Play Ball!

Advice and insight from a professional poet.

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My favorite baseball team has been in a slump for over 20 years, and this year, their season is not starting well. Could poetry help in any way?

— Henry

I’m going to give you two answers: one that reflects my idealistic opinion that poetry can fix everything by virtue of simply being itself, and one that is more practical (but ultimately reflects the idea that poetry can fix everything).

The Poetry-Can-Fix-Everything-Simply-By-Being-Poetry Solution:
Fans have shouted chants and slogans and other lines of light verse to opposing teams for years: “We want a pitcher/ Not a belly itcher!”  Nowadays, there isn’t so much of that clever heckling going on, so I think you should bring it back. This advice does come from my inner 10-year-old, so take it with a grain of salt:  Write some jeering lines of light verse for every fielder and shout them or print them on posters when your team is at bat:  “We want a short stop/ Not a stinky jersey top!” or something more specific to the opposing team. I am giddy with excitement at this prospect, so if you choose it, let me know and I can help.

Now, I could go on for pages and pages about this, but I’ll give you another option.

The More Practical Solution:
I don’t know enough about baseball to say positively that poetry can help a team improve. Maybe Fernando Perez — an outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays and a poet who completed his BA from the creative writing program at Columbia University — can tell you: “I’m in love with baseball, but eventually my prime will end, and she’ll slowly break my heart…I turn to poetry because it is less susceptible to circumstance. I’m not especially touched when a poet deals with a ball game; I’m not especially interested in having one world endear itself to the other.” According to Perez, baseball and poetry occupy two different spheres of his life, and that makes sense. Pursuing both passions takes so much focus and energy, and as one ages, he or she becomes a better poet than an athlete. I would like to imagine that Perez reads some inspirational lines of verse to his teammates before each game, his voice reaching crescendo as they all erupt into applause, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t do that (and he’d probably get stuffed into a locker if he did). But don’t give up hope, Henry. Take a look at Perez’s “sand parade”:

Cut dry

Paper soul, theoretical

Of frameworks, forged and

duly penetrable

By linguistics, communicable;

fingered with phrases, inflection.

— Evoked less oft with uncertainty

than clean,

Like a dollar amount

OK, depressing, but maybe true in the world of baseball. The MLB wants to make money, right? The more money a team makes, the better the coaches and trainers and facilities. If a team makes most of its money through merchandise and ticket sales, all you have to do is increase your favorite team’s fan base by starting an intriguing blog about your team that combines poetry and baseball in a way that attracts interest. There are an awful lot of baseball and poetry blogs out there, so you’ve got to make sure that yours is unique, smart and tasteful. My advice? Stay away from anything featuring topless fans that have doused themselves in team colors and offer an annual poetry contest or two where the winning poem would be featured on your blog, which, by the way, would be so witty and well maintained that it receives positive criticism from poetry and baseball publications alike. Good luck! • 3 May 2010

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.

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