Thursday, March 31, 2011

Happy Opening Day 2011

Known more for his regal bearing than any joie de vivre, Opening Day of the Big League baseball season could even bring out the kid in New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio:

"You look forward to it like a birthday party when you're a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen."

Of course, Opening Day generally did mean that "something wonderful" was on the horizon for the Yankee Clipper. Aside from bedding Marilyn Monroe and establishing that historic 56-game hitting streak, Joltin' Joe won a whopping 10 World Series in 11 appearances during a 13-season career. Given those gaudy accomplishments, I can understand why he was on optimist.

As a Mets fan, Opening Day is typically the time of year (recently, at least) when the optimism and applause of Spring Training blossoms into the booing and Calvanist fatalism of the regular season. I've been hard-selling my friends that this should not be the case this year, but we shall all finally see when Terry Collins' 2011 Metsies open their campaign tomorrow in Miami.

There are any number of reasons that the New York Metropolitans are not one of the dozen teams playing in the six high-profile games today. Among that number of reasons are the numbers 83 and 1.

- 83 losses in 2010, resulting in a fourth-place finish in the NL East.

- 1 billion dollars, the sum of money that the owners of the Mets are at risk of losing thanks to their involvement with the Madoff ponzi scheme.

DiMaggio's former club, however, was pencilled into the leadoff spot in MLB's Opening Day lineup. The Yanks will host the Detroit Tigers up in the Bronx this afternoon, with the first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. at the ATM that Steinbrenner Built. The skies over New York were an ominous gunmetal shade this morning so it's possible that that game will be postponed. But perhaps not. In which case, we'll have only Suzyn Waldman to describe weather conditions perhaps better left to Grantland Rice.

If the game takes place then we'll also have a ceremonial first pitch thrown out by former Yankees hurler Mike Mussina. He will be the 10th retired Yankees player to toss out such a pitch. Others scheduled to throw ceremonial first pitches around the Majors include a retired chief of police in Cincinnati, retired pudgy screwballer Fernando Valuenza in Los Angeles and retired outfielder Jim Edmunds in St. Louis. President Barack Obama had been scheduled to throw the first pitch at Nationals Park in the District like he did last year, but was a late scratch. It may have been because the Braves have so many right-handed hitters Or it may have been that Obama wanted to avoid upsetting the same blowhards who were upset that he took a few minutes to fill out an NCAA bracket earlier this month.

In most cases, these ceremonial pitches are given to local celebrities or beloved former players. In all cases the honoree has name recognition with the home crowd and is likely to receive a warm welcome. This was not always the case.

In 1968, the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day was heaved onto the field by Marianne Moore. She never patrolled center field anywhere or held any elected office in the city, county or state of New York. Moore was a Pulitzer Prize–winning modernist poet.

Supremely talented and possessing a sharp wit, Moore become a fixture of the New York social scene starting in the 1930s. Wearing her signature tri-corner hat, she would regularly attend sporting events. Later in her life she forged an unlikely friendship with Muhammad Ali, even writing the liner notes for a spoken word album released by the champ. Once penning "A Poem on the Annihilation of Ernie Terrell" with Ali over dinner, Moore's sporting acumen occasionally shined through in her work. This marriage of poetry and athletics was perhaps never better than in "Baseball and Writing."

Baseball and Writing

Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
generating excitement–
a fever in the victim–
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
To whom does it apply?
Who is excited?Might it be I?

It’s a pitcher’s battle all the way–a duel–
a catcher’s, as, with cruel
puma paw, Elston Howard lumbers lightly
back to plate.(His spring
de-winged a bat swing.)
They have that killer instinct;
yet Elston–whose catching
arm has hurt them all with the bat–
when questioned, says, unenviously,
“I’m very satisfied.We won.”
Shorn of the batting crown, says, “We”;
robbed by a technicality.

When three players on a side play three positions
and modify conditions,
the massive run need not be everything.
“Going, going . . . “Is
it?Roger Maris
has it, running fast.You will
never see a finer catch.Well . . .
“Mickey, leaping like the devil”–why
gild it, although deer sounds better–
snares what was speeding towards its treetop nest,
one-handing the souvenir-to-be
meant to be caught by you or me.

Assign Yogi Berra to Cape Canaveral;
he could handle any missile.
He is no feather.”Strike! . . . Strike two!”
Fouled back.A blur.
It’s gone.You would infer
that the bat had eyes.
He put the wood to that one.
Praised, Skowron says, “Thanks, Mel.
I think I helped a little bit.”
All business, each, and modesty.
Blanchard, Richardson, Kubek, Boyer.
In that galaxy of nine, say which
won the pennant?Each.It was he.

Those two magnificent saves from the knee-throws
by Boyer, finesses in twos–
like Whitey’s three kinds of pitch and pre-
with pick-off psychosis.
Pitching is a large subject.
Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
catch your corners–even trouble
Mickey Mantle.(“Grazed a Yankee!
My baby pitcher, Montejo!”
With some pedagogy,
you’ll be tough, premature prodigy.)

They crowd him and curve him and aim for the knees.Trying
indeed!The secret implying:
“I can stand here, bat held steady.”
One may suit him;
none has hit him.
Imponderables smite him.
Muscle kinks, infections, spike wounds
require food, rest, respite from ruffians.(Drat it!
Celebrity costs privacy!)
Cow’s milk, “tiger’s milk,” soy milk, carrot juice,
brewer’s yeast (high-potency–
concentrates presage victory

sped by Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez–
deadly in a pinch.And “Yes,
it’s work; I want you to bear down,
but enjoy it
while you’re doing it.”
Mr. Houk and Mr. Sain,
if you have a rummage sale,
don’t sell Roland Sheldon or Tom Tresh.
Studded with stars in belt and crown,
the Stadium is an adastrium.
O flashing Orion,
your stars are muscled like the lion.