second and almost to third,
The center fielder drops it because he is a nerd,
I slide home, look up,
“Safe” I hear the umpire say,
The Tigers have won the game today,
After the game the guys lift me up on their shoulders but I won’t fall,
Because today I feel 10 feet tall!
This poem feels very appropriate right about now, with Christmas less than two weeks away and snow in the forecast across the country this weekend. The video below appears to have been a project someone created for school, but it’s fun to listen to the piece, in addition to reading it.
When someone asks you your favorite sport
And you answer Baseball in a blink
There are certain qualities you must possess
And you’re more attached than you think.
In the frozen grip of winter
I’m sure you’ll agree with me
Not a day goes by without someone
Talking baseball to some degree.
The calendar flips on New Year’s Day
The Super Bowl comes and it goes
Get the other sports out of the way
The green grass and the fever grows.
It’s time to pack a bag and take a trip
To Arizona or the Sunshine State
Perhaps you can’t go, but there’s the radio
So you listen-you root-you wait.
They start the campaign, pomp and pageantry reign
You claim the pennant on Opening Day
From April till fall
You follow the bouncing white ball
Your team is set to go all the way.
They fall short of the series
You have a case of the “wearies”
And need as break from the game
But when Christmas bells jingle
You feel that old tingle
And you’re ready for more of the same.
It will be hot dogs for dinner
Six months of heaven, a winner
Yes, Baseball has always been it.
You would amaze all your friends
If they knew to what ends
You’d go for a little old hit.
The best times you’re had
Have been with your Mom and your Dad
And a bat and a ball and a glove.
From the first time you played
Till the last time you prayed
It’s been a simple matter of love.
I came across this piece last night, and I love the sensory details it provides, even in such a concise poem. The author is right — sometimes all it takes are a few words to have an impact.
the non aficionado
when you say
such trite things as
step up to the plate
knock it out of the park
they can still feel
the solid oak of the bat
smell the oiled
leather of the glove
and hear the crack
as the ball soars
higher into the sky
past the cheap seats
and I wonder
how could I
and turns of phrases
sweet and bardic