The Friday Poem ‘Baseball’ by John Updike

The Friday Poem this week is for the ‘Boys of Summer’: those who go to work playing baseball, those who spend their hours after work on a diamond with friends, and the real boys who grab bat and glove after school on the way to Little League practice.

On Wednesday evening, one of those who make a living @baseball, the Dodger’s Rich Hill, threw eight perfect innings of baseball in Pittsburgh, coming up short of both a perfect game and a no-hitter when a third base error in the ninth and a lead off home run in the 10th gave the Pirates the win.

Less than 200 miles northeast, the Little League World Series approached its championship weekend as players ages 11-12 years competed for a chance to represent their country in the international final.

With baseball in the air, John Updike, baseball writer, is our choice for this week’s Friday Poem.

Baseball

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop’s wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball’s
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It’s easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody’s right,
beginning with baseball.

John Updike from ‘Endpoint and Other Poems’ 2009

endpoint

 

Photo credit: Charles LeClaire USA TODAY sport

The Friday Poem ‘Baseball’ by Gail Mazur

The Friday Poem this week is for those whose workplace is the ballpark. It’s the first week of April and the dream of a World Series Championship is possible for each of Major League Baseball’s thirty franchises and their fans.

Our ‘national pastime’ has often been used as a metaphor for life. Poet Gail Mazur shared her connection to the diamond with her poem ‘Baseball’.

“Well, of course, baseball, to the ardent fan, IS a metaphor and more. I couldn’t write that poem until I thought of denying baseball was a metaphor, then I could go all out. Everything about the game and the park seemed like metaphor. And a fan’s sense of loss—or exhilaration—no matter how intense, is more bearable than the real losses in our lives. But still, but still, one feels one lives and dies, as the saying goes, with one’s team! After the first line, I wrote it in a few minutes, one of those gifts”

Baseball
for John Limon

The game of baseball is not a metaphor
and I know it’s not really life.
The chalky green diamond, the lovely
dusty brown lanes I see from airplanes
multiplying around the cities
are only neat playing fields.
Their structure is not the frame
of history carved out of forest,
that is not what I see on my ascent.

And down in the stadium,
the veteran catcher guiding the young
pitcher through the innings, the line
of concentration between them,
that delicate filament is not
like the way you are helping me,
only it reminds me when I strain
for analogies, the way a rookie strains
for perfection, and the veteran,
in his wisdom, seems to promise it,
it glows from his upheld glove,

and the man in front of me
in the grandstand, drinking banana
daiquiris from a thermos,
continuing through a whole dinner
to the aromatic cigar even as our team
is shut out, nearly hitless, he is
not like the farmer that Auden speaks
of in Breughel’s Icarus,
or the four inevitable woman-hating
drunkards, yelling, hugging
each other and moving up and down
continuously for more beer

and the young wife trying to understand
what a full count could be
to please her husband happy in
his old dreams, or the little boy
in the Yankees cap already nodding
off to sleep against his father,
program and popcorn memories
sliding into the future,
and the old woman from Lincoln, Maine,
screaming at the Yankee slugger
with wounded knees to break his leg

this is not a microcosm,
not even a slice of life

and the terrible slumps,
when the greatest hitter mysteriously
goes hitless for weeks, or
the pitcher’s stuff is all junk
who threw like a magician all last month,
or the days when our guys look
like Sennett cops, slipping, bumping
each other, then suddenly, the play
that wasn’t humanly possible, the Kid
we know isn’t ready for the big leagues,
leaps into the air to catch a ball
that should have gone downtown,
and coming off the field is hugged
and bottom-slapped by the sudden
sorcerers, the winning team

the question of what makes a man
slump when his form, his eye,
his power aren’t to blame, this isn’t
like the bad luck that hounds us,
and his frustration in the games
not like our deep rage
for disappointing ourselves

the ball park is an artifact,
manicured, safe, “scene in an Easter egg”,
and the order of the ball game,
the firm structure with the mystery
of accidents always contained,
not the wild field we wander in,
where I’m trying to recite the rules,
to repeat the statistics of the game,
and the wind keeps carrying my words away

Gail Mazur  ‘Zeppo’s First Wife: New and Selected Poems’ 1978

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The week@work – unlimited vacation, secrets of the most productive and baseball #LGM

This week@work continues the discussion of perks to attract talent, shares secrets of the most productive people and celebrates the talents of those who go to work in baseball.

On Monday evening the NBC Nightly News broadcast a story reported by Tom Costello on the new ‘discretionary time off’ policy being introduced to the 8,700 employees at LinkedIn. With no vacation limits, employees arrange time off with their managers. (What could go wrong?) For the company, with no designated vacation days, there is no need to compensate for unused vacation. With the average American worker taking only half of their allocated time away, it’s a low risk, and financially beneficial proposition for employers.

