“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind”
Here we are, mid-April, awash in the first weeks of a new baseball season, sun just warming the fields, still not without chilly nights, those cold-kissed fingers rung from sawed-off bats. Batting averages and ERAs are still not stretched out by the steady accumulation of swings and pitches; the law of averages will soon humble early-ballooned numbers, lift up slow starting superstars. The books for the season are just beginning, scouting reports taking shape, power hitters slapping the ball to the opposite field, laying down occasional bunts to keep defenses honest. The books are forever works in progress, rewritten by the tenths, hundredths, thousandths. Facing the fall alone, as Giamatti says, is still far from the mind’s eye, 150 regular season games away, and even then there is always the hope of again reaching those chilly nights of the World Series, stretching numbers and hearts to the end, the top, back to the beginning. Maybe it’s the game’s symmetry that gets us, what Giamatti characterizes as “the game’s deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, and its deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to return home, to set the order of the day and to organize daylight.” Maybe it’s the sport’s reliability, its age, its ability to make fans feel lost on the rare night off. Perhaps what makes it special is in all our years of describing baseball, we are still finding new ways, new numbers, to identify those invisible forces we attribute to the Baseball Gods, to which we bear witness year after year.
Our latest edition of More Than Sports Talk begins with a baseball feature of one fiction, one nonfiction, and three poems, capturing the ineffability of baseball, the ways it moors or unmoors us. Karen Craigo’s “Wrigley Field Vendor Prays for a Win” depicts a beer vendor’s allegiance to the team: “And there/you are, working another season just/to watch, damp sawbucks in your apron/your voice big with what you would give.”
Michael Czyzniejewski’s “Three Hundred Eleven” give us the story of Glenn, a man without much to his name but rainouts, ticket stubs: “Today Glenn sets his record for a rainout day at three hundred eleven stubs, three hundred eleven free tickets. When Glenn walks out of Wrigley and to the ticket windows at Clark and Addison, he doesn’t consider how odd it is for a single fan to have three hundred eleven ticket stubs, the seats spread throughout the ballpark, most stubs in some state of disintegration, worn and wet.”
Sandra Marchetti’s “Spring” renders the dozing spirit of a spring day to the sounds of radio baseball: “I’m falling asleep to your voice today./It’s 80 degrees in Mesa and blue/skies color your radio play/as wind whips my picture window.”
Jon Sindell’s “Dullest Damn Game” captures a father and son’s relationship and baseball’s role therein: “Taking refuge that day in my stepmother’s den, watching Bench and Morgan tangle with the Dodgers, I wasn’t happy, but at least I felt safe. Then Dad came in. Glancing at the TV, he declared with authority: ‘Dullest damn game in the world.’ And barged out in disgust.”
Our baseball feature closes with another installment of Danny Caine’s Dispatches from the Factory of Sadness. In his poem, “When the Indians Were Good,” Caine renders being caught between Cleveland and Kansas City: “When, years later, you move to Kansas/and take a long time in the store deciding/if it’s okay to buy a Royals hat. When/Hosmer bolts for home banking on Duda/to miss and he’s right. When you watch/them (not us, never us out here) running from campus to mob Mass Street and/climb the light poles, you’re happy/for them.”
We have not, however, forgotten that sports exist in perpetuity. In Ali Lanier’s nuanced essay, “The Paradox of a Woman’s Sport,” she tackles femininity, film, and tennis: “A sports movie about women is, broadly speaking, about women in sports, rather than the sport itself, just as the women’s soccer championship is the Women’s World Cup, rather than the World Cup. My childhood association with the game [tennis] was with its female athletes—but the broad sense of ‘female marketing’ denoted a ‘feminine’ trope in films and reputation, the sport watered down to a plot device, a mental exercise rather than a brutal physical one, in the scarce blockbusters dedicated to it.”
Ultramarathon expert, Letitia Moffitt, is back with 44 more miles of running insight in her essay, “Brews and Shoes”: “Yes, there are trails that resemble the pictures in my head; there are places in the world so wildly beautiful they can’t even be imagined, merely sought after, hungrily, because who wouldn’t want to seek such untamed, uncontained beauty? But all this, too, is the world: railroad cars and shipping containers, levees and gravel roads, factories, farmhouses, and in the midst of all that a small field newly blooming in violet hues.”
Pavan Mano brings Barclays Premier League analysis to More Than Sports Talk with coverage of what winning means on the business side of sport in “Dreaming in Leicester—Or: Marching to the Corporate Beat”: “Wenger is the perfect—arguably the best—modern-day football manager. For he understands the true state, and condition, of professional football today: one does not need to win, but simply not lose too badly. Thus, to accuse Wenger of not being a winner would be to miss the point entirely: winning is no longer the name of the game.”
Rounding out the issue are Michael Chin’s two wrestling pieces—his prose poem “The Champ in Twilight,” in which we witness John Cena at the end of his career: “But he can’t live forever. He’ll be forty next year. The point when wrestlers think retirement or reduced schedules. The long tradition of working the independent scene, so as to never fully fade away. And yet, he stays,” and his hybrid piece “The Funk-Jack Scale,” where we come to understand the effectiveness of foreign objects in wresting: “But Jack and Funk were different. Where others saw the absence of people, these men recognized the opportunity to entertain the small crowd that much more profoundly. Jack purportedly gazed upon the empty arena, and turned to Funk, wide-eyed as a spoiled brat on Christmas morning, and said, ‘Look at all the chairs.’”
We hope you enjoy the latest issue as much as we do, readers. As always, thanks so much for reading.
Photo: Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports