“Memorial” and Other Poems

Ozzie Smith's nickname, "The Wizard," could not have been more appropriate. (via)

Ozzie Smith’s nickname, “The Wizard,” could not have been more appropriate. (via John Mena)

Kauffman

vast spiral concourses
tower over the deserted
outskirts of Kanas City like
pyramids from the blacktop

i watch from the upper deck
as the shadow of the football stadium
creeps closer
with each passing inning
and the steady traffic
beyond the fountains and crown-topped video board
sweeps like the Nile
along I-70

buried deep in this tomb
behind the mesh netting
that parts the field from the grandstand
marks a single red seat
where as a child i met
baseball’s great king

Some parks have special seats marked, like the red seat in the unreachable depths of Fenway that Ted Williams (or Ted Williams plus a hurricane) once somehow reached. They have a seat like that in Kansas City. It’s where Buck O’Neil used to sit.

One of my oldest baseball memories is meeting Mr. O’Neil at that seat during one of our annual summer day trips to Kauffman Stadium. My dad took my brother and me down to where he was sitting during one of the breaks between innings and asked if he could introduce his kids to such a great man. As the consummate ambassador for the game, he couldn’t have been more gracious. I know Buck O’Neil touched a lot of people over his many years in baseball, and the fact that I am one of them is a pretty special connection to the game’s history.

Eddie Carnett

i saw his name the day Mike Sandlock died

so on the couch, as bleachers years before
i sit, Macmillan open on my lap
translucent pages flip, cascading past
Carew and Carey, Carlton, i explore
while by the window, dust
illuminates in gently swirling clouds

in Lebanon, Missouri where we watched
as youth league baseball played beneath our eyes
i listened captive as he filled the time
with stories of the game from decades gone
of Casey Stengel clash
and exile to the field from shoulder pain

i saw his name in paper headlines bold
when Sandlock died, my memories retold

Aside from Buck O’Neil, Eddie Carnett was the first major league player I ever met. He lived in the same town I where grew up and was the guest of honor at a youth baseball tournament the town was hosting. I was probably about 10 years old, and he was the nicest guy, just sitting there telling me stories from his career. His major league career wasn’t particularly substantial, but he’s one of not that many people to make it to the majors as both a pitcher and a non-pitcher (a shoulder injury ended his pitching career not long after his first call-up, and he eventually made it back as an outfielder).

He’s also now the oldest living former major leaguer, which is a big enough deal that people track it. When he took over that title (which, unfortunately, only happens when someone else dies or something strange happens with relativity), there was a minor stir in my old hometown about having the oldest living ballplayer living in the area.

For those who weren’t around to obsess about stats before sites like Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, the Macmillan Encyclopedia (along with a few others, like Total Baseball) was basically that, but in book form. Huge books with really thin pages so they could cram in the stats for everyone who ever appeared in the major leagues. They’re cool books, but I am glad we have websites now.

Naming Rights and Naming Wrongs: Let’s Rename Those AL Ballparks!
In this space, stadium names are the name of the game.

Clemente

Larry Walker
heads off Vina’s drive down the line
a silent explosion
erupts from the warning track
like October champagne toward third base
while i watch like a
falcon the ball disappear into the night
straining to follow it all the way to the bag

my father leans over the railing
holding back the right field bleachers
his mouth gaping in awe

Joe Torre strains
tries in vain to outrun the peregrine
whistling from the outfield wall
through the hot July air
the crowd erupts
engulfing the tense silence
Torre shakes his head
at Roberto Clemente

When my dad took my brother and me to games as kids, we’d usually try to get there early to watch batting practice. While it never gets old seeing professional hitters launch fly ball after fly ball into the seats (or, with the right combination of hitter and ballpark—say Jim Thome in Tiger Stadium—completely over the seats), my favorite part of getting there early was watching the pitchers warm up in the bullpen.

There were always fielders taking grounders or working on something or other while BP was going on, but by that time (mid-90s or so), it was rare for teams to actually take infield. One game, though, we got there early for BP and the team started taking infield—going through the basic plays, turning two, and all that. Then they went through the outfield, calling out which base to throw to, like we’d always do before Little League games.

While they were doing that, my dad started telling us how they used to always do that when he was a kid, and how his favorite part of getting there early was watching the right fielders during fielding practice. He’d go over to the right field bleachers and watch in utter amazement at how far and how fast they could throw the ball. And in all the games he watched, no one, he said, ever matched Roberto Clemente.

Haiku

hopes bound with each win
like stones skipping on water
fighting not to sink

fickle hues of May
ivy turns from brown to green,
hero’s red to blue

ninety-eight percent
Carlos Martinez, and two
Jose Canseco

Haiku don’t necessarily make that much sense in English since the original form relies on linguistic traits unique to the Japanese language, but I think the brevity of the form still lends itself well to portraying concise images or concepts in quick snapshots, like the ups and downs of a tight pennant race or seeing an old favorite sign with a rival team.