Joe Lazauskas echoed a similar theme in his Fast Company article, ‘Why More Tech Companies are Rethinking Their Perks’. He writes about a number of experiments with equity, time off and a new way to work.

“Over the past few years, some startups have begun to rethink some of the perks with which they’ve customarily attracted top talent. In their place, a new class of web 3.0 startups are beginning to embrace truly first-rate benefits, which might be giving them a leg up in a viciously competitive tech arena.

Equity that’s truly equitable… in 2013, Kik changed its policy so employees could hold onto their stock options even after they leave. In doing so, it started a small trend: Pinterest followed suit the next year to much fanfare, giving employees seven years to exercise their options. “If other companies follow suit,” wrote Business Insider, “this could change the entire landscape for startups, making it easier for them to attract and retain employees.”

One of the most compelling arguments for a new way of working came from Facebook and Asana cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, in the form of a recent Medium post. Ever since the days of Henry Ford, he noted, profit-maximizing research has backed up the notion that you get more out of employees when they’re better rested and happy.

“The research is clear: beyond 40–50 hours per week, the marginal returns from additional work decrease rapidly and quickly become negative,” Moskovitz wrote.”

Which brings us to ‘Secrets from 11 of the Most Productive People from Oprah to Aziz Ansari’. Comedian Ansari busts the productivity myth:

“While we were writing [Master of None], we would work until 6 or 7 p.m., and then we’d be done. There are other writers’ rooms where people spend nights in the office. I can’t imagine you’re doing your best work then. You’ve got to be a person and do other stuff, or you’re not going to be inspired to write.”

The big story this week@work was about the folks who play baseball. With post-season play underway, we are down to four teams competing to play in the world series. It’s an exciting time to be a NY Mets fan. And there is no better writer to convey the story of baseball than The New Yorker’s Roger Angell.

“Well, yes! Well, whew. The Mets’ breathless, division-grabbing, 3–2 win over the Dodgers last night never felt certain, and provided little fun for old at-homies like me until the last two or three outs. But check that: there was that sudden snicker in the top of the fourth inning, a little embarrassment for the moneyed, resident Dodgers, when Mets second baseman Dan Murphy, aboard again after another hit, moved along to second on a walk to Lucas Duda and, finding no Dodgers anywhere near that corner, took third as well. Oop. Then he scored on a sac fly by Travis d’Arnaud, tying the game at 2–2. The gratis extra base felt like a social error, spilled claret on the tablecloth, but in retrospect turned out to to be the pivot, the turning point of this strange, strained game.”

If you have aspirations to be a sportswriter, read everything Mr. Angell has written. And, read William Powell’s amazing profile of a sportswriter in St. Louis Magazine, ‘The Big Comeback of Benjamin Hochman.

It’s a career/life story of an eight year old St. Louis Cardinals fan who followed his dream to be a sportswriter and after stints in New Orleans and Denver, returns to his hometown to write for the Post-Dispatch.

“Benjamin pens his first column for the Post-Dispatch on September 3. We meet the next morning. The first thing I want to know is, why? He was living in Denver, one of America’s fastest-growing cities. There were four major sports teams and mountains and Peyton Manning. He gave it up to come to St. Louis, with three major sports teams, possibly soon to be two. We have a shrinking population and a landfill fire that’s burning toward a pile of radioactive waste and #Ferguson.

His response, about the Cardinals’ being perennial contenders and the stadium drama’s being interesting and so on, doesn’t answer the question. But when I walk into his living room, I instantly understand. We unpack box after box of his Cardinals memorabilia, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are posters of Post-Dispatch front pages from the Cardinals’ run in 2011, with Yadier Molina going crazy in every photo. He has balls signed by Jim Edmonds and Yogi Berra, a whole heap of replica rings. We find a copy of the Celebration! album he listened to as a kid and copy after copy of old issues of the newspaper, which Benjamin collects.

That leads me to my next question: Given his childhood, can he be an objective journalist, or will he be a fan in the press box? He even knows the Kroenkes, having managed the Mizzou basketball team when Josh was a member. This time, Benjamin has an answer ready. “I can’t be a fanboy. I have to be the guy who keeps the team accountable,” he says. “I will use my knowledge and my passion for St. Louis to enhance my writing.”

And for those of you who just don’t get baseball –

“This past summer, he created the Nine Innings project, writing nine love letters to baseball. For one, he found kids playing in the streets, just like in the good old days. For another, he tried to track down a specific stadium seat that had been hit by a famous minor league home run. For the final installment, he wrote about the bond that baseball creates in families. He wrote about his dad listening to the World Series in science class, and about a soldier serving overseas who stayed in touch with his parents by following the Rockies. It’s sure to win awards.”