– with a tip of the hat to Allen Ginsberg who, with his poem HOWL, threw out the first pitch

I saw the best players of my generation snubbed
by baseball denied invisible ignored
dragging themselves from sandlot to sandlot
looking for a game any game five-tool players
burning for some kind of connection
to the national media machinery of sports
gifted players who drinking and womanizing
and playing high still smoked the ball
over dirt fields beneath darkening skies
and ran like Olympians round white bases
who hurled fastballs slowballs knucklers and curves
palmballs change-ups screwballs and slurves
spitters and gyros and – wait for it! – the Eephus too
swinging Black Betsys and playing blackball
until the sun set behind bleachers of frenzied folks
cheering their heroes to second and third but
never home

who passed through the same fabled halls
and played on the same hallowed fields
as the namesakes the heroes the glory-strewn
and beloved boys of summer gone by
who stood naked in their darkness beneath
the racial slurs and silent before the spitting hatred
of the fairskinned and well dressed
who were expelled from the game for lying
about their color their name their country
of origin pretending to be Cuban or Latin
Indian or Mexican just to play – to play! –
without cowering in the shower room
or shuffling among lockers head down
mumbling apologies for being so good

who played the national game with verve
with zing with spirit and flair
jazzing it up or cooling it down
playing for pennies on the poor side of town
with Cool Papa Bell taunting on first
and Big Train Parker staring him down
Carlos Moran with his magnetic glove
and Fleet Walker dancing the basepaths
a black blur sixty years before Jackie

who broke the bank and shattered the mold
and opened the floodgates for all the Curts
and Willies and Henries that followed
and lonely Larry Doby first in the American League
but last in American memories like so many
forgotten if ever known for who among us remembers
the chocolate sweet swing of Walter Buck Leonard
the sudden swift strikes of Bullet Joe Rogan
or hide-thumping thwap of Mister Joshua Gibson
smashing the ball to the wall of his own Jericho
Oh my! Oh boy! Oh shit! Long gone

who barnstormed across the Depression Midwest
with Feller and Dizzy with the Clipper and Ruth
and won more often than they lost when
Satch was on the patch when the Bee ball
was abuzzin’ and his Long Tom ahummin’
when the Four Day Creeper mixed with his Hurry Up
rendering bats useless and lumber unswung
his outfielders and infielders invited to picnic
on the grass when the great Satchel Paige dispatched

O! those night-colored players dazzling sunlit crowds
who slept four to the floor in flea-bit backrooms
and took their dinner from alley ashcans
who bummed rides from town to town
enduring insults and threats before every match
who dared not sip from the white boys’ fountain
though they shared a field a ball a score and a game

who drank and swore and spat and pissed
like any other ballplaying kid
who got angry and drunk when base hits wouldn’t fall
busted water coolers and drove too fast
who purgatoried their nights with dreams
of homers in the gloaming and shutouts in the 9th
who tortured their bodies with booze and
with uppers and got themselves busted
just like the Babe and so many others
who solaced themselves with more booze
and an endless string of Baseball Sadies

who ranted in the back alleys of Pittsburgh
and roared in the summer dusk of Brooklyn
whose uniforms proudly proclaimed the Grays
the Homesteaders the Monarchs and Daisies
Black Barons and Buckeyes the Eagles and Crawfords
while in New York and Chicago and Newark too
they were simply called the Giants
and giants were they all

recreating the syntax of good ol’ American ball
standing before us day after day night after night
with nothing more than a stick of wood
and a sphere of horsehide naked in their fear
resplendent in their talents they play and they play and
they play as if there were no tomorrow
no yesterday no growing up no growing old
no greener pastures to be let out into
no world but this world this sandlot this field

the wobbly wooden stands of the minor leagues
or the concrete and steel stadia of the majors
in all their electrical/electronic glory
illuminating and magnificating for all to see –

a tiny patch of green grass in the heart of
the stone city and dirt baselines demarking
fair from foul safe from out where the dark boys of summer
stand waiting hoping dreaming and knowing
that out of their bodies comes the sport of millions
out of their bodies the runs and outs
ice cream cone catches and beanball bruises
every opening pitch every final out

and underscoring their performance
like some barbaric Ginsbergian yawp
they hear the crowd the fans the bugs the cranks
who lift the long lonely lyric lament of their