I listen in time to catch the grand slam
off the bat of a rookie on my team.
It’s a timely hit, it’s a round-tripper,
it clears the bases, puts up a four-spot,
and cuts into the lead–now it’s 10-9,
the top of the sixth. The tale of the tape
has this line-drive homerun at three hundred
ninety-eight feet–not as far as they fly
in a lot of ballparks, but far enough
to clear the left-field wall here. The home team
fans are silent now, some hopes hammered out.
Oh, well; someone’s got a cruel souvenir
out there in the cheap-seat left field bleachers.
I have the best seat in the house: my chair
in my living room, the radio beside
me, speakers left and right–I catch myself
turning my head to one, then the other,
as if I’m on the pitcher’s mound and they
are runners on first and third. The batter
stands in the box of the blank wall in front
of me, but I’m not looking at him
–it’s the strike zone’s what I’m after. I’m blind
to the umpire–hardly notice him, just
peer in to see my battery-mate set
up this next pitch. He’s working his fingers
to signal what he wants me to throw but
I’m shaking him off, still shaking him off
–I know what pitch will bail me out of this
full-blown jam of bitterness. Now he hops
lightly on his feet even as he squats
and shifts his mitt to the inside corner
on this right-handed hitter. Why am I
thinking of my honeymoon, when I stared
into the darkness inside of the night?
I was afraid I couldn’t get it done,
would have to call in some bullpen relief.
Relax, my girl said. You’re trying too hard.
Just feel your way along and so will I
and we’ll let things play out naturally.
And she was right–I was magnificent.
Three years later I’ve traded her away,
not even traded–placed her on waivers.
Or was it she who sent me down? Errors
are part of the game, but there’s no excuse
for inattention–that runner on first
just stole second on me, but I can walk
this batter, load the bases, and get set
for a double-play or force-out at home
plate. I can’t afford to give a free pass,
however, let that man at third across
for free. But that’s what I do, on four straight
pitches nowhere near the strike zone. My coach
trots out and asks me how I’m feeling. Go
after him, he says. Got anything left?
Throw him a strike. Let him put it in play.
Okay. He gallops off. Again I set,
this time from the stretch so that man on third
won’t get a head start on a suicide
squeeze. I put one down the middle and high.
Somewhere along the way, I lost my stuff
but I’m still good for a scratch start or two
or middle relief–I can’t seem to start
or finish, though, but there’s more to winning
than victory–I have to believe that.
The kid who knocked the Grand Salami’s up
again, with the bases empty, two out,
and no expectations but to begin
a rally, that unlikely miracle
I’m living for. If it doesn’t happen,
nobody complains, and if it does, love
was the cause, it gave the ball eyes, and luck
had nothing to do with it. He strikes out
and we’re still men. And when we score, we’re worse.