Once (not that long ago, perhaps, though we likely know better)

The summers were languid, liquid things without end

Each day fully equipped with a high sky,

The blue so all-encompassing, so all consuming,

That lazy fly balls seemed to disappear

As if God had scooped them up like so many routine grounders.

We played, in a field long since abandoned to crownvetch and scrub grass

Twenty one–five points for those balls

The celestial powers had bobbled

And we were able to catch on the fly,

Three points if we took it on the hop,

One if we safely trapped it before it rolled stone dead,

And so our Julys and Augusts fluttered by,

Every bit lazy and aimless as butterflies or knuckleballs,

With the exception of the de riguer tribunals

In which the assembled debated and determined

Where bounce ended and roll began,

Where shoestring catch was reduced to single-point trap.


It all came to an end, of course;

At some point, we crossed a line

(Undelineated but firmly established nonetheless)

Where it was no longer advisable to attempt this at home,

Mere joy was no longer an acceptable substitute for proficiency.

Find something else to do, kid, we were told,

And the bats went to the back of the closet,

The gloves and balls consigned to a spot

(Where we would surely remember to find them)

Behind some canned tuna and Christmas lights,

The fastball blurring by us now,

The field a warren of subdevelopments and cul-de-sacs.


And so you’d forgotten, or perhaps just suppressed, the whole notion;

There were, after all, a gaggle of coupon books

With return addresses from an ever-changing confusion of banks,

Sales on pasta and milk, and other fees and foundations

Politely requesting ones attention,

So you couldn’t be sure

That it was really the crack of an old thick-handled Adirondack,

Or the comforting thwick of the ball landing squarely

In the pocket of a Wilson A-2000,

Yet when you wandered to the window and peered out,

There they were, looking straight up at you,

Waving their hands like childlike Prosperos

Gesturing to reveal some fairytale glen.

Come on back, they are saying, and you go down,

Powerless to resist, even if you had wanted to,

Returned instantly, seamlessly to a time and place

Where a shout of I got it! I got it!

Was all the hierarchy or vitae that was required,

And you are unable to bring even mock-edginess to your voice

When you insist I got that cleanly on the hop. That’s three points.




8 thoughts on “twenty-one

  1. As Victor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, your memories cannot be taken from you by anyone. They are yours and yours alone. These images you capture in words cause me to return to those days of softball, when as a short shortstop, that big ball would go right through my mitt and end in center-right. Before I could pick myself up and dust off my knees, the hitter had rounded second and was on her way to third.

    1. Speaking of shortstops…I was once a pitcher in my mid-teen days, though my fastball moved at speeds that couldn’t get me arrested on the New York Thruway. One time, in the midst of getting absolutely shelled by the opposing team, I finally induced an easy inning-ending double play ball–or so I thought, until I turned around and saw our second baseman and shortstop talking about some girl in the stands or where they were going to eat after the game or something else not related to ending my suffering on the mound. I’ve never fully trusted shortstops since (present company excepted, of course.)

  2. I suddenly feel inclined to play hookie from work today and when they ask me why, where were you? I’ll tell them “twenty one and wk.” Enjoyed this.

  3. I saw Patek play for the Pirates in 1970. Then he was traded to the Royals with Bruce Dal Canton and Jerry May, and one of the guys the Royals got in exchange was Jackie Hernandez, who had that great world series in ’71. I just looked up Freddie Patek. He’s now 70 years of age, and this depresses me. I feel very old.


  4. having got hit my very first at bat in my very first game, and never returning, i could only watch my sons play, get drilled, hit a few, field a few, miss more than a few (both in the box and the field), and yet still enjoy watching. now they’ve put away the gloves, and this pen remarkably resurrects the best part of those years for me. thanks ~

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