Lucky Strike

lucky strike

Photo by Frank Hunter.

Josmil Pinto is 7-10 with two doubles and an RBI in his first three major league games.

  • John Sickels
  • From SB Nation: Minor League Baseball

A gray gloveless Rochester Red
Wings coach fires straight balls
from a wire bin, one

after another, splitting the plate.
He stands two yards down
from the mound, behind a screen

that shields him from liners
that would kill him before
he even completes his wind-up.

That close to his batters, his purpose
is to give them what they want.
It’s the 5th of August, thirty

or so games left to a season
started in Lent. Not merely
a game of attrition;

but, as we’ve all heard, again
and again, like a Buddhist proverb,
a game of inches, random as I Ching —

a centimeter, this way or that,
the interstice between doom and glory:
getting called up to the show,

as christened in Bull Durham
filmed a quarter century ago
in the old park — or languishing

on Triple A buses and hotels,
hoping your Annie Savoy
(praying for her big break too) —

played so yearningly by Susan Sarandon —
will hover over the dugout
and insist you join her at her place

after the game on 911 N. Mangum Street,
a short walk from the clubhouse.
Love: that’s immortality.

Tonight, Wool E. Bull, the shaggy
long-horn mascot, fuming
like a minotaur, paces the Bulls’

dugout roof, inciting the home crowd
gathered for batting practice,
a dozen queued ecstatically along

the first base boxes, where Figueroa
and Beckham beam, timeless as baseball
cards, and sign autographs.

I moon behind the batting cage,
next to Rochester batting coach,
Doherty. Capless, gelled, aloof,

wrap-around movie star shades,
he will not look at me. In crimson
jerseys, Red Wings file into the shell

to cut: echoing thock of ash
on horsehide, the ball’s silent rock
into the troposphere. On deck,

the others loiter and mug until their turns.
“Keep Lisa down,” one shouts
when in strides catcher Josmil Pinto,

number 22, his singlet rippling.
Lifter’s veins in his arms and neck
pulse at each swing. When he opens

his hips, the light pours through.
His greased wheelhouse cocks,
then torques. Bulls fans

throng the patio of Tobacco Road,
a pub perched on a terrace atop
the 32 foot left field wall, bordered

by the foul pole at the 305 mark.
Beyond looms the antique water tower,
like a teapot, emblazoned

with Lucky Strike; and a towering
smoke stack with the same cigarette
brand tracked vertically on its red

sand-blasted brick. Pinto
scatters them with shot after shot,
two drives that explode off the Burt’s

Bees advertisement in the left-
center power alley. Then his knockout
encore that explodes off the colossal

bull stationed in the ether above all else in left.
It chuffs tresses of smoke;
its tail flashes up and down.

During the National Anthem —
a cappella by two Durham women —
I watch Pinto, red cap over his red heart.

In less than a month, he’ll be called
up to the Twins to spell Joe Mauer.
When they get to the land of the free,

the Amtrak, off in left, downtown,
keens lonesome, highballing
north to Saint Paul.

Joseph Bathanti is the Poet Laureate of North Carolina. His new book of poems, Concertina, from Mercer University Press, will be released in October 2013. He is a Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.

One Comment on “Lucky Strike

  1. Pingback: National Poetry Month, April 25, 2014 | Joseph Bathanti, NC Poet Laureate

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