For fans, baseball is poetry in motion. One team that continues to demonstrate grace is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Love or hate them, the team of Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax who has Magic Johnson among its co-ownership are still captivating, starting with manager Don Mattingly. As a Yankee in the 1980’s, “Donnie Baseball” and Keith Hernandez, his equal, opposite number on the New York Mets, gave daily clinics on the art of playing first base. No line drive or off-balance throw was too impossible for either of them. For fans, baseball is poetry in motion. One team that continues to demonstrate grace is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Love or hate them, the team of Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax who has Magic Johnson among its co-ownership are still captivating, starting with manager Don Mattingly. As a Yankee in the 1980’s, “Donnie Baseball” and Keith Hernandez, his equal, opposite number on the New York Mets, gave daily clinics on the art of playing first base. No line drive or off-balance throw was too impossible for either of them. Mattingly’s All-Star right fielder Yasiel Puig can be a crybaby arguing balls and strikes but effortlessly—even, ridiculously—throws out almost anyone who attempts to advance or score on his lethally accurate throwing arm. Speaking of arms, pitcher Clayton Kershaw has a curveball that lands in the catcher’s mitt like an exclamation point. Then there is announcer Vin Scully, the voice of baseball.
When the Dodgers played in Brooklyn, Marianne Moore was among their biggest fans. Prominently displayed in the replica of her apartment at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library is a baseball. Her poem, “Baseball & Writing” is included in the anthology, Heart of the Order: Baseball Poems, edited by Gabriel Fried. As Ms. Moore extolls:
Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do
This brief volume is perfect for young ballplayers and fans new to the game. The poems in Heart of the Order are a sampling of the extensive baseball literature that fills shelves and e-readers. Diehards too will appreciate—and reminisce.
Editor Gabriel Fried, a lifelong Mets fan who, like every follower of that team, knows baseball is a waiting game, divides Heart of the Order into several sections. Each part is named for a phrase known to players, sportswriters and fans alike: Baseball Fundamentals; Stickball, Pickle and Little League; Sandlots and Cornfields; Expanding the Strike Zone; Screw Balls and Double Plays; At the Letters; Greats of the Game. Some poems are about players. “Baseball and Writing” mentions Mickey Mantle (“leaping like the devil”) and Yogi Berra (“he could handle any missile”), among other standout players from that era. Joseph Stanton’s “Catcher” honors Tim McCarver’s long career behind the plate with biblical language such as, “You kneel for the reliever / as he frets his small golgotha, / his mound of grief.” This wordplay on the agonies of a win in jeopardy is also apt for McCarver’s other long career as a baseball analyst. During his stint at Fox Sports, he won over viewers for his use of metaphors describing plays and players.
Baseball and writing come together in David McGimpsy’s “The History of Baseball”—a fantasy of how great American writers regard the game. Emerson would:
particularly if he had the sense
there would be a franchise in Atlanta
and Larry Jones’s nickname would be “Chipper.”
Could McGimpsey’s favorite ball club play in the National League Eastern Conference where for years Braves pitching and “Larry” tormented opponents?
However, the richest poems are the ones about baseball memories. William Trowbridge assesses his lack of baseball skills in “Poet’s Corner”:
. . . I tried to steer the ball
like a paper plane, watched
Christmas gifts with big
red ribbons floating through
the strike zone, and swung
at dirt balls.
Even more heartbreaking is Edward Hirsch’s “Siblilngs.” In 1959, his sister Lenie was the only girl on her Little League team. No token in the pre-Title IX era, her pitching prowess “Of striking out so many older boys in a row” with their fathers insisting “using a girl on the mound was against the rules / All the while marveling at her masterful control.” Decades later, Lenie regards it with “humiliation” and “hatred.” Mo’ne Davis may have had a slightly easier time of it during the recent Little League World Series, but there is still wariness about girls who throw nothing “like a girl.”
Baseball has a long history and season. While instant replay is the newest (though not terribly reliable) way to capture it, the carefully chosen words in Heart of the Order, conveying enthusiasm or disappointment and every emotion in between, remain one of the truest ways to experience it.