Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Ghost of Ossie Vitt

The Ghost of Ossie Vitt

There's a swing-'n'-stumble old guy in a threadbare
turn-of-last century Detroit Tigers uniform
near home plate on the junior college field...
using a fire-scorched old Louisville Slugger fungo bat
to hit infield practice... grounders at absolutely nobody.

Long evening shadows of poplars stretch
from the first base line across the lush-green infield.
From the street, I can't make out who the man is.
Come on over here, he shouts.  Bring your glove.
When I walk around the 3rd base side dugout,
it's the ghost of Ossie Vitt, Where's your glove?
A true man always has his glove and bat handy.

He drops his fungo bat, walks across the infield,
starts picking up pebbles near third base.
Goddamnit, lend a hand.  We got to clear
this field of anything that can cause a bad hop.
It's been four decades, half a man's life,
since I've seen Vitt, since those boyhood
summers when I played, and horsed around,
at The San Franisco Examiner Baseball School.

How many times, you dummy, you got to be
told?  Catch the ball in the palm of the glove,
not the web.  Webs were put on gloves for the sake
of girls and sissies.  For old times' sake, I ask Vitt
if he's still bitter about Bob Feller and the other Indians
trying to get him fired from manager in 1940.
That was a team of petition-signing crybabies.
Vitt pokes my belly, laughs as if gargling glass,
You got no excuse, none.  You should be
using a medicine ball to harden your gut,
should be skippin' rope to get agile.
That's what me 'n' Ty fucking Cobb did.
Also we carried thick sheepskin rubbers,
because you can't have too much protection.

Vitt returns to his fungo bat, picks it up,
points to 3rd base, You want one more chance
to impress me?  This is the last one you get.
I shake my head, think about the Safeway
morning pastries little darlin' has on a shelf.
Vitt slams the bat off home plate, growls,
I ain't takin' guff from you, not you.
Watching you take grounders... 
your sloppy glove work at Graham Field,
that's what killed me.  Could a lived
ten more years.  But the memory
of Red Shuttleworth fielding at 3rd base,
like a nut case trying out for the circus...
that recollection, incidental stray thought...
that's what gave me a stroke, a killer
stroke on the last day of January, 1963,
my 73rd fucking birthday.
You're a bad glove.. a murderer.

Slump-shouldered, I walk out onto infield dirt,
pick up a magically-there 1940's Marty Marion glove,
look toward Vitt... and he's gone, just gone,
Ossie Vitt... who was once traded to the Red Sox
for a lefthanded pitcher named --for real-- Slim Love.

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