“What if Bill Mazeroski Missed First Base?” By Bruce Harris

 

What if Bill Mazeroski Missed First Base?

By Bruce Harris

 

Ralph Terry’s shoulders slumped. In leftfield, Yogi Berra turned, took a few steps back, but could do nothing but watch the ball sail over the ivy-covered wall. In his mind, a Yogi-ism. We scored 28 more runs than them and lost. It was true. Over the course of seven games, the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55 to 27, yet lost the 1960 World Series to the Pirates. Or, had they? 

The Forbes Field faithful, 36,683 strong, stood as one cheering, clapping, screaming, watching as an unlikely hero, Bill Mazeroski circled the bases. The Pirate second baseman, known for his defense, jumped, waved his arms, and danced his way around the bases. With batting helmet in hand and a smile wider than Forbes Field’s vast centerfield, he ran smack into a celebratory mob of welcoming teammates. 

In one of the most exciting World Series ever played, the Pirates had defeated the mighty Yankees in seven games to become the champions of baseball.

Prior to his momentous blast, surpassing in importance and impact Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” four years earlier, Bill Mazeroski had hit only 11 homeruns in 1960. The seven-time All-Star would eventually be elected into baseball’s vaunted Hall of Fame primarily on the strength of his glove. Mazeroski won eight Gold Glove Awards during his 17-year big league career. The second baseman was no doubt just as surprised with the hit as the sold-out crowd and those watching and listening to the broadcast. 

While the Pirate players, rabid newspaper reporters, photographers, and assorted over-zealous fans jumped, whooping it up around number nine, the Yankees players walked slowly, heads down, toward the visiting team’s dugout. The six umpires, four around the bases and one each up the right- and left-field lines stood stoically in place, watching the dichotomy of emotions between the players wearing home white uniforms versus those in visiting gray. Continue reading

Paramnesia 2

Photo by Gertrude Käsebier (1905) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

Paramnesia 2

By Tim Peeler

 

Paramnesia 2

The deluge of nighttime dog barks
Pauses for the after storm gutter drip.
There was a game, he says, can’t
Remember if it was 47 or 8, but we had
A two run lead in the bottom of the ninth.
Crickets like a crowd roar and the faint
Leaving of a train across the river gorge.
You got a light. Thanks. Well they got
The bases loaded, drunk as they say.
The old man’s profile, a Hemingway
Hillbilly with bifocals in porch light.
And coach, he hollers for me to get in there
To pitch to this Babe Ruth no neck left hander. 
A bawling cow somewhere, the Judge’s braying
Donkeys, hungry in their dark pasture.
So I say a little prayer ‘cause I believed back then,
Hid the ball in my glove behind my back.
A neighbor’s old pickup truck inching
Through the front yard of his trailer.
I throw it hard and outside at the knees.
He swings and misses. Lights was so bad.
An owl in the maple top, sounding out a
Whole summer of loneliness.
When he struck at the third bad pitch, that was
The game, but then he come after me with his bat.
A Hmong woman across the field, singing by the
Lanterns in her vegetable garden.
Our first baseman, Rosenbluth, stopped
Him out between the bases.
The hiss of traffic on the wet road,
River like a belly against the old dam.
We piled on him, beat the shit out of him
Before his teammates got out there, must have
Been 48, same year I met your mother.

About the Author:  A past winner of the Jim Harrison Award for contributions to baseball literature, Tim Peeler has also twice been a Casey Award Finalist (baseball book of the year) and a finalist for the SIBA Award. He lives with his wife, Penny in Hickory, North Carolina, where he directs the academic assistance programs at Catawba Valley Community College. He has published close to a thousand poems, stories, essays, and reviews in magazines, journals, and anthologies and has written sixteen books and three chapbooks. He has five books in the permanent collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, NY. His recent books include Rough Beast, an Appalachian verse novel about a southern gangster named Larry Ledbetter, Henry River: An American Ruin, poems about an abandoned mill town and film site for The Hunger Games, and Wild in the Strike Zone: Baseball Poems, his third volume of baseball-related poems.

A Review of Len Joy’s American Past Time

Len Joy's Novel, American Past Time

A Review of Len Joy’s American Past Time

by Jody Hobbs Hesler

Len Joy’s debut novel, American Past Time, is part time capsule and part baseball love affair. The title itself promises this (baseball is considered an America’s pastime, and this novel takes place in America’s past). It hearkens to the American hunger for the major leagues and the good life, spanning twenty years in the lives of the Stonemason family – from the post-war world of 1953 all the way to the summer of 1973.

