This piece, published in 1999, is short and leaves a lot open to interpretation. It does leave me wondering if the baseball division was a contributing factor to the division in the relationship.
Relaxing with his son
watching the Mets,
sharing the good times
The court gave him
the best home dates
to root for their team
Relaxing with her son
watching the Yankees,
sharing the good times
The court gave her
the best home dates
to root for their team
as a family.
This piece by Joyce Kessel was published in 2011 in Spitball Magazine. There’s a strong sense of nostalgia, especially in the language about attending minor league games.
I grew up a National League fan
of the Pirates, Cards, Reds & Giants,
not even knowing many decades before
my Buffalo Bisons played in the Senior League
well before becoming a minor league stalwart.
So I’d pray for sunny skies over Forbes Field
rather than Cleveland’s “Mistake by the Lake.”
My rare defection to the American League
came when the Orioles gained Frank Robinson
in that lopsided trade and after,
who couldn’t have appreciated Cal Ripken?
My dad & I would troll the minor leagues
where for some reason affiliations
didn’t seem to matter as much,
at least not to me,
who took in the green expanses
beyond dirt as the glowing diamonds
they were meant to be,
even in parks that were bare shadows
to Little League fields today.
In bandbox fields
and open air bleachers
we’d watch players with numbers,
but no names on their uniforms,
trading cards in their future or past
or not at all, their talents raw and wild.
I learned a geography of Rustbelt cities:
Toledo Mudhens, Columbus Clippers,
Rochester Redwings, Syracuse Chiefs,
Geneva Cubs, Oneonta Yankees,
Niagara Falls Rainbows,
a day’s ride away,
hoping they’d play two,
and mastering the geometry
& hieroglyphs of scorecards.
This poem by Jordan Deutsch was published in 1932, and you can see the history all over this piece. I really love the imagery of the sunrise, and the phonetic spelling out of the conductor’s pronunciations (“… Shecargo and Saint Louieeeeee”) just put a voice in my head yelling these cities out.
Up from the grasslands,
The plains, the cities,
Up from the vastness of the land itself:
Up Up Up
To the Great Mississippi.
Up to that First Field bathed in the sun,
Basking in the glory of its birth
Immersed in future time.
Further up slides the sun.
To the Red Stockings from Cincinnati,
The original Magnificent Machine,
The dynasty without a future.
To the National Association,
Swaying in its greatness.
Further up slides the sun.
Through the mouth of history slide provocative names
Once breathed on the lips of dreamers.
In what fine grave do the Elizabeth Resolutes
And Lord Baltimores now rest?
Up moving up
To expanding cities pocketed
In gray concrete.
(Can you hear the shrill and melodic chant of the
Train Conductor calling out his roll?)
LouievilleCINCINnatiShecargo and Saint Louieeeeee.
Up up up
To the Great Mississippi.
There doesn’t seem to be a title to this one — it is listed merely as “Haiku 5.” All the same, I found this haiku very relatable, even in its brevity. I’m sure most kids who grow up playing ball have this experience at some point in their lives.
an old baseball
soars across blue sky–
This one is short and sweet, playing on the metaphor of baseball and life. There are some pretty intense pressure situations in both worlds, for sure.
Baseball ain’t just a game
Ask any fan, it’s a way of life
Life and Baseball, so much the same
Similarly filled with fun and strife
Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two out
Score tied, full count on the batter
He knows, at that moment, with out a doubt
If he fails to hit, nothing in life will matter
To strike out in life, as many do
Brings consequences, not aspired
Just as striking out with count three and two
Is something, clearly, not desired
This piece is a parody of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey At the Bat” that I stumbled upon, and it’s a pretty good one. Adam Morris Garfinkle does a really good job of maintaining the rhythm and spirit of Thayer’s piece while capturing the story of the Washington Nationals’ 2019 season. I found this poem published in tandem with a piece, also written by Garfinkle, titled “In Lieu of Opening Day: The Poetry of Baseball.”
[in gratitude, to Ernest Lawrence Thayer]
The prospect wasn’t bright at all for the Washington Nats in May;
Their record stood at 19 and 31, with 112 gruesome trials to play,
Turner he got injured, and ‘ol Zim he turned up lame;
Despondency settled upon the hometown fans, again and again and again.
