Friday, January 15, 2016

A poetry reading in the Mexican Baseball League.

I grew up at a time when people memorized poems. The first real poem I ever memorized was something by Ogden Nash.

The Turtle
The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks 
Which practically conceal its sex. 
I think it clever of the turtle 
In such a fix to be so fertile.

Along the course of my childhood, I committed many more to memory. Many of which are still etched in my head today.

One long bus ride through Mexico 41 years ago as I toiled in the Mexican Baseball League ($200/month salary and two chicken dinners) I was forced to entertain my teammates.

This was common practice on six hour rides from one run-down city to the next. Guys would sing songs, read a letter from home, or otherwise regale us.

My turn came on State Road 57, the southward portion of the seven hour ride from Saltillo to Aquascalientes.

I stood on a green vinyl seat, hat backward like a catcher, holding a bat to keep my balance as we bounced along. And I rewrote Thayer’s Casey.

I’ve had many presentations since that afternoon in 1975 when I was 17. But I’ve never had one that earned more applause and attention.

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Saltillo nine that day;
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cesar died at first, and Adame did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A drunken few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope that springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Jorge could but get a whack at that-
We’d put up even pesos, now, with Jorge at the bat.

But Garibay preceded Jorge, as did also “Tito” Puente,
And the former was a lulu, and the latter was low-rent-e,
So upon the stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Jorge getting to the bat.

But Daniel drove a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Puente, so despised, tore the cover off the ball.
And when the dust had settled and the fans saw what occurred,
There was Puente safe at second, and Garibay on third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled off the gas plant, it sounded as from hell.
It tripped on an arroyo and sounded through the flat,
For Jorge, Americano, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Jorge's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Navidad's bearing and a smile on Jorge's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Jorge at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Jorge's eye, a sneer curled Jorge's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Jorge stood a-watching it like a matador, right there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Jorge. "Strike uno," the arbitro said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill arbitro!" shouted someone in the stand;
And its likely they'd a-killed him had not Jorge raised his hand.

With a smile of Hebreo charity great Jorge's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid rose;
But Jorge still ignored it, and the arbitro said, "Strike dos."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Jorge and el audiencia was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Jorge wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Jorge's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Jorge's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this dusty land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Saltillo - mighty Jorge has struck out.

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