On “Baseball Heaven”–a surprise
I am not old enough to have appreciated the baseball announcer Red Barber in his prime.
Sadly, most of my experience of the man came when I listened to his gravelly voice in conversation with former “Morning Edition” host Bob Edwards in the years before Red’s death. Thanks to the free nature of those discussions, I learned quite a bit about Red and baseball before my time. Thus, when he died, in 1992, I felt the loss that Bob Edwards voiced then, and turned my hand to writing an elegy of sorts. I missed Red. Even though, truly, I was born too late–and missed Red. If you know what I mean.
The poem was called “Baseball Heaven.” It was peopled by all the most famous players I remembered from my childhood perusal of all the baseball history books the B. H. Bartol library had to offer. A couple of years after its composition, it was accepted for publication by Elysian Fields Quarterly, the Baseball Review, for volume 13:2 (that would be the one with Joe Jackson on its cover). Here I present it in its entirety:
Not Astroturf. Live organist,
A sharp diamond of greens, browns
under the brilliant summer sun
or a crisp starry night.
In this league are men enough
to field dozens of teams,
to play seasons of games.
The moment all have been waiting for:
now the nine take the field.
Cy Young’s warm-up fastball
thuds into Mickey Cochrane’s mitt.
Evers pivots between Tinkers and Chance
while Pie Traynor ranges behind.
In the outfield, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker
and of course the Babe–
each stakes out his bluegrass territory,
Casey Stengel presiding over the wait.
Until at last, the golden moment arrives:
the announcer fitting earphones
over the shock of fiery hair,
drawing up to the mike: oh, doctor!
Yes, Red, it’s time to play ball!
Imagine my surprise over the weekend when, in a fit of boredom or egomania (you decide) I googled my name and found myself on a sports blog, “By the Numbers,” on the CBS New York channel 2 website. The blogger, Father Gabe Costa, was lamenting the passing of the baseball season with poetry…and somehow he’d stumbled upon my piece, from the EFQ of 16 summers ago. In this week of Halloween, it’s rather like being haunted by my unsavory (?) past. As my friend the poet Jenny Doughty said, “It doesn’t read like your recent work.” Well, no. But it had a different purpose, and it truly is a piece for a specialized audience: all those people who listened to Red Barber, all those people who listened to “Morning Edition,” all those people who took out the baseball history books and pored over them as kids.
They know who they are.
Sixteen years. Wow. I’m sorry. I just can’t quite get over it.