A faithless few their precious season tickets went to pawn,
But most just sighed with wistful longing, their hopes cruelly smashed and torn,
They thought that if only their pathetic bullpen could finally come around,
The pall of desperation would at least be lifted from the mound.
They blew so many saves we despaired of keeping track,
Of hit-and-run and sacrifice bunts there certainly was a lack.
They bobbled grounders, overthrew first, and dropped innocent pop flies,
You’d have thought the guys were trying to play the game with ‘baca plugs glued upon their eyes.
Our heroes stumbled through a maze of ghastly springtime torpors;
At one point losing five games straight, even getting swept by them New Yorkers;
“Fire the manager!”, the disgusted minions insistently demanded.
As if that would have made any difference, to be perfectly candid.
At last faint embers of diamond life slowly began to glow,
In early June they finally managed to win four games in a row;
The bats all at once seem to jump, their Louisville sluggers did thrive,
The pitching improved significantly with a revised rotation of five.
Little by little they strove to turn their season right around,
By the All-Star Break they’d mostly healed and felt pretty gosh darn sound,
Before long they passed up the Mets, then swiftly dropped the Phillies,
Waving back to Bryce as they gave chase for Atlanta willy-nilly.
They never did catch ‘em, their goofy tomahawk chop to still,
But they played good enough to climb high enough upon the standings hill,
To wild card their way into the lustrous postseason playoffs,
Finishing the regular season with a win streak that handsomely paid off.
So it was that the Nats came face-to-face with the Milwaukee Brewers,
In a winner-take-all single game, fans’ nerves jangling as if on skewers
Scherzer fell behind early, three big runs to zip,
The lineup looked utterly punchless, not one batsman connected with a rip.
Strasberg came in to relieve Max, for his very first relief stint ever,
And shut down Milwaukee’s mighty crew in a masterful endeavor;
Then with but six outs between them and cursed oblivion,
The eighth inning became at last a friend, and started us a-singin’.
For Taylor got plunked (maybe), and Zim cracked a solid single,
Rendon then walked to fill the bases, and Soto solidly delivered ‘em.
Three runs came home before the dust had settled, their first lead of the game,
Then Hudson came in to shut the door, and the town went totally insane.
“Beat LA!” the crowd then chanted, but that demanded gallantry;
The mighty Dodgers had won 106 games, and the Nats a mere 93,
The first game was a six-zip shutout, things did not look at all good.
But the Nats won the second 4 to 2, they knew in their hearts they could.
Game 3 was an unmitigated full-frontal home field disaster,
LA scored ten runs and our faces turned to alabaster,
Now down two games to one in a short best-of-five series,
Our breathing went giddily shallow and our attitude turned quite leery.
The guys pulled out game four 6-1, to even the series two and two,
But back to LA they had to go for the crucial deciding set-to.
They fell behind again, three-nothing after two,
Exactly as in the Brewers game; hmm, could that be a clue?
They tied it in the eighth off Kershaw, the poor bedraggled fellow,
Rendon and Soto dinged him back to back, and we felt oh so mellow.
Then Howie Kendrick slammed the Dodger door shut in the tenth,
After which Mr. Excitement Sean Doolittle one-two-threed a breathless heaven-sent.
Then came Saint Louis for to joust the coveted NL Pennant,
This was to be no ordinary series, and we really truly meant it.
For oh how cruelly had the Cardinals crushed us back in 2012,
Erasing a 6-run Nats lead in game six, dropping us straight down into hell.
The Nationals were taking no prisoners this time around,
They chewed up the Red Birds, flung them hard down on the ground,
Plucked them but good they did, winning four games in a row;
No one believed the Nats could sweep ‘em; it only goes to show.
And so came the World Series, the Nation’s Capital exploded
With joy and rapture and mirth; some folks even got loaded.
Off to Houston the victors then made for to travel,
As serious underdogs surely, most thought, bound quickly to unravel.
But we whooped ‘em twice in Texas, ‘twas hard even to conceive!
