Monthly Archive for April, 2009

Poem of the Week: For Junior Gilliam

This poem by BH Fairchild is not about broadcasters explicitly. But with the passing of Harry Kalas yesterday, it’s nice to read in the context of the radio and the voice coming out of it and how much that voice can mean to a child, a man, a community:

In the bleak, bleacherless corner
of my rightfield American youth,
I killed time with bubble gum
and baseball cards and read the stats
and saw a sign: your birthday was mine.

And so I dreamed: to rise far
from Kansas skies and fenceless outfields
where flies vanished in the summer sun.
To wake up black in Brooklyn,
to be a Bum and have folks call me Junior
and almost errorless hit .280 every year
and on the field, like you, dance double plays,
make flawless moves, amaze the baseball masses.

You would turn, take the toss from Reese,
lean back and, leaping past the runner’s cleats,
wing the ball along a line reeled out
from home and suddenly drawn taut
with a soft pop in Hodges’ crablike glove.
And we went wild in Kansas living rooms.

The inning’s over. You’re in the shadows now.
But summers past you taught us how to play
the pivot (or how to dream of it).
And when one day they put me in at second,
I dropped four easy ones behind your ghost,
who plays a perfect game.

Fastball (The Band!)

Who knew that the 1990s also-rans with the baseball themed name were still running? I’m pretty sure the red ball on the album cover representst he way their career has whizzed in and out of the public consciousness…like a projectile thrown at high velocity or something. New album out the 14th –that’s today basically.

I haven’t heard any of the new songs, so can’t recommend the record, but I do still kind of dig The Way (warning: video not nearly as cool as you might remember it), and may toss them on the mixtape sometime just because of the name.

Keith Hernandez Meets A Tenor

(yet another thing to love about KH)

Keith Hernandez espouses on his arrival in New York (in New York Mag) and on meeting Placido Domingo:

And you’d be a fool to live here and not take advantage of the cultural stuff. So I would go to Broadway plays and even some operas. I met Plácido Domingo backstage once. The guy is a huge baseball fan, and he said “Sorry, I have a cold, I sang like a .230 hitter. Next time, I promise I’ll be a .300 singer for you.”

No word on whether Keith asked Plácido to help him move afterward.

Nick Adenhart: The Death Of A Pitcher

There is little I can add regarding the death of Nick Adenhart. The sadness and shock are self-evident; his was a fate that nobody deserves. But the tragedy has gotten me thinking about the nature of death in sports, the way react to grim circumstances like this as not just human beings, but sports fans.

There’s this tendency to write longingly about how sports is supposed to be an escape, how sad it is when events like this one bust open our perfect, insulated, sub-universe. We want the world of baseball to be one where losing is as bad as things get, where steroids and egos are man’s greatest vices. We lament: what a great shame when the American Elysium is marred by the horrible realities of American Society.

As a sports fan, it’s hard not to see things that way. It’s hard not to think about how sad it is that Nick Adenhart won’t get the chance to fulfill his most ambitious big league dreams, and that the Angels have lost a teammate, and that for a moment our escapist paradise is cloudy.

But that kind of thinking — I’m guilty too — is short-sighted. The real tragedy is not that Nick Adenhart won’t get to pitch, but that Nick Adenhart won’t get to fall in love, enjoy another night out with his buddies, sleep until noon, travel the world, fall out of love, grow old. The real tragedy is simply human. Nick Adenhart loved and played baseball, but if he didn’t, if instead he loved painting or web design, or politics, his death would be just as distressing. So from now on, when I remember Nick Adenhart, or Darryl Kile, or Thurman Munson, I’m going to try to remember them as not just ballplayers, but men.

I think they deserve that.

Corrections

In baseball, when you screw up and let a ball go through your legs, there’s no going back and fixing it. You hate yourself for a while, try to look confident, and pray to god it doesn’t lead to any runs. Thankfully, when you screw up in blogging, there’s an easy way to fix it. Just write another post. Hopefully this won’t be a recurring feature.

And with that in mind, two apologies:

First to Ted Walker of Waiting For Berkman. Sorry for calling you Ted Miller the other day. And thanks for politely not mentioning it.

Second to the ghost of William Carlos Williams. Commenter Mick points out that I only included part of Williams’ poem The Crowd At The Ballgame in a Poem Of The Week post way back in March. It was a sloppy cut/paste error on my part, and I’ve reproduced the poem in full below. It’s worth a read:

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them–

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genuis–

all to no end save beauty
the eternal–

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied–
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut–

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it–

The Jew gets it straight–it
is deadly, terrifying–

It is the Inquisition, the
Revolution

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them
idly–

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought

And Sometimes The Stories Tell Themselves

Winton Silva, on the mound for San Diego as I type this, has the kind of history made for a movie. From Tom Krasovic in the SD Tribune:

Nine years ago, at age 23, Silva was a dishwasher at an Outback Steakhouse in Palm Desert and taking classes at the College of the Desert.

Four years ago, he pitched in a Sunday league near Los Angeles.

“I needed the money,” he said of his semi-pro days in Baldwin Park.

Tonight’s gig?

A start against Manny Ramirez and the $96 million Los Angeles Dodgers. Silva, the No. 3 starter for the Padres, will be making his major league debut.

It’s not that I don’t want the Dodgers to knock him around, it’s just that I hope that his next start, against some less important team, is a successful one.

Also, who plays Winton Silva in the inevitable movie? I don’t think Kevin Costner is really cut out for the role.

(h/t Dodger Thoughts)

On Writing, Baseball Writing, And The 21st Century

We’re a week into National Poetry Month. I’ve been meaning to write about that. But for the moment, poetry is far from my thoughts. Springtime is for stories. And despite the name of this blog, prose has always been my first love. It’s just that as a name, Pitchers & Novelists lacks a certain romance.

