Words Cut by a Diamond

E on DC

“Part of baseball’s enduring charm, or so it is said, is the theoretical chance that a game could last forever.”

Tyler Kepner, writing on baseball for The New York Times 4/12/15

By the time you read this the Washington Nationals might either be in last or first place. The baseball season will be a month old. Somewhere a guy who tried to make the roster of a club will be sitting in a bar or the basement of a home, staring more at the darkness than the television screen. He will think about those “glory days” when the scouts called him a number one prospect. Maybe his girl-friend or wife might still be encouraging him to chase the dream, but it’s darkness that we’re talking about-- not the romantic light at the end of the tunnel.  

One day you’re trying to get a hit or sliding into third and the next day they cut and send you down. It’s brutal, like a ball that looks like a homer and at the last minute turns foul.  Have you missed your chance or missed your life?

Lately, I’ve been watching the shadows creep across the field, preparing to introduce themselves to me. It’s almost twilight and I don’t need one of my poems to tell me that. My Muse spends most of her time in Florida these days. I’m that old baseball player who had a long shot trying to make the team and as the cherry blossoms vanish, so too does youth.  

As a writer I never thought about not writing. So the word retirement was never in my vocabulary. Even while working at an area university, I never paid much attention to what inning it was. I simply enjoyed the game, the fans of students, the smell of books as seductive as hot dogs on a hot day. But baseball is now a business like our colleges. Presidents, deans and department chairs have mastered the art of the curve. It’s all money ball in academia. It’s stats, numbers and profits.

How many good players get traded even though they might want to stay with a club?  A few weeks ago I wanted to compose a persona poem in the voice of Curt Flood, but I felt it was premature. There are a number of poets writing some of their best work in their late innings.  I want to look over my shoulder at the scoreboard and know I’m still winning. I want the bullpen to be quiet. I want my arm to be strong. 

Is it possible to have faith without religion?  If so, how is the game to be played? What rules need to be changed?  Every day I think of workers across America struggling to be paid a decent wage.  I think of the elderly and their caretakers. It’s baseball and the slow pace which forces one to pay attention to detail and restore compassion to the center of our lives.

There is dignity to be found at every position on the field, as each man stands alone. Solidarity exists in the dugout where players play practical jokes, and the human error becomes a teachable moment. Life is filled with fear --death is the end of a rally. Yet, the game is sweet and simple, captured best by the poet May Swenson :

It’s about,

the ball,

the bat,

the mitt,

the bases

and the fans.

E. Ethelbert Miller is a literary activist. His Collected Poems is being edited by Kirsten Porter and will be published by Willow Books in spring 2016.