Our spirits were buoyant, you bet your sweet life we believed.
Houston was supposed to be down in the great state of Texas, doc.
But the Nats left that city reeling in a total state of shock.
Not so fast countin’ your chickens, said the Astros, we ain’t done yet.
Then they won three straight in DC; d’ya think we got upset?!
Now down three games to two, and facing two more on the road,
The odds-makers smirked, the Nats’ll flush right down the hall-of-shame commode.
But we pulled out the first one 5 to 4, forcing a deciding game seven,
On the day before Halloween no less, we were jumpier than a flea in denim.
The guys got down two zip with but a measly nine outs to give,
It seemed that maybe, just maybe, the boys had finally run out of fizz.
But that’s not how it ended, I’m oh so glad to tell,
The guys sliced clean through the Astros bullpen pell-mell;
Howie lined one off the right-field foul pole; Houston sunk down in pain.
How he even hit Harris’s low outside sinker at all, no one could explain.
In the baseball dome of heaven dugout angels rejoiced on high,
The Big Train looked down on where Griffith used to be and plaintively cried,
Huzzah and hosannah, shouted Saint Kenesaw Mountain Landis,
Not since Calvin Coolidge was President have I seen anything so marvelously outlandish.
So hats off to the Nationals, true champions of baseball lore,
Bringing the Nation’s Capital its first Series win since 1924.
We even booed the President, and some held out snotty hankies.
The only way it could have been better? Had the Astros been the goddamn Yankees.
I really enjoy reading this poem. It talks about two Yankee greats, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, but even better than that, it talks about life and love. Baseball frequently serves as a metaphor for both, and Kittell really does hit it out of the park with this one.
On the scorecard you gave me, I find
the difficult scratchings, the notes and stats
you ask me to read looking
for something about success
Twenty-three times, Lou Gehrig
came to bat for the Yankees
with the bases loaded
and hit a grand slam.
Then I see you’ve added: Shouldn’t love
be that way? Shouldn’t love be
a grand slam every time?
Lou Gehrig played baseball
for seventeen years and everyone knows
he played in most every game. Everyone knows
he played only for the Yankees.
But up in the stands, maybe–like you–studying a program,
sat his wife, sat Eleanor
who watched Gehrig carefully enough
to see when his step
began to falter, to notice how
ground balls hit
him in the chest and his long-armed swing
barely dribbled out
a single. Eleanor Gehrig watched
the Iron Horse dwindle
to ninety pounds and never stopped to say:
“You’re not the man
you used to be,” never told him she saw
the end of the game.
I imagine she only held him
closer at night
and went on.
Joe DiMaggio reached the Show
two years before Lou Gehrig
left, two years before the Iron Horse began
to fade. And what you and I remember first
about Joe was his once
ridiculous coffee ad, or maybe his once
failed marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Just like
we never saw Gehrig play, we never saw
DiMaggio, every day of your life
and more, send roses to a grave, or imagined
her fingers dialing his number, her voice calling
Joe, Joe into the dead air. Joe,
she told him once, you’ve never heard
such cheering! Yes, I have, he said to her quietly.
Yes, I have.
My husband Ron was born in 1951 and 1951
was the last year DiMaggio played. By seventeen,
Ron was the best player in Idaho, the fastest
in the outfield, most solid at first base, and sometimes
wild but always hard
when he took the mound. But our life, it seems,
has turned far from glamorous. We take
our turns, Ron and I, in the stands. I watch him
with you, throwing rocks across a brook and know
the next day his arm
will throb from trying. He watches me
try to toss a good metaphor, one that will zing
and flash at your center. I say:
look deeper into the game, friend. I say:
look deeper into a life, a love.
To make anything last, there’s got to be more
than a grand slam.
There has to be a good coach
to draw the line-up and good men
already on base. There have to be players
in the minors and wives
in the stands. There has to be someone
to say that love
ain’t always perfect, that love
doesn’t always win the game, that love
might not be lots of cheering or a neatly blackened square
on a scorecard.
No, Sherman, love
might be quiet–a fire crackling, birds reappearing
on the edge of lawn, the center of you knowing
that once you slip it on and oil it up,
that old worn glove will feel
than when it was new.