Mostly, I’ve been doing what I normally do. Instead of actually writing, I sit around thinking about what it means to be a Writer, and more specifically a sports writer. I don’t mean beat writer or blogger either. I mean literary writer. Sure that sounds pretentious so I’ll capitalize it too: Literary Writer.

It all started last week when I came across a quote from John Cheever. Until then, I’d known Cheever as a mere reputation, a great pen-pal in Seinfeld, another legendary author whose writing I’d never read a word of. Now he’s the author who prompted a blog post:

The task of an American writer is not to describe the misgivings of a woman taken in adultery as she looks out of a window at the rain, but to describe four hundred people under the lights reaching for a foul ball. This is ceremony.

This, I think, describes why I write about sports. It’s always been the most intuitive way for me to get at other, more outwardly important things. If it wasn’t for the death of a baseball player, I could never have expressed the incomprehensible violence of the drug war in Mexico the way I wanted to. But sadly, there was a pitcher among the dead, and I’m proud of the piece. This is a new feeling though. Brand new.

In college, I wrote about sports for the school paper but always sort of hated myself for it. I got to cover Tim Lincecum the year before he started lighting up the big leagues, but mailed it in on most of the game recaps. I got to write columns on whatever sports issue I wanted, but spent way too much time trying to be funny and controversial. Secretly, I wanted to write non-sports features, non-sports columns. I just didn’t have the confidence to do it. End result? I quit the paper before my senior year to focus on creative writing.

Jim Caple, the ESPN columnist and UW alum, came to one of our meetings. I don’t remember everything he said, but I do remember he addressed the issue more or less as follows. He said he considered sports writing equal to all other forms of journalism, because sports is so inextricably connected with broader society and the human condition. He said he wrote about sports because it allowed him to write about life.

At the time, I didn’t buy it. I still wanted to write about Cheever’s woman in the window. But by now baseball has subconsciously crept into enough of my short stories that I’ve come to terms. Ernest Hemingway wrote a whole book about bullfighting. Bernard Malamud wrote The Natural and won a Pullitzer. Stories about sports can be more than just okay – they can be transformative. Now the way they are told is being transformed. Less George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated, more Joe Posnanski on his personal website.

I got a tweet the other day (a tweet is a message from twitter for those of you not yet following The_Real_Shaq), that seems fitting. The tweet, in its latest form reads as follows:

RT @steveweddle RT @Shoryland Indie film=cool. Indie music scene=cool. But indie writing=stigma. Why

Main point is that for whatever reason, if writing is to gain recognition in the literary establishment, it has come from the literary establishment. The many authors and poets who self-publish or publish online are generally regarded as scrubs, clowns. Of course some of those self-starters really are clowns. But some aren’t; some are gems.

Thankfully, that problem isn’t so evident in baseball writing today. The floundering print media has helped form a sort of horizontal, quirky baseball-literary universe. As I came to know this universe, the now-disbanded Baseball Toaster served as my North Star. From those blogs I gleaned new understanding of statistics and read a lot of fantastic stories about baseball.

This week, a couple of ex-Toastmasters have set the baseball blogosphere ablaze with narrative. First, everyone (including the New York Times and myself) was talking about Josh Wilker and his Cardboard Gods – a former Toaster blog now independent. Now they’re onto The Baseball Chronicle, an online baseball storytelling venture by Phil Bencomo, who contributed to the Toaster’s Cub Town blog.

Their successes, and the general shape of the baseball blogosphere (of which I’m now a very small part) have forced me to consider and reconsider my own writerly dreams. As a kid, when I wanted to be a sports writer that meant a newspaper. As a college student, when I wanted to be a Literary Writer that meant the New Yorker or a novel on display at Barnes and Noble. Those goals haven’t gone away, they’ve just been shifted into perspective. Just as real literature need not address “important” themes and characters like Cheever’s regretful adulteress, the best baseball writing need not come out of a magazine or a book. Indie writing need not =stigma.

In the words of Paul Weller, this is the modern world. If Jim Bouton was on today’s version of the Seattle Pilots, Ball Four would be a blog. If Jim Murray was born thirty years later, he would have already left the LA Times for ESPN. And if any of you feel like reading something powerful about baseball, all it takes is a decent wireless connection.

[Full disclosure: I have contributed to the Baseball Chronicle]

Bad-Search-Term Used-To-Get-To-My-Blog Of The Day:

“pitchers of real people”

Poem Of The Week: You Can’t Kill An Oriole

I thought of this Ogden Nash poem yesterday when Walkoff Walk started using pictures of dead birds in its Opening Day Lineupstravaganza posts. Anyway, it’s a nice bit of optimism for the time of year when only sports writers have determined who the winners and the losers will be:

Wee Willie Keeler
Runs through the town,
All along Charles Street,
In his nightgown.
Belling like a hound dog,
Gathering the pack:
Hey, Wilbert Robinson,
The Orioles are back!
Hey, Hughie Jennings!
Hey, John McGraw!
I got fire in my eye
And tobacco in my jaw!
Hughie, hold my halo.
I’m sick of being a saint:
Got to teach youngsters
To hit ’em where they ain’t

Cardboard Gods

Next to Josh Wilker’s, most people’s writing, including my own, is two dimensional — as flat as a cardboard rectangle. I could pile on hyperbole for hours, but this speaks for itself. Josh, who has been excessively friendly to this less accomplished writer in a few email exchanges, was profiled in the Sunday New York Times. The story also announces that he’s signed a contract to bring Cardboard Gods into book form. He couldn’t be more deserving of the feature or the book deal. I can’t wait to read the finished product.

Mazel Tov.