Or to making jokes. Sorry, Jose.

the wizard

sweat cracks the black leather
my palm slips
wrist deep in cowhide enclosure
my old Rawlings

somewhat heavier than i remember

signature scrawlings
spelled out in gold letters
a catechism
unfolding gold glove composure

el mago de la liga

dye fades from years of exposure
like charcoal dust sprawling
stiff heel held together
with knotted strips

Edge-U-Cated by summers of stepball

cloth label keeps
stains from loose dirt and clover
diving and falling
at shortstop unfettered

on the sandlots of rural Missouri

Growing up as a huge fan of Ozzie Smith, I went as long as I could through youth leagues playing shortstop before being left-handed got to be too big of a handicap and I had to switch to pitcher and first base. The first glove my parents bought me had Ozzie’s name in it, and I remember being kind of amazed that they made left-handed Ozzie Smith gloves.

I’ve still got my old glove tucked away on a shelf in my closet with a baseball inside to keep its form like I was taught to store it in the winter. Every once in a while, I take it out and try it on, but I haven’t oiled it in ages, so it’s gotten pretty stiff by now.

Memorial

a brisk chill descends
over downtown St. Louis
as cloud-covered canopies open
while leaned up against
the chain link partition
i gaze at the stadium looming
and tiredly fading
into low-hanging stratus
the white painted archways recede

cold mist shivers against my skin

the monolith forming
now rises above
the skeletal footprint beneath it
as quickly expanding
construction encroaches
increasingly close to its forebear
and already the brick
red facade has begun
echoing old Union Station

steel cranes bellow against the sky

suspended intently
the wrecking ball wavers
over the faltering structure
then suddenly racing
to life without warning
comes crashing violently downward
instinctively shuddering
frail cement
concourses shatter like maple

Busch Stadium falls
another of the crumbling cookie cutters washed away
in the wake of Camden Yards

The two stadiums of my childhood were Busch II and Kauffman. Kauffman is still modern enough to survive, and is actually pretty nice in spite of the uninspiring vista of a highway and not much else over the open outfield, but Busch fell victim to the wave of new ballparks that started in the 1990s. The new stadium is definitely nicer than the old one (though the old one did get a lot better once they replaced the Astroturf and renovated things a bit in the mid-‘90s), but there is still something kind of depressing about tearing down a perfectly functional ballpark just because you can convince a city to help you pay for a new one. Plus the arches around the rim were genuinely cool.

I still have a piece of concrete from the stadium that my dad pulled off the lot after the demolition. It’s kind of a neat bit of memorabilia for someone who grew up going to games there.

Thank you for reading. I don’t normally write much poetry about baseball, but as an ever-present backdrop woven into the fabric of American culture since before the Civil War (and of other countries for nearly as long), the game has proved a ripe subject for literature that has inspired some of America’s greatest authors, from J.D. Salinger to W.P. Kinsella to David James Duncan (among many others). Through our connections to baseball, we can explore broader concepts of family, community, history, and culture, all of which can be highlighted and heightened through a mutual respect for the game.

As an author, the game provides a subtle and familiar context to emotions and relationships that are deepened through this mutual appreciation. It becomes a kind of shorthand to convey the bonds we all feel as fans. As readers, we connect our own experiences to reach a deeper understanding of the characters or situations we encounter in fiction, and feel the same type of kinship we might get from walking into a bar full of fellow fans as your favorite team comes on Sunday Night Baseball.

Each of these poems aims to find some deeper meaning or context that can be expressed through the game of baseball. Whether that comes across or not, I hope you were able to find something to enjoy in each of them, or at least one of them.

If you did enjoy them, you might also enjoy Without a Net, a short collection of poetry I published last year, which includes the poem “Kauffman” above (though none of the other poems are baseball-related). And if not, you may still enjoy that book, but it is probably less likely.


Adam Dorhauer grew up a third-generation Cardinals fan in Missouri, and now lives in Ohio. His writing on baseball focuses on the history of the game, as well as statistical concepts as they apply to baseball. Visit his website, 3-D Baseball.
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Michael Bacon
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Michael Bacon

A sublime article…

Adam Dorhauer
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Adam Dorhauer

Thank you

Yeezy Fake
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Adam Dorhauer
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Adam Dorhauer

Huh. I just reread this, and I get to the end and find to my utter horror that I have somehow characterized Kinsella as an American author. Apparently it completely slipped my mind while writing this that he was Canadian, or else I just didn’t proofread that sentence enough. My apologies to Kinsella and any Canadian readers for the mistake.