This piece is very nostalgic and a bit on the sad side. Judy Katz-Levine published this poem in 1990 as part of a collection entitled When the Arms of Our Dreams Embrace.
Falling asleep in the afternoon,
I forget that my father has died.
I anticipate him calling me up,
asking me how my writing is going,
and am I thinking about having children.
Making a joke or two. “Don’t worry,
Mom and I will never be lonely.”
Then I fall into deeper sleep, he
loses me, traveling in his car, the green
Chevrolet, to old baseball fields,
which are sweet with rye grass
and lush stadiums, his pals throwing
him the ball – “Give me some pepper, Al.”
This poem by Elinor Nauen is a bit longer, but well worth the read. It demonstrates how closely baseball gets associated with Americanism, even to those outside the nation’s borders. I especially love the line, “He goes home because he has nowhere else to go.”
I’ve been sitting at my desk a lot
staring at my father.
It’s a picture taken in summer
a few months before he died.
He’s looking at me
with a wry and knowing
–did he know?–
expression. He looks like a man
who needs a private joke
to get a proper snapshot.
He’s looking straight at me, even as I sit
in a cold May, a little too tired,
the Yanks getting beat 4-1 in the 5th
by Oakland out on the coast,
a lackluster they’ll-never-catch-up game
Rasmussen not getting shellacked
just doesn’t have anything
and neither do the hitters.
Gone native in his Arizona retirement
Dad is wearing a bolo tie and looks shrunken, frail.
I liked to kiss him on the top of his bony head
in the desert mornings.
He took all of us to a game only once, my first, I was ten,
Charlie was eight, Lindsay was twelve
and the baby was left home.
We drove all the way from South Dakota
up to Minneapolis
to see the Twins play the Yankees
Daddy was a refugee from Nazi Germany
and Mom was English.
They were grownups
who’d never seen a game either. They went
because he was the father of Americans
and I was a little baseball fanatic.
Mom sat quietly for about twenty minutes
fanning herself with a straw sunhat and beaming
then asked, when does the game begin?
Look down there, we said.
It was already the second inning
but I still don’t think she spotted it.
I think she was waiting for the play by play.
The familiar radio sounds
so different in the ballpark.
Daddy wore plaid shorts over his white skinny legs
and puffed a cigar.
He began to like baseball
when he found someone
who knew less about it than he did.
He explained it all to Mom
mostly according to his own logic–
He had an accountant’s sense of symmetry
and the diamond pleased him–
the implication of infinity.
The profusion of numbers and their richness
and it was a damn nice summer day.
I think now of those bleachers
old Metropolitan stadium full of stolid Scandinavians
who never corrected him–
that would have spoiled their fun.
Mom would ask: Where’s that chap running off to now?
And Dad would explain:
He goes home because he has nowhere else to go…
My brother and I spent most of the time under the stands
scrapping with baby Twinkies–
Twins fans who didn’t take to our rooting for the enemy.
Charlie thinks he remembers a game-winning
Bobby Richardson grand slam.
I only recall the Yanks winning in the 10th
and the incredibly intense luxury of that lagniappe inning.
Daddy stuck with baseball too.
Like the voting
that made him proudest as a naturalized citizen
he quietly exulted
at being able to talk to his kids
about what they liked to talk about
which was sports. What pleasure
it gave him
to be able to call
(those Sunday calls!–this later
after we’d all left home)
and say, “So, Mattingly’s still leading the league”
or “I see where the Yankees aren’t doing to well.” …
But tonight there’s an amazing comeback
another 10th-inning heroic to call home about
(“I see where the Yankees are going great guns”)
thought it’s a few second basemen later
and the serene and splendid Willie Randolph
who pulls it out for the team.
To be fair, a strikeout at any level is rarely pretty — at least, if you’re the batter. This piece by Robert Harrison was published in January 2013.
With sadness I report
about the last ball
your son bought
It was both high and low
and curved before
the final blow
It was flying fast
a white meteor
that he let pass
And so I say with pity
that this scene
was not too pretty
For even I did cry
after he let
that ball go by