The summer that it never rained
we played wiffle ball every day
by the pool. He asked if he could
have a crack at me. I was cocksure
that I would hit one over the fence,
clear the tall pines some one-hundred feet
away. He looked at the ball the way that
engineers looked at things. The holes were
a physics problem, the stuff he would later
tell me was the stuff he ate up in college.
The first pitch from the lefty fluttered
like so many butterflies do. I swung that
big yellow bat and missed. He grinned
the way the crafty ones do, I dug in like
the sluggers, told him the next pitch was
going to the moon. It had more on it,
broke late, the kind that only veterans
can muster. I fouled it off. I could feel
his grin as I walked to retrieve the ball.
He always talked of playing football
as a kid, but I never saw him do
anything athletic. Those were just
stories. I see the third pitch even now.
A curve. I stood motionless. Still
the best pitch that I have ever seen.
His smile was one-part celebration,
the other part proud. It was the only
time that I ever faced my grandfather
in the game that I played every summer.
He was my Sandy Koufax, my Lefty Grove,
my Whitey Ford. I never faced him again.
He just walked back inside. No words needed.
Clemente Would Have Hit One In The Pool, But He Wouldn’t Have Liked It
New ballparks keep sprouting up,
like summer sweet corn. They
use words like retro and ball yard,
stick barbeques behind the bleachers,
brew their own beers, have roofs
on top that work with garage door
openers, one even has a pool. Every
one of them smells like a new car.
Even the sacred ground in the
Bronx, the House that Ruth Built,
has a younger sibling next door.
Only Fenway and Wrigley remain
the bridges to the ghosts of the past.
It is summer when the ivy grows
in full and they shag balls shirtless
on Lansdowne and Waveland.
They park cars on my memories
here in Pittsburgh, take history
and economics classes where
Clemente used to stand, rope
a ball to nail a runner at third,
then grab a bat and deposit a
ball in the right field porch,
trot out to his spot worn in the
grass, tip his cap to the boys
skipping school. Determination
grace and dignity, far from the
canebrakes of rural Puerto Rico.
The Lights Are Sad, The Baseball Players Have Left Them
The cold March air blew by us
as my son and I strode past
the ballpark today. The centerfield
gate was open, so we decided
to forgo the bridge, and strolled
in like we owned it. Three years old
and already a major league magnate,
as if he had bought the Monopoly deed.
The place was empty, unattended
and we stood above the bullpen
gazing out over the outfield, parts
shadowed, the sun’s rays not feeling
their mark. “The players are all gone,
everyone is at lunch,” he said, and I
mentioned that they would be home soon.
“We will go to the games, it will be fun.”
Walking out hand in hand, we tried to
close the gate, unable to budge the pin
in the ground. “We don’t want to get
in trouble, we will let the players get it,”
he said, reaching up, his hand disappearing
into mine like a lazy fly ball falling into
the centerfielder’s glove on any July day.