I trekked yesterday to Wentworth, North Carolina in beautiful Rockingham County, not far from the Virginia line. Rockingham County is the site of North Carolina’s very first public school, Williamsburg Elementary. I was up that way to give a reading at Rockingham Community College. My host was Hannah Sykes, a professor in the college’s very fine English Department. I was at RCC last year as well, and Hannah brought up her son, Hayes, who turned 9 this April, the month T.S. Eliot so famously dubbed in “The Wasteland” the “cruelest month.” Hayes, on the other hand – a poetry aficionado and Billy Collins devotee – terms it “the coolest month,” because that’s when he celebrates his birthday. I was extra flattered to be there – with apologies to RCC’s baseball coach – because Hannah mentioned in an email, a few days ago, that she was “even getting the college baseball team’s practice cut short, so [her] students [could] be there.” Thus, I decided to devote a good bit of my reading to baseball and a good bit of today’s blog, as well, since I have always conflated baseball – that sport above all – with writing, poetry in particular. It’s also important to note that major league baseball player, Bill Evans, was born in Reidsville in Rockingham County and played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1916, 1917 and 1919.
If you don’t know Donald Hall’s Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport (Mostly Baseball),you should check it out. It’s a wonderful book that defies categorization, and contains some of Hall’s plaintive baseball poems. My beat-up copy, published in 1985, actually has on its cover a Jim Dowphotograph of the old Durham Bulls Park.
Last summer, the Durham Bulls celebrated, with “Bull City Summer,” the 25th anniversary of the film, Bull Durham. “Bull City Summer” documented every home game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park through writing and photography. I was one of the writers invited to participate. I asked Sam Stephenson, a good guy, who spearheaded the project, if my son, Beckett – a dedicated baseball fan, a really good player, a really good writer, and then Sports editor of UNCA’s campus newspaper, The Blue Banner – could accompany me and write something as well. Sam graciously gave the okay and Beckett and I spent two days at the park watching baseball and generally having the run of the place. That experience made me very happy. Here’s a link to Beckett’s piece, and here’s a link to mine.
I turned Beckett on to baseball and he turned me on to rap. Here’s the piece by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, about baseball, that evangelized me. And of course, thankfully, fathers no longer exclusively play catch with sons, but play catch with daughters, too; and let’s get mothers in the mix, as well, who play catch with their sons and daughters these days. In fact, when my dad, a steel worker, was working turns, and was not home to play catch with me, my mother would get out in the back yard and throw the ball around – often recently arrived home from her job as a seamstress, still in her skirt and blouse, and dinner started on the stove.
Ted Kooser, named United States Poet Laureate in 2004, celebrates his birthday today. His poem, “Abandoned Farmhouse,” is a fine example of his characteristic haunting accessibility. Today is also the birthday of Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song.” Here’s a 1968 clip of Fitzgerald performing “Summertime.” And here’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” by Woodrow Buddy Johnson & Count Basie (1949).