Today Poetic/Olympic Coverage continues at The Los Angeles Review of Books and The Best American Poetry. We're starting a series within the series in which we consider sports that have been and no longer are a part of the Games. We're calling them Ghost Sports and today it's baseball. Here's a moving meditation by Nick Ripatrazone and some brilliant hilarity by Peter Campion.
BASEBALL HAS MORE GAME
I’m not disappointed that the International Olympic Committee cut baseball from the London Games. They had good reasons, for sure. In the space on their schedule left by that languorous, bucolic pastime, they added a true spectacle of athleticism—golf. In fact, there was room enough for a second sport. Here, they thought to address another problem that the inclusion of baseball had underlined, the tendency of certain sports to favor one, dominant nation. So the I.O.C. dedicated the remaining time and money to an event certain to draw the punters into cross-cultural exchange—rugby sevens.
I’m convinced the committee made the right decision. Olympic baseball always seemed a put on, anyhow, a break from the real deal, a moment of enforced mirth that quickly grew tedious, like Pajama Day at school.
And I have to admit: the rest of the Olympics has always felt to me like Pajama Day at school. Back in the summer of 2008, I tried to watch the swimming events and all I saw was splashing. In the middle of the spray were some heads, wearing these rubber skull-condoms, emblazoned with the flags of their nations. It was hard to tell if any one head was really in front. Then it was over, someone had won, some mutant with a torso as long as a Buick. The analysis and the advertisements must have cycled for hours.
I also watched the running. This was easier to follow, perhaps too easy: the figures circled the track in their slender rows, like toy figures powered from remote control. There was no competition at all because there was nothing the slightest bit dramatic: the best runner was first, the second best was second, the third best, etc. The differences between them must have been pre-determined by genetics, since each had obviously received the ultimate training, the kind of care and attention that occurs mainly in neo-natal wards and missile silos.
The Olympics began to fill me with dolor. Was this really all that athleticism came down to in its sheerest forms? Trials of endurance and capacity? Freakish feats? How much, how fast, how far?
How arbitrary! I could come up with this stuff and give it away for free. I mean, my brother once squeezed twenty five grapes into his mouth—I have the picture. No one gave him a medal. A friend of mine was skinny dipping in a Vermont pond a few years ago, when the cops showed up and started shouting through a megaphone. He had to run naked, the whole three miles to where we were staying, without being caught by the police or seen by the neighbors who were all out grilling their Oscar Mayer weiners. Now, that could make an incredible sport.
But here’s my best idea. Senior year of high school, my friends and I called ourselves “the science team” not only because of our elaborate experiments involving alcohol and THC, but also because of our dedication to finding any activity that cultivated the very best in the human spirit. And after one of our lab sessions, in the middle of a blizzard, we cruised the deserted streets of our New England town in a Ford Pinto. Whenever we found an orange traffic drum, we slammed it, head on. This required much more subtlety and skill than one might guess. Each of those traffic drums contains a sandbag, hanging from a rope inside, for ballast. When you hit a drum at optimum speed, from one exact angle, not only does the drum fly through the air, but its sandbag explodes, concluding the game with an exuberant, percussive crescendo, reminiscent of Tchaikovsky or Rimsky-Korsakov.
I am currently writing to the I.O.C. (the damn form’s around here somewhere) to recommend the inclusion of this sport in future games. It surely has the same intellectual simplicity as those other Olympic events. Personally, I think it’s more fun and entertaining. But I plan to submit my proposal for “Traffic Drum Slam Drive” in the spirit of diplomatic compromise. You see, having reached adulthood, I myself now prefer baseball. But you just can’t include a game like baseball in the Olympics. It’s too much too fast for those who enjoy the cruder fare provided by the Olympics.
It’s not only that scientists have proven there’s no athletic skill more difficult than hitting a baseball pitched at full speed. Indeed, such a display of talent might embarrass the frantic paddlers of men’s double canoeing or the hefty heavers of shot put—those human boulders who twirl and twitch in circles, with their hands scrunched to their necks like people in serious need of neurological treatment. No, it’s more that baseball has so many elements, intertwining in endless combinations. As if that weren’t enough, a whole other, intricate world lies beneath the surface of baseball. I mean the subjective, dream life that each fan brings to the game, so that the sport takes on a kind of collective unconscious, weaving around the central storyline. In this regard, following baseball resembles the pleasure of reading “difficult” poems or novels. And it would be inappropriate, slightly cruel even, to expect fans of the Olympics instantly to rise to this level of attentiveness—as if, when my infant daughter cried in her crib, I decided to read aloud fifty pages of The Princess Cassamassima instead of changing her diaper.
Maybe there’s hope, though. During the last few weeks, as all the Olympic previews and promos have popped across my television and computer screens, appearing with the mindless pomp and ridiculous solemnity of a Katy Perry video directed by Leni Reifenstahl—I have developed another modest proposal to bring baseball to the world. I’ve based my plans on my years of experience teaching poetry. So many intelligent students are intimidated poetry. They suspect hidden meanings everywhere, as if the poems meant to single them out and humiliate them—like Belgian waiters spitting in their bisque. I’ve learned to allay such fears by acting as a language teacher of sorts, by having my students concentrate on those simple formal features that are right there on the page. We consider them one at a time: voice, line, syntax, tone, plot, stanza. T his approach seems to work. And I think we could do something similar with baseball: we could break baseball down into small component parts, such as running from home plate to first, or diving for pop-ups.
Each of these tasks could become an Olympic exhibition sport until players and viewers, like new speakers of some foreign tongue, slowly caught on and integrated their knowledge of the separate activities. We really could pick any aspect of baseball—even spitting your tobacco juice the farthest, even pulling at your crotch as extravagantly as possible. (Having lived in Italy for a year, I’m positive this last event will find many foreign adherents.) Any of these endeavors has got to be as thrilling as such official Olympic feats as lifting metal discs while grunting, or throwing a pointy stick at a field, or thwocking a stone across a long sheet of ice with a broom. (That one may be in the Winter Olympics, but who the Hell knows.)
What do you say? I need some collaborators on this project. I myself am going to be useless during the next few days. You guessed it: the Red Sox are playing the Yankees in the Bronx, and Pedroia’s back, Baby!