This poem starts out nostalgic, and then becomes very serious very quickly. It points to some uncomfortable issues, including Sammy Sosa’s skin bleaching. This poem was originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner.
To this day I still remember sitting
on my abuelo’s lap watching the Yankees hit,
then run, a soft wind rounding the bases
every foot tap to the white pad gentle as a kiss.
How I loved those afternoons languidly
eating jamón sandwiches & drinking root beer.
Later, when I knew something about the blue collar
man—my father who worked with his hands & tumbled
into the house exhausted like heat in a rainstorm—
I became a Mets fan.
Something about their unclean faces
their mustaches seemed rough
to the touch. They had names like Wally & Dyskstra.
I was certain I would marry a man just like them
that is until Sammy Sosa came along
with his smile a reptile that only knew about lying in the sun.
His arms were cannons and his skin burnt cinnamon
that glistened in my dreams.
Everyone said he was not beautiful.
Out on the streets where the men set up shop playing dominoes
I’d hear them say between the yelling of capicu
“como juega, pero feo como el diablo.”
I knew nothing of my history
of the infighting on an island on which one side swore
it was only one thing: pallid, pristine. & I didn’t know
that Sammy carried this history like a tattoo.
That he wished everyday to be white.
It is a perfect game this race war, it is everywhere, living
in the American bayou as much as
the Dominican dirt roads.
It makes a man do something to his skin that seems unholy.
It makes that same man change eye color like a soft
summer dress slipped on slowly.
It makes a grandmother ask her granddaughter
if she’s suffering
from something feverish
because that could be the only excuse why
her hair has not been straightened
like a ballerina’s back dyed the color of wild
daffodils growing in an outfield.
Sammy hit 66 home runs one year
& that was still not enough
to make him feel handsome
or worthy of that blackness that I believe a gift
even today while black churches burn & black bodies
disappear from one day to the next the same as old
I think of him often barely remember what he looked like
but I can recall his hunched shoulders in the
dugout his perfect swing
& how maybe he spit out something black
from his mouth after
every single strike—
Here’s a fun little tool available from Baseball-Reference.com. The Oracle of Baseball is very much like the idea of Six Degrees of Separation (or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, if you will), except it focuses on baseball players! You can type in the names of two baseball players, and the site will spit back a chain of teammates that connect them to one another. For example, one pair of players I tried out was Dizzy Dean and Sammy Sosa, and result came back as follows:
Dizzy Dean played with Phil Cavarretta for the 1938 Chicago Cubs
Phil Cavarretta played with Minnie Minoso for the 1954 Chicago White Sox
Minnie Minoso played with Richard Dotson for the 1980 Chicago White Sox
Richard Dotson played with Sammy Sosa for the 1989 Chicago White Sox
I’ve tried several pairs, and so far, the longest chain I’ve found was a mere two links longer than the one above (Fred Merkle and Alex Gordon). It’s really quite stunning how interconnected the baseball world really is.
Here’s the link, if you wanna try it out yourself: http://www.baseball-reference.com/oracle/. Have fun!
Here’s an infographic by Craig Robinson plotting out the day-by-day progress of the three main contenders in the 1998 home run chase. I had completely forgotten that Ken Griffey, Jr. was a part of this race in the beginning. He ended the season in pretty great shape, even if he didn’t pass Maris’s mark.
Click on the image for a larger view.
Henry “Heinie” Zimmerman of the Cubs had a monster game against the Boston Braves on June 11, 1911. With two home runs, a triple, and two singles, Zimmerman collected a team record nine RBIs as Chicago won in a 20-2 rout. It is a record that continues to stand today, only being tied by one Sammy Sosa on August 10, 2002.
In 1998, Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs was awarded the National League MVP award, and Juan Gonzales of the Texas Rangers won the American League MVP. It was the first time that both MVP awards were won by Latino players in Major League Baseball.