Readers might expect such a nostalgic look at America to take a too-narrow, Mom-and-apple-pie approach, but Joy avoids this pitfall. What readers get instead is a steady-on account of a gifted ball player, Dancer Stonemason, first as he is poised on the brink of what might be a glorious career in the majors, next as he reckons with the more tortured day-in, day-out existence of a factory job in the 1950s American South, and beyond.

The first section of the book belongs to Dancer. The point of view shifts to his wife, Dede, in the next section, and finally to that of their two sons, Jimmy and Clayton, in the third and final section of the novel. Joy chose a pivotal twenty years to cover in his work. His characters reckon with pressures at the workplace from the Ku Klux Klan, the shocking (especially at the time) discovery of a wife’s lesbian lover, stories of the Civil Rights Movement,= and evidence of the slow changes it brings, a son going off to Vietnam, cancer, and more.

The Stonemasons’ many struggles, failures, and triumphs parallel the challenges and changes of the nation throughout these same times. But we start simply, with Dancer’s pure love of baseball: “He had a hand built for pitching – a pancake-sized palm and long, tapered fingers that hid the ball from the batter for that extra heartbeat” (2).

One bright day in Maple Springs, Missouri – a week before Dancer is scheduled to sub for a major league pitcher and get his chance at the big leagues – his wife and son come to watch him pitch. Everything he loves is in one place. Even the weather cooperates with Dancer’s optimism: “The sky was great-to-be-alive blue” (18).

Before the game, Rolla Rebel team owner, Doc, advises Dancer to go easy on his arm to keep it fresh for next week, and they plan to pull him after a few innings. But as the game promises to become legendary, fellow Rebel and veteran catcher, Billy Pardue, tells him, “You want to stay up in the Bigs, remember this – respect the goddam game. Play every game like it’s your last” (17), echoing Dancer’s own desire to honor his love for the game and continue.

As the innings progress toward what will become Dancer’s one perfect game, the community watching seems to unite in awe of him: “As he walked out to the mound for the seventh inning the crowd was eerily quiet, as if they were afraid the cheering might upset the baseball gods” (20-21).

Afterward, clouds roll into that “great-to-be-alive blue” sky. Doc lets Dancer know he can’t fill in for the major league pitcher anymore because he exhausted his arm, but surely he would get another chance. And Dancer takes heart. “It was a perfect game. No one could take that from him. … No matter what else happened they would always have that game. That moment. And Doc was right. He was young. He’d get another chance” (27). That innocent trust in the future sets up the disappointment and aching nostalgia that follow Dancer, and really all of us, after a peak moment we never know will be the last of its kind.

Dancer’s legendary game buys him a few years of low-level local fame, but we learn soon afterward that “the problem with his arm had developed the spring after the perfect game” (29). Dancer takes a better-paying job, pouring steel at the Caterpillar foundry, and the weight he gains in muscle mass, according to Doc, “might have thrown off his mechanics” (29). Whatever the cause, clearly nothing will be the same for Dancer again.

Soon Dancer is nobody’s hero anymore, and the work is hard and unrelenting. On the job, Dancer faces pressure from the owner’s son to attend Ku Klux Klan meetings. At home, his wife and two sons need more than he seems able to provide. He starts drinking with his best friend, staying out later and later. Everything starts slipping. Eventually, his wife Dede fears, “Things were never going to be normal in Maple Springs. Dancer was broken. … [E]very time she got a little bit ahead, Dancer would end up knocking that rock back down the hill” (199). All evidence seems to doom Dancer to ultimate failure. But sometimes, when second chances happen, they don’t look a thing like what you would expect.

This novel is a paean to the American Dream, not the showy upmarket commercial full-of-promises version, but the sort of dream you gain through trial, error, toil, and endurance. In Len Joy’s American Past Time, Dancer Stonemason rebuilds his dreams against the backdrop of a country doing the same thing.

Len Joy, American Past Time. Hark! New Era Publishing, LLC, 2014: $5.99

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Jody Hobbs Hesler lives and writes in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her fiction, feature articles, essays, and book reviews appear or are forthcoming in Steel Toe Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Prime Number, Pearl, Charlottesville Family Magazine, A Short Ride: Remembering Barry Hannah, and others. You can follow her at jodyhobbshesler.com or on her Facebook writer page: Jody Hobbs Hesler – Writer.