Two Poems, Big Wins

Now that the Mets are in the middle of a seventeen-game stretch with no days off, I better not get behind in my poem count.

I owe two today, so here are two bad poems about trying to play baseball as a kid when you’re not very good at it.

Also, the Mets keep killing it. Walker hit his ninth homer in April last night, which ties a Mets club record. And my dad and I are going to Citi Field for a game against the Braves next Monday. That’ll be my first poem and post from the stadium.


 

Weak Arm

 

I’m in left field, and the batter smacks

a fly ball that goes up above the brim

of my hat, which is the tell-tale sign

to run back, back toward the wall,

and the ball lands ten steps behind me

and I haven’t got an arm like Mike does

so I flip it to him and he hurls the ball in

to the cutoff. A run scores,

and in the dugout the kids jeer me

for not making the throw myself,

and I want to tell them that I just don’t

have the stuff that they do

but instead I sit alone on the bench

and wait until the game is done,

picking at the leather laces of my mitt.

And my brother picks me up

when the game ends, and the big lights

shut off, the scoreboard flickers

and dims, and while his engine idles

and he waits, I count some stars

while I shuffle across the lot

to the sound of little kids biking home.

 

 

Wild Pitch

 

I’m standing in the batter’s box

with wobbly knees, helmet clamped on

which makes my heartbeat pound in my ears

and the pitch comes in at my head and I duck

but clank! the ball hits off my bat anyway

and rolls fair and the catcher throws to first

and I’m out. The ump won’t toss the pitcher

for headhunting and I’m sitting in the dirt,

tears in my eyes, wondering why

I’m out for ducking, for saving my own head,

but them’s the rules of the game,

and as the other team runs off the field

in victory, I sit in the damp clay.

Five Baseball Haiku

Alright, so, it happened. I got distracted with my life and I got behind by five poems. So, today, here are five baseball haiku. They’re not very good. But I can say that I did them, they work together as a poetic narrative sequence, and now I’m caught up.

Oh, and the Mets are killing it! Home runs for everyone, and they’ve won nine of their past eleven games. Lets Go Mets!

Also, my father challenged me to come up with a new Mets rally cry, since he’s tired of “Lets Go Mets!” Any suggestions?


 

Five Baseball Haiku

 

Scrape of mud on cleats

as Batter waits. Ump says, play!

Ball zips by, called strike.

 

Manager kicks dirt

on Ump’s shoes while Batter

stomps into dugout.

 

But Ump laughs. Knows this

is a game, a child’s act

to fire up crowd.

 

Ump says you are out!

And manager says thank you!

while fans hiss and boo.

 

Batter slams bat, spits

in Ump’s direction, but he

smiles, did his job.

Grandy Man

Mets 6, Braves 3. Curtis Granderson smacked a solo homer and a grand slam to put us far over the top. Even the Braves’ late game rally couldn’t surmount the Grandy Man’s RBIs.


 

The Ballglove

 

Cut from steerhide and stitched together

with catgut laces and horse-hoof glue,

oiled and tied shut and baked in an oven

to shape the pocket, then beaten with a mallet,

a stick, a bat, fastball after fastball,

and the pocket stretches and deepens

where the ball snaps the mitt shut,

caught in the webbing between fingers and thumb,

the crosshatch of fine tanned leather

that learns your muscle memory, the way

your hand reaches mid-dive for a line drive

and how the leather, now a part of you,

snatches the ball out of the air, robs the hitter.

The Agony of Fandom

Mets 4, Phillies 5. A walk-off single in extra innings ended a four-game winning streak.

This one is for friend and fellow poet Erin Mullikin, who once challenged me to write a poem about being a Mets fan. Three years later, here it is.


 

The Agony of Fandom

 

I was born in 1986, and my father was torn

between feeding his infant son

and praying in front of the TV for the Mets

to beat the Sox in the World Series,

one rare win that shouldn’t have even happened

if it weren’t for the ball that slipped

out of Bill Buckner’s grasp. Those Mets

are like your three-legged mutt that outwits

the Rottweiler next door to steal his bone,

yet gets trounced the next day for it.

But that’s the strange agony inflicted

by the Mets on their fans. Yet, we learn

patience and forgiveness. We wait for the wins

to come. In 1962, the Loveable Losers played

for my eight-year-old father,

a little redheaded Irish kid from Queens,

when he went with his mother to a Mets game

at the Polo Grounds, their first season. They lost.

