It is, in its own fashion, a ballpark—there are dugouts,
(Though more kin to lean-tos if the truth be told)
A fence with advertisements, though its paint is cracked and faded,
And some of the businesses which testify to being tops in collars and canned foods
Have long since changed names or flat-out gone under,
But a ballpark nonetheless, and if you squint your eyes
Or find some other convenient method of self-delusion,
You can convince yourself it is a rather fine thing,
Happily oblivious to the fact that the infield is all bumps and tiny moraines
Covered with crownvetch and chickweed masquerading as grass,
The outfield rife with bark scorpions who frequently wander inside the lines.
Milling about this somewhat-short-of-pastoral greenish patch,
Wearing uniforms of a reasonable homogeny,
Is a curious (and potentially combustible) group of men:
Honest-to-goodness big leaguers whose off-field proclivities
Led Judge Landis to excuse them further participation,
Rope-muscled miners from Bisbee, carbide-lamp helmets tucked under their arms,
Callow boys taking a chance on this decidedly last-chance town,
One or two others with rather acute reasons
To stay in close proximity to the Mexican border.
Holding court in the midst of this collection
Is a man whose face was not visited by the smallpox
As much as it was wrapped up in its full embrace;
He says, It’s old Charlie Comiskey who should be in jail.
Man has more money’n he’ll ever need,
Hell, more than Stoneham or Ruppert.
No reason in the world he couldn’t pay his boys a fair wage,
But he treated ‘em like dogs, and if you starve it long enough,
Why, even the most loyal dog will turn on a man,
Ain’t that right boys?, and a pair of his listeners,
Men named Chick and Swede who know of Comiskey’s parsimony first-hand,
Vigorously nod their heads in agreement.
The speaker pauses for a moment, and as he does
He produces, seemingly from nowhere, a hip flask
(Brought forth like a magician pulling flowers from some gauzy handkerchief,
Or a card sharp finding an extra king in the very air itself)
And take a long draught before continuing.
Look, I love this game—hell, no man loves it more—but it’s still just a damn game,
Just entertainment, like the vaudeville or a rodeo.
Maybe we a took a few liberties with the outcome of a game here and there,
But, you know, I knew folks who’d go see the same Broadway show
Three, maybe even four times—they knew how it would turn out, I reckon,
But it didn’t keep them from spending four bucks a ticket.
Well, what’s a ballplayer but an entertainer?
We still put on a good show, and no one gets hurt,
But because it’s a ballgame, you’d think we’d spit on the cross.
With this, the circle breaks up, and men head to spots on the field
To field lazy fungoes and toss the ball around the infield,
And most of the on-lookers soon head back toward town
(Perhaps back to work at one of the smelters,
Their stacks blowing forlorn clouds into otherwise endless skies,
Or maybe to one of the sad houses on the far side of town
Where haunted-eyed Mexican whores mechanically light candles
In supplication to saints whose efficacy they’ve come to doubt)
But the stragglers who stay behind are treated to the first baseman
Make a marvelous, almost magical, pickup of a short-hop throw
With the easy nonchalant brilliance which at one time
Brought hundreds, no thousands, of men to their feet in disbelief,
And as he sweeps his glove upward, he laughs
(Though with just a touch of restraint, a trace of the rehearsed)
And says See, boys? Once you are big league,
You are always big league.