Grandpa shagging flies
In the civil war dusk
Once the horses were picketed
If nobody turned up sick or shot.
Daddy wound twine about cork,
Sewed horsehide to make a ball, a century past,
Helping him stitch in surgery
Or stretching for wild throws
Under the town crag by the Elk Creek.
Cuffed the fingers so
What’s the delicious remnant,
The swivel of whack!
Aha! Or slipping it past them.
Some Baltimore chop
A downward blow
That escapes itself sunward,
Up bounding beyond reach
Plashing the creeks of rough and private sky.
© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore
My father was a lifelong baseball fan.
Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, his family would go to see the Birmingham Barons play games at Rickwood Field,. It was in the West End of town. There were two teams in those days. The better players were African American, they played as the “Birmingham Black Barons”, and their members included Alabama natives Willie Mays, and Satchel Paige, as teenagers.
Given the fact that the state of Alabama, much less the city of Birmingham, has never had a Major League Baseball Team, you’d probably be surprised to learn that Birmingham has become a modern mecca for Hollywood baseball films. This is because Rickwood Field, the same ball park my father visited, and which was built in 1910, is now the oldest remaining baseball field in the entire United States.
In the Jackie Robinson bio pic “42”, they used Rickwood to portray both itself and another ball park that no longer exists. Robinson genuinely did play an exhibition game at Rickwood. My mother was there in the stands with her parents and siblings that day.
Impressively, Rickwood Park still has all of its original structures intact, right down to the old style advertisements on the walls of the Outfield. The gates, the turnstiles, even the hot dog stands, remain ancient looking by design. The ticket sign proclaims, “Adults $1”. Hollywood has provided money to help maintain the facility, and it is used by a few schools and various amateur leagues during the year. In 1987, the long since integrated Birmingham Barons finally moved to a modern facility in downtown Birmingham. They currently play as a double A affiliate team for the Chicago White Sox.
The poem references my father’s grandfather, who was a doctor during the Civil War. It also references my dad’s father, a dermatologist, who apparently created his own baseballs and enjoyed playing the game growing up in Elkton, Tennessee.
Although my father learned to play baseball, his preference was to enjoy it from the stands, watch it on TV, or listen to the radio. In the 80’s and 90’s, when my parents had rural land in Dutchess County New York, we’d spend weekends camping at three small cabins on the property. As there was no electricity available, my father would periodically turn on the car radio to find out how the Mets were doing. Strange as it may sound, there is a very Zen like feeling that occurs when you combine the sound of a baseball broadcast with the gentle hum of nearby bees working their way across a field of wildflowers.
Unlike my father, the urge to actually play the game was very strong in my brother. He dreamed of becoming a baseball pro when he was growing up and spent his free time on the softball fields of Central Park. There was a friendly rivalry at home as my brother preferred the Yankees. But regardless of what team was playing, we always watched the World Series through to the last game.
I assume that the last time my father actually played baseball himself was when he attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Vermont on three or four occasions. The annual baseball game was a tradition born out of Robert Frost’s love of the game. A member of the faculty there for many summers, he was a team participant when he was young enough to play, and the event was originally held on a field at his nearby farm. Wisely, the organizers would stack his team with the better players, knowing that Frost hated to lose. I have no idea if my father was assigned to Frost’s team or not. In any case, I remember my father once saying, “It’s hard to take a bad photo of a professional baseball player. They move so gracefully”. Clearly to my father, baseball was poetry in motion.
Andrew Glaze (holding the bat) along with staff and participants of the 1946 Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference.
Rickwood Field’s front entrance. You would enter under the arches and head through turnstiles that were further inside.
One side of the seating.
The scoreboard and carefully maintained old fashioned signs.