Going, Going . . .

Cody Walker
November 9, 2009
Comments 6

It’s the start of a new week — the first full week without baseball in seven months. When I was younger, I wanted, sort of desperately, to be a baseball player. Later, I wanted to be a poet. But I think my interest in baseball must have led to my interest in poetry. Because how could a kid immerse himself in the sport’s lexicon — the alliterative nicknames: the Sultan of Swat, Joltin’ Joe, Dizzy Dean; the fanciful terms: the double steal, the suicide squeeze — and not want to make some of that music himself on the page?

Some of the earliest poetry I remember came from the baseball books I checked out of the Towson Library. “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” “Tinkers to Evers to Chance.” And the names! Names I had never heard — have still never heard — anywhere else: Harmon, Thurman, Rollie, Clete, Vida, Rogers (with an “s”!) And the greatest of all monikers: Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. (As if a man called Mordecai needed a nickname.) And a catcher named Yogi! — a homespun sage whose advice included, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I followed players like Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, Spaceman Lee, the Mad Hungarian, and Oil Can Boyd. In 1997 I moved to Seattle and began rooting for a band of R-rated Mariners: the Big Unit, A-Rod, Blow, Junior, and the Bone. (I first noticed the phallic common denominator while standing in front of a — no joke — Kingdome sausage stand. “Get your Junior Kielbasa! Get your Big Unit Red Hot!”)

Part of what I know about the world — which means part of what I have to work with as a poet — comes from baseball. A gesture of nonchalance: U. L. Washington lipping a toothpick. A gesture of menace: Lee May waving a bat. The number 56 means “hitting streak.” Gary, Indiana means “Lyman Bostock’s murder.”

Baseball also reminds me that remarkable things can happen: Carl Hubbell can strike out five consecutive Hall of Famers; Johnny Vander Meer can throw back-to-back no-hitters. That’s a poetry lesson, as well. How could I read Hopkins or Moore or O’Hara or Edson without having learned it?

Whitman played baseball. He called it “America’s game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere.” Floyd Skloot has a wonderful poem that imagines Whitman pinch-hitting in a pick-up game at the edge of a Long Island Potato Farm. “In his hands, the wood / felt light. He stood beside the folded coat that represented / home, shifted his weight and stared at the pitcher who glared / back, squinting against the sun, taking the poet’s measure.”

Later this week I’ll post a few baseball poems by Robert Francis, May Swenson, Eric McHenry, and Charles North. Then I’ll accept that the off-season has arrived. Until then, two quotes:

“It’s not always easy to tell the difference between thinking and looking out of the window.” – Wallace Stevens

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

Rogers_Hornsby_1928

6 thoughts on “Going, Going . . .

  1. Julie, here’s another favorite: After being told by New York mayor John Lindsay that he looked cool in his summer suit, Berra replied, “Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.”

    Jim, thanks for the link. Much fun!

    Daniel, I had meant to write about Fidrych, and then I forgot about him during the blear of near-dawn. But how could I have also left out Bake McBride? (And yes, Biff P — the ’77 Topps card. He looks like a nine-year-old.)

    Kany, I love the idea of Kordell Stewart perusing (and sabotaging) the KR Blog!

  2. Not sure why all those slashes are in there . . . unless it was Kordell “Slash” Stewart’s doing. Oh, wait, he was a football player . . .

  3. Hi Cody . . . don\’t forget, \"Tanana and Ryan and 3 days of Cryin\’!\"

    And my own personal favorite . . . \"The Curse of the Bambino . . .\" Unfortunately, that curse does not live on anymore. But the Yankees are finally the World Series Champions again, and for that I am thankful.

    To add to some of those names you mentioned, \"Harmon,\" was, of course, \"Harmon Killebrew.\" A wonderful name for frat boys in Minnesota, I would think . . . \"Harm n\’ Kill-a-Brew.\" \"Clete\" was short for \"Cletus\" Boyer).

    And while we have the \"double steal\" and the \"suicide squeeze,\" we also have the \"hit and run,\" and its conservative brother, the \"run and hit.\"

    And then, finally, we have the dreaded \"passed ball.\" Ouch.

  4. Baseball and writing are hand in glove for me as well. I can never believe when people, often students, write stories with names like “Bill Jones” and “Pete Adams” when I grew up with Brian Asselstine, Pepe Frias, Butch Wynegar, Mark Lemongello, Barry Foote, Bake McBride (and his hair, which should have had its own name), Mark “The Bird” Fydrich, and Biff Pocoroba (who still has the best “worst” baseball card of all time, no matter what anyone says). As for the phallic Mariner nicknames, I think we’re all glad that Little Unit never made the Majors (though perhaps we know the reason).

  5. thank you for some interesting insights. Whitman played ball? I don’t think the beard would’ve been allowed, but maybe on the Swingin’ A’s he could;ve had a great handlebar mustache.

    If you need some more baseball poetry, check out my site, Bardball.com. We’ve tried to “Resurrect the Art of Baseball Doggerel”, and put up a new, usually timely poem every day during the season.

    Cheers!

    Jim Garner

  6. Cody – I love that Yogi Berra quotation. Here’s another from the same mold: “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” My mantra.

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