The summer after my senior year of high school I used to sit at my kitchen table and listen to the Mets on the radio. I loved listening to these games because I love baseball, and also because I am continually captivated by baseball’s announcers. Baseball is a game with a lot of downtime, a lot of pauses. Pitchers rotate the balls between their fingers, shake off pitch calls. Young grounds workers rake the dirt around the infield like a crew of zen gardeners. On the radio, baseball announcers fill these pauses with a finely-honed eloquence. They fill the empty spaces with poetry.
Like any genre, baseball poetry has its own form and conventions: statistics, history, lore, descriptive sensual immediacy.
And baseball is a populist literary medium. At baseball games, we tell stories between innings, we listen in on the conversations of strangers in the seats around us. We trade banter, pontificate, and rhapsodize.
In 2001, I wrote a found poem consisting entirely of the language I heard during baseball games.
Other major sports don’t have this same kind of space for language. Basketball, soccer and hockey are too fast-paced and free of pauses. Basketball games in person are thrilling, like a ride at an amusement park: your jaw hangs open. And years ago I read a New Yorker article that talked about the way television has shaped our understanding of the game of football: the slow motion, the wide shots at the beginning of each down zooming in closer and closer to the action. While football has gradations of speed, has light and shadow, it is not literature: it’s cinema.
I like the tilt-a-whirl and a good flick just fine every once in a while. But I love the poetry of baseball.