Sunday, March 24, 2019

Baseball as Poetry

In a few days it will be opening day. There is joy or at least hope anew in Mudville. The tilted square of baseball replaces the rectangle of all the other sports. …and no clock to play hurry-up against. Baseball is a stroll in the park. It re-sets our natural rhythm. No whistles or unnecessary roughness. Not a car-chase or a deadline to make. Baseball is a vestige of pastoral America….the one that maybe never existed. It’s not a blurt or a tweet or a byte. It is a novel by Henry James or an epic poem. Ulysses stretching, stealing, scheming his way across the island-bases, making his way home. Zeus on the mound throwing bolts. Baseball is a tribute to Euclid with his sublime dimensions. It is has a certain divinity in the infield yet an idiosyncratic, erratic outfield with alleys, corridors and ivy walls. Updike wrote of the great Ted Williams who never acknowledged the cheers. Why? Because gods don’t answer mail, he said.

What is it that draws poets to the game? The confluence of wood and sphere which reminds them of an epiphany on the page? The pause between pitches, between innings as if stanzas might be written. The crowd (collective) focused on the lone batter. His futility to hit the unhittable or say the unsayable. Slumps like writer’s block. And what of streaks when everything feels so right, so easy and they have exceeded themselves? The fastball down the middle they’ve been waiting for.

The next word, next pitch is unknown. Where does it come from? The poet’s line travels faster than a radar gun and defies gravity with a leap. The game is new every day or night. A curtain goes up on today’s theater. There will be a drama never before enacted. When you may think nothing is happening consider the gulls counting innings waiting to descend for a midnight feast. Regard the umps in black anticipating possibilities. Coaches wiggling signs. Fielders in deliberate choreography. The pitcher with his leg kick. The hitter with his cleats, fidgeting with Velcro on his batting glove. Arm angles, launch angles. The route less taken in centerfield. Tarpaulin rolled out for the thunderstorm, gnats of August, October fog. The wind seen in the flag.

The rhythms of the game are poetic. The pitch, the crack, the dash, the throw…. constitute the line or stanza and then the long interval. It can be mythopoeic with outsized heroes, goats, scandals of the fix, the drugs, the curse, stats of super-human feats never to be met. Those glory days which get better every time I remember the feel of perfect contact which renders words incapable.

Baseball is a long haul. A season of sore arms, spiked calves, hitches in swings, pulled muscles, hours in the weight room, taunts from fans, ups and downs. Some salaries are obscene, some are bargains. Careers are uncertain and then what? It’s a game; it’s a business. For the fan it’s an elongated distraction from this deranged world of geo-politics. A magnificent regression to childhood. It was the first thing I knew that my parents didn’t. A time when we weren’t quite sure what mattered……but this would do for a while as we grew up…..and some of us never did.

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