“Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poem”s edited by Brooke Horvath and Tim Wiles
Reviewed by Mike Foster
“If poetry is an occasion for well-put passion and expressive pondering, so also is baseball,” the editors declare.
Often passionate, rarely ponderous, this anthology limns baseball’s mundane and magnificent mysteries, from a family foursome’s sunset game on a sloping lawn up to “World Series , Game 5” (“Even God, I think, is here,/ so high up in the stands”–Karen Zaborowski).
Wiles, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum director of research, and Horvath, a Kent State English professor, read over four thousand poems for this hundred.
Every base is touched, from home-run hitting wisdom to a boy’s botched catch, Iowa minor league rainouts, Geronimo at the bat, a blue-eyed lady professor wearing a Yankees cap at a faculty picnic, Babe Ruth in heaven, the smooth-fielding shortstop struck down by a stroke, Downs Syndrome children playing “so in love with this moment/ when the bat makes the ball jump/ or fly that when it happens/ everybody shouts” –Wesley McNair).
Line Drives follows the rhythm of the two long seasons it celebrates, baseball and life. Part one is full of the Opening Day spirit: youth and spring, this year for sure! Richard Behm’s marvelously mythopoeic “The Origin and Purpose of Baseball” leads off:
“It began on the veldt
when snakes were common,
and a woman
searching for food
saw the moon and thought
it was an egg
that her children might eat.
She plucked it from the sky
and took it home.”
Between them, the moon and the woman create baseball, “rules based on the rhythms/ of the sea, birth, the geometry/ of hope, the mysteries/ of nines and threes” so that with two out, bases loaded in the ninth “the egg spins toward the plate/ where a child with a stick/ that his mother used to batter snakes/ waits.”
Summer brings flowering and ripening and dog-day doubts. Earl Braggs’ “The Baseball Boys of 1964,” Jim Daniels’ “Polish-American Night, Tiger Stadium,” and David Baker’s Whitman-inspired “Cardinals in Spring” (at four pages, the longest here) fulfill Wordsworth’s criterion for poetry: “emotion recalled in tranquility,” old score cards, ossuaries of games long gone.
The poems “grow autumnal, then downright wintery” in sections three and four, the editors note, “as they meditate on lost youth, lost fathers, lost time, lost hopes, lost love while holding on to whatever lessons have been learned.”
Consider Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry’s stark, wry autobiography “Baseball Cards.”
Quisenberry, whose sidearm submarine strikes helped win the ’85 World Series, sees his younger self in his cards, “in a triage of rookies,” then gap-toothed and grinning, “glory years…celebration mobs…
you can’t see
the cost of winning
lines on my forehead under the hat
trench line between my eyes
you don’t see my wife, daughter, and son
The last few cards
I do not smile
I look back
at who I thought I was
I used to be good
we thought you were bigger
Quisenberry published this shortly before his death of a brain tumor at age 45.
Yet spring always comes, with new inspiration. Part five, like the Gospels, ends with resurrection, a coda of triumph, lost baseballs found, “Line Drive Caught By The Grace Of God,” as in Linda Gregerson’s poem title.
“Baseball is a good antidote for death,” Katherine Harer writes. “Where else do we mutter belief scream/ hope.”
Keith Eisner adds:
“Yes, they cut down the flowers in the infield, and the flowers/ grow again./ A miracle under our feet, every day, every game.”
So buy us some poems and Cracker Jack. We know that we will always get back.