So began a lifelong love affair that drove me,

a diehard fan who is one generation removed

from the source, to drink late into the night

after a World Series thumping. But, the next day,

I’m wearing my blue and orange hat anyway

because I’m one stubborn goddamn Mets fan

who will never give up on his team.

Big Win, Big Momentum

Mets 11, Phillies 1. We destroyed the Phillies. That is all.


 

One Hundred and Sixty-Two Games

 

The Captain tiptoes away from third base,

getting a lead. The pitcher looks once, twice.

Then the curveball, but a quick squeeze bunt!

The batter takes off down the first base line

while the Captain sprints from third,

straight at the catcher’s chest, who fumbles

the ball as the Captain slides around the tag

to score and he stands up, uniform caked with clay

and mirrors the umpire’s call of safe!

with arms outstretched, a smile on his face.

The season is a war, and every game is a battle,

and with that squeeze bunt they win the day,

they take first place in the pennant race,

and the Captain punches the air in victory

because it all came down to that moment—

every game in April fought to draw even with a rival

sometime in late September,

and then a quick small-ball play

to take the lead, like a jab to the nose

in the final round, and in the dugout

the men hug and slap asses and cheer.

Bats Boom

Mets 5, Phillies 2. Quadruple homers! We got a #DudaSmash from Luke (his first of the season), one from Neil Walker, and two from The Captain. Cespedes also pulled off a stand-up triple and scored a run, and Thor was as dominant as ever. The bats are waking up for spring!


 

The Quitter

 

I was eight or nine, taking ground balls

outside my school in the hot sun,

and a bad hop smacked me in the jaw

and knocked me down, so I took a seat

 

on the bench. As soon as my father pulled up

in his truck, I ran and climbed in and he asked

what I was doing, and I said I wanted to quit,

showing him the red splotch that would grow

 

into a bruise, and he shook his head

and said nothing as we drove home.

Three years later, after my big league hero

broke records and my favorite team

 

was in the playoffs, I sat in as catcher

for the junior high team and tried,

for three innings, to snap up fastballs

from a kid who could hurl like a pro,

 

but each hit to the chest or mask,

each dropped ball, each failed throw

to second to get the runner out made me sweat

and shake. Soon, the coach benched me,

 

and after the game I asked how I was doing

and he asked if I wanted him to be nice

or to be honest, and he was honest,

and the other kids ignored me,

 

and I quit again. My father always said

not to be afraid of the ball, but the dull hot pain

of each thump was like a deadening punch

a bully would deliver. And next season,

 

about to go into high school,

I went to tell him that I’d never play again

but he gave me a mask, a chest pad,

and a pair of black, steel-toed cleats.

 

He taught me how to call balls and strikes,

how a curveball can paint the black edge

of the plate, how you listen for the click of the bat

to call a foul-tip, how to use all of your senses.

 

All that summer, we worked

as a two-man team for the little leagues,

and he’d watch from second base

with his chin raised and his hands on his knees

 

when he knew I was calling a fair game.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Mets 6, Indians 0. Matz, in a shutout comeback, struck out nine, and Kid Conforto doubled twice. It was a great game.

So, the title of this post is the title of an amazing baseball documentary that I encourage everyone to watch. It’s about an independent baseball team in Portland, Oregon, during the 1970s. Even if you’re not too into baseball, you’ll find something in this film, because it’s more about the deep mythic heart of baseball and what the sport can be outside of the constraints of an official league. It’s about how human the game is. And it’s really funny, too. You’ll learn what a “Jogarza” is. It’s on Netflix.


 

First Game

 

I was ten years old and half the size

of the players on the field,

and I climbed the steep stairs up to the last row

of Shea Stadium and chose a seat in the wind

and sky hundreds of feet above

the wash of green and the clay borders

of the infield. A speck of a man below

charged through deep centerfield, performing

calculus by running as he tracked the arc

of a fly ball that never reached as high up

as I was. I felt so small, tiny and perched

up in the sky like a crow on a wire,

but I heard the crowd’s roar growing

like a turbine accelerating

and the only thing louder

than the crack of the bat was the thrust

of jet engines above, planes that took off

from LaGuardia, and down below,

my father, a blue dot along the rows

of orange seats, kept score.