Saturday, February 19, 2011

Carolina League Old Timers Game, 1980

 Enos Slaughter
Durham, North Carolina
Summer 1980

Carolina League Old Timers Game, 1980

     for Miles Wolff

Dead arms cock and toss
ghostly looping baseballs.
With golf course tans,
paunches, and bored
teenaged children
in the stands.
they trade anecdotes
wives never hear.

In the dugout,
young minor leaguers
owned by the Atlanta Braves
giggle, nor recognizing
how it is they will gather
their own aged summers
into a blue weather
three-inning old timers game
where the trails cross
past pink slips, real jobs.

In our dugout,
Joe Cowley farts,
says Enos Slaughter
is obscenely fat.
Out on the mound,
Tommy Byrne kicks
at the rubber
with new spikes.

Gallagher tells me
not to watch too long.
I have to warm up
our starting pitcher,
a bonus baby
West Point drop-out
whose hard one explodes
like a grenade as it
crosses the plate.

But I want to memorize
this grassy field in May sunlight,
the baggy flannel uniforms,
the bald, blunt head of Enos Slaughter
as he grins and signs a ball.
I want to memorize
the blonde, nearly bare-breasted
woman interviewing Bob Veale for TV,
her butt tense and snug
in grey designer jeans.

I want to memorize
the quizzical expression
on Tommy Byrne's face
as he adjusts his grip
on a batting practice ball,
the pheasant-brained
radio announcer eating
his fourth free hot dog,
the wide-open happiness
of middle-aged baseball players
who never expected this
residue of poise and grace.

It's good to sit here
out of the old timers' way
with my hand in my glove.
When the years have been piled on
and I'm nearer some mortuary,
I'll stand over there, just behind
home plate with the gear on
one last blood-pulsing time.

And I'll look over here
to the dugout to see myself
young again, lean and hard,
my hands tight with impatience.
I'll look over one spring day,
then turn around, squat and catch
my finest innings... even if
I resemble a beached sea lion.

This poem first appeared in The Minneapolis Review of Baseball (now named Elysian Fields Baseball Quarterly ) in 1985, edited by Steve Lehman.

 Joe Cowley
Summer 1980

 Bob Veale
Summer 1980

Red Shuttleworth
Summer 1980

After the release of the movie Bull Durham, a lot of guys who played for the Durham Bulls (the Atlanta Braves Class-A minor league team in the early 1980's) were taken for bullshitters when they claimed they had been there... on the grass at Durham Athletic Stadium.  The Bulls returned to the Carolina League thanks to local franchise owner Miles Wolff.  It was Miles who paid my salary when I was the bullpen coach in 1980.  Every January I call Miles and thank him for the gift of being a Durham Bull in 1980.  A baseball visionary, Miles Wolff was instrumental in returning minor league baseball to profitable popularity.

Baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter has passed on.  Tommy Byrne is gone, too.  Joe Cowley is rumored to be a nuts & bolts salesman somewhere in the South, but, after Durham, Joe went on to pitch in the Major Leagues for the Braves, Yankees, White Sox, and Phillies.  Bob Veale, my roommate on the road in 1980, our pitching coach, who led the National League in strikeouts in 1964 while pitching for the Pirates, is retired somewhere in Alabama.

The Durham Bulls are now a Triple-A minor league team.  Miles Wolff no longer owns the franchise.  I will never be invited back to an old timers game.  

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