by Bill Rector
Before I was born, my father would drive to a hill outside Cheyenne to pick up KMOX out of St. Louis. Growing up in Des Moines, he’d become attached to the Cardinals’ signal. The Gateway City was as far west as baseball went then, but the voices of the broadcasters and the susurration of the crowd rippled across America like the rush of rubber on macadam.
We’re in extra innings. The score is tied, 1-1. Jack Buck colors Harry Caray’s play-by-play with a brush made raspy by years of Lucky Strikes. Korea, Asia’s crooked finger, hasn’t beckoned yet. Untroubled by static, the nation has begun to relax. Stan Musial, Stan the Man, knocks dirt from his spikes and strides to the batter’s box in Sportsman’s Park.
That rise on the prairie, my father once remarked in a reminiscent and mystified mood, was high enough that some nights the broadcast was as clear as day (I pictured a white beam one-hopping off the ionosphere). But on other nights, the signal would be swallowed up by the sky, providing only snatches, a few words at most, of what happened.
Some people are born on third base.
Most are born in a run-down
shack between home and first base.
I know what you’re thinking.
There’s no such thing
as a run-down between home and first.
Whether you swing and miss or watch
the third strike whiz down the middle,
you’re thumbed out at the plate,
which the umpire whisks off
as you shuffle back to the dugout
in disgrace. I love this country.
People know the rules of baseball
better than they do the Bill of Rights.
On summer nights, our diamonds shine
brighter than Tiffany window displays.
Confused moths confetti the lights
like the pennant’s already been won,
and the parade is about to begin.
Fans file into our stadiums
clutching their childhood
mitts, with oil and dust in the creases
and pockets pounded deeply
in the shape of their fists.
They grumble about being inspected
for guns and bombs and paying
more for a foot-long Kosher and suds
than they do for the rent.
But when it’s time for the seventh inning
stretch, hats come off, hands find hearts,
and a pretty girl sings, God Bless
America on the pitcher’s mound.
Sometimes she forgets the words,
and the crowd loves their lives even more.
After all, tonight may be the night
they catch a foul ball or a home run
hit into the cheap seats by their hero,
and fifty thousand people
who a moment ago chanted,
“Throw the bum out,”
will stand and watch the Jumbotron
and cheer like it happened to them.
“What the stars heard” was previously published in Elysian Fields Quarterly and in Bill (Proem Press).
BILL RECTOR is a retired physician who has published a full-length collection and a number of chapbooks. He formerly edited the Yale Journal of Humanities and Medicine.