Play Ball, #209

What whiff you must let
go by, while the pitcher
busies himself with
the business of keeping
the runner on first
occupied. What balls
did you bring to the plate
that will let you swing
through the air to connect
on a weak looper
over behind first base.
Walk back to the dugout.

What an eye you
turn away from me,
that makes you move
with the crack of the bat,
what arms and what neck
that react with the least
concern for brain, least
need for impulse or neuron,
what lungs you must have
to stroke and breathe,
to perk up on edge
and the balls of your feet.

What possesses you to choose
21 for the back of your jersey?
That best of blackjack,
age of ascension
miracle of God’s
first three weeks. But
you forgot the days
he rested, the times
he sat lazily
at the ballpark,
ordered a beer
and watched the game.

Floyd, like the boxer
or a call-back to the General
who carried us through
the second world war. But,
also to a Corey
and so, a hint of a star
from the early 80s.
Maybe not so much a star
as simply an actor.
If he played you in a movie,
surely, you’d go 0 for 3.

Unraveler of stitches.
Usurper of the mindset
of the pitcher.
Undercover agent.
Unknown quantity
placing your substantial
finger on the scale
of the boxes. Ultimate
decision maker,
dictator of the outcome
of the scoreboard and game.

Full count. You’ve run
the pitcher this far,
fouled off a couple balls,
fought back from the edge
of oblivion to get
one last chance at glory.
Fouled off another. Poked
the ball down the baseline
and into the stands, before
you park 102 stitches
over the center field fence.

What jokes have been made
about your name, about
the mispronounced nearness
to a statement of honor,
what rock band we lamented
ever listening to
in the late 90s. How
many people made those jokes
in high school, the force
with which you had to
beat them or run away. How
those morons got you to the bigs.

On a green pasture
in the great woods of Germany,
those woods that spawned
the tales of Robin Hood
and Camelot. By the turn
of a brook feeding into
a great river, a man decides
to break grain. We spell it
many ways and have lost
the long white line
back to the silt of
the Rhone and the Rhine.

You came here, being an all-star
in your own right, hero
to your friends, came down
to our minor majors,
starting over, staring lineup,
starting out this season,
as every season
0 for 0, hoping
for a good pitch
and a good eye
that will carry you
long into the cooling fall.

How much you bring
to the team, el Patrón,
Capitán to the cause,
carrier of the curse
Cal left behind when
he drew a packed crowd
to the stadium
to honor a man for
going to work. A stadium
full of men who wish
for a day off, to go
and honor those who toil.

Curl your fingers round
the round seams of the ball
that seems to cause the wind
around the ball to drop
the bottom out of the earth
and create a singularity
that tugs at the very core
of the cold earth
below the stadium
into the frozen ground.

Rear back on your hind leg.
Place all your weight
in the furthest back
position. Wait. Wait.
Rock forward with enough
pace to cause the left arm
to wince just a bit
and by the time
they recover, the ball
to be fiercely planted
in a deep leather mitt.

Like a hook that lifts
us out of our seats,
the long fly ball
that teases the fence
and tempts the front row
to reach out
and taunt the right
fielder. Outstretched
hands on the run,
hands left disappointed
hanging empty
in the summer air.

Cold, all night
in the humid air
waiting, spitting
peanut shells
and sunflower seeds.
The call, from an old
girlfriend who loved you
dearly and ditched you
due to your love of baseball.
The man she loved
turned out to have no arm
and now you make the save.

In a city steeped
in great Polish traditions,
stewed in old names
that ring like the spice
of a sausage, the casing
and grease of the El
blown past Halsted Street,
turning the track
and grinding against
the rail. The head
of the bat scratching
the edge of the ball.

Drafted just as the world
plucked me up from the nest
I sat in, in high school,
the end of the bench
I warmed, drafted to start
a franchise and me
a degree that has come
and gone, leaving behind
no trace of useful credit.
But still you reach
for the low, outside
curveball in the dirt.

Of light, of heat
a man with one job,
end the opposition,
shut the door, close
it out, chuck-a-pill,
keep the ball low
hard and inside.
The big man
is coming forth
in the line-up
with a cannon
and a deadly eye.

Short, fat
to the point,
like the name.
Mow down the weeds
of the middle line-up
who pepper the grass
with their wild attempts
to return the ghosts,
raise the stakes
and pound them
back into the ground.



A day is not done, until it's filled with words.

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