Satchel Paige

Satchel Paige

It is that blessed time of year again, when the season opens in uncertainty and hope. When new guys blaze across the outfield, slamming into fences, and superannuated sluggers acquiesce to the role of designated hitter. Five months ahead of games behind and on base percentage. A pleasure except for all those goddamn truck ads.

I played a lot of baseball. When I was a kid it defined the months when there was no snow on the ground. I was good at it, but never big enough or strong enough to be more than just good. I was a catcher mostly, and what I liked about the game was that even if you weren’t the best you could often out-think them. I made it to semi-pro in the summer of my seventeenth year, catching for Hewitt-Robbins in the Greater Buffalo Industrial League. They paid me when we won. Then I discovered other things, like girls and the private joys of wandering. When I was a kid I measured the worth of things in catcher’s mitts. Top of the line was about twenty-five bucks, four to a hundred, forty to a thousand. The day my dad sprung for a pair of pricey (one catcher’s mitt) kangaroo-skin spikes I knew he truly loved me. I had a good arm but had trouble hitting the slippery shit that the old guys threw.


Easter, Passover, Opening Day

Another thing I like about baseball
is that they don’t give anyone
whistles to blow or buzzers to
set off or only so many time outs.
As my wife says, it’s real time
and therefore gets to set its own pace.
I describe to her how
your hands sting in early April
when it’s forty degrees out and you
foul off an inside fastball.

What’s so cruel about spring
is that it’s not yet summer,
dusk comes too soon, and everything
must start again in mud and hope.


The Throw to Second

If your body can’t—if blind you can’t—
make that throw to second in your dreams
you got no business catching.
The mitt goes down and out
like the weight on a catapult and
from behind your right ear the ball is launched
with a peculiar straight-arm snap of the wrist.
It’s a throw unlike any other,
a bazooka’s accuracy or nothing.
Explosion has no grace. You end up
on your face or close to it.
The shortstop’s safe because
the throw was there in time
to cancel the slider’s need for spikes
and you’ve nailed the sucker.


Leroy Satchel Paige

The soul of any journey
is its unendedness,
therefore all our heroes
should be those who just
refused to fucking stop.

Like someone who at 42
began his “rookie” season
in the show with Cleveland
some thousand wins behind him
in the Negro Leagues, the bush

which counted for zip in
the real books, the white books
the history of the bigs.
Like some unpublished Homer
some hero of an unknown kingdom

an ageless sage playing baseball
in a shadow world of greatness
ever moving—Mobile to
Chattanooga, Pittsburgh to
K.C., Cleveland to the Cards.

At 59 he was still throwing
shutout innings for the A’s.
Excuse me if I stare
trying to see who’s pitching there
extra innings after midnight.


The Zen of Baseball

Satchel Paige didn’t throw fastballs
or curve balls or sliders. He threw
what he called the trouble ball
along with the bat dodger and bee-ball.
He called it the bee-ball because
“it be right where I want it to be.”

He was a skinny dude and I bet
he hid the ball well and worked fast.
I would have liked to catch for him.
Somehow I would know where he wanted
the target of my mitt to be
—bat dodger down and away.

The Zen part is we wouldn’t keep score,
no stats, just the next swing and miss.

(Poems from 14 Degrees South, University of the South Pacific Press, © John Enright, 2012)

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