Apr 21, 2011

William Matthews, Baseball, Detroit, Cities: Some Notes

Here are some looks at Detroit's Comerica Park. I hate to admit it, but Comerica beats the hell out of the sentimental favorite, Tiger Stadium, which the team abandoned in 1999.

I've put the pics up small for fast, easy opening. Did it work? Remember, you can click on a photo to enlarge it. Maybe a few today and a few later?

In case you haven't been to a baseball game for a while, let me recommend it. No, it's not cost-effective, but neither is that watch you're wearing, or those shoes, which no one considers a great thing about America. Baseball is. Just ask Ken Burns, who gave us American History via the ball field a few years ago.

I only get to a couple of games a year, but each time I'm aware of the great American mix at the stadium, along with the vastness of the rustbelt city where I now live--suburbs to the north, west and south (which we call Downriver), and Canada just a healthy bird flight eastward across the Detroit river. From any point in Detroit, it is at least 30 miles to open country, farm country, rural America. A full house at the ball park is about 40,000; that's twenty of the town and four of the entire county where I grew up.

During my first 22 years in Opey-ville, I used to look around and realize there was not one spot in town where you could not see beyond the city limits into the hills and farms. The town was so small you could always see past it. Surely I would die of hickdom.

Now, after more than 30 years in Detroit's burbs, the vastness of the urban sprawl and the melting pot still create astonishment for me. At the stadium, the guy in front of me might work in the factories downriver while the lady to my left is a home maker from one of the Bloomfields or Grosse Pointes. I also see some folks from the little bergs north and west, in for the day from West Branch, Romeo, Fowlerville, and college kids from Ann Arbor, and maybe even some sensible folks from the former KKK haven of Howell, Michigan.

Last I heard, greater Detroit still had the world's largest Arabic population outside the Middle East. Detroit has a Mexican Town, a Greektown, Polish Hamtramck, Corktown and probably every other ethnicity in our nation. A sports stadium is a huge bowl of socioeconomic and ethnic snap, crackle, and pop. And except for an occasional drunken dumbass, everyone behaves; there's a genuine sense of community among strangers from very different walks of life.

But what about Detroiters themselves, people within the actual city that supports all that growth and sprawl, while shrinking from over two million in the 1950s to about 750,00 at present? Honest answer: I have no idea. Shall I assume that every African American fan at the stadium lives in the city proper, which is about three-quarters black? That would be quite an assumption, and, if true, it would still account for maybe 1% of the crowd on a typical day.

So whose Tigers are these? What exactly defines an American city in the year 2011, anyway? And what defines the decay or death of an American city in 2011? Where is the tipping point, and how do we prevent complete collapse? What would complete collapse even look like? The rest of the country jokes that it looks like today, outside the stadium . . . .

I get so distracted by all those questions that I retreat into innocence and feel I'm nine again. It's Little League Day in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, where Ted Williams and some other Red Sox had come to visit my Indians, like Al Rosen, Luke Easter, Larry Doby, George Strickland, Early Wynn, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Ray Narleski. (I didn't have to look up any of those guys, yet I was not at all the most rabid fan among my buddies, my peeps).

I got lost looking for a hot dog in the dark caverns. Oh, there's my mom waving at me. Maybe I'm not lost anymore. (I have no idea how I found my way back to my team and mom; it was a miracle, more proof of a deity than I ever found in church).

But this is a poetry blog! Sort of. I looked for a poem about baseball, but could not be satisfied. Then I remembered the late William Matthews' impressive poem about hoops, "Cheap Seats, the Cincinnati Gardens, Professional Basketball, 1959." I offer it as one of the very finest sports poems:

Cheap Seats - 94.12




Barbaro said...

"boys in molt" and "loneliness with noise" are both brilliant phrases. Look askance if you will, but I think "Casey at the Bat" is one of the greatest poems out there, about baseball or otherwise.

Don't get me started on Detroit vs. the "cool" cities. In brief, we put the world on wheels; what have Knoxville, Phoenix, Denver, or Orlando ever done for us? Much of what Detroit "lacks" is cause for celebration: no strip malls, no cookie-cutter skyscrapers, no traffic juggernauts, no chain restaurants...

Almost ten years later, I'm still reeling from the beauty of the ballfield: the impossibly green grass, the honest-to-god dirt, the crack of the bat, the intoxicating smell of hot dogs and beer...call baseball boring or antiquated if you must, but other stadiums just can't compete for sensory pleasure.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most brilliant poems I've ever read. I had to come back today to make sure it was as good as yesterday.

Banjo52 said...

Barbaro, I'll have to re-read "Casey." I agree on your choices of favorite phrases.

AH, great! I hadn't been back to it in years--maybe I have some memory and judgment left after all.

Barbaro, you're probably on thin ice AND out on a limb, but you know cities much better than I do. I certainly agree that Detroit gets a bum rap, but it's the only major city I've ever lived in, unless you count Memphis. I'm snowed by the presence of four major sports teams, the symphony, which I'm told is world class (just got back from a daytime Schumann, Haydn, R. Strauss, and it was fantastic), a fine art museum, a dandy river front, the Eastern market, and on and on.

I suspect the problem is that what's bad is now very bad indeed, from schools to infrastructure (esp. roads) to vacated buildings to corrupt politicians to economic jeopardy. It's a damn shame b/c what's good is very good indeed.

I think Mayor Dave Bing has some good ideas with urban gardens and forestry, but where's the money for tearing down the old, much less putting up the new?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"This was loneliness
with noise, "

my favorite line

btw: there is an episode on the long gone TV series "Northern Exposure" called "The Graduate" I always thought the writers on that show were straight out of some Harvard English department because of how they shaped character (the Indian capitalist who collects Eric Fischel etc). Anyhow, It's based on "Casey at the Bat" with two professors arguing it's merits (modernist verses post modernist). Last season/netflix

Banjo52 said...

PA, I watched the show pretty regularly yet remember almost nothing. But two profs arguing about that could be interesting! That's what profs do, after all. Of course, I'm a moderately dogmatic New Critic, so I should poke fun.

PJ said...

The Ken Burns series ran on our PBS station recently so I got to relive it - brilliant. Because team sports don't move me the poem makes me a little uncomfortable although I love the last few lines. Certainly, we've all been in a crowd and never felt more lonely.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, absolutely. Weddings, musical events, cocktail parties come to my mind.

Brenda's Arizona said...

The Northern Exposure episode - a classic. Chris is going for his PhD? And the two profs of two worlds come... Casey at the Bat, an excellent piece.
and I love the cheap seats, too.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Banjo, here you go: Northern Exposure "Chris Stevens' Masters' thesis defense: He prepares a dense, deconstructive analysis of "Casey at the Bat," but over the course of the episode, comes to question this approach. At the appointed time for his defense, he summons his advisors to a baseball field, where he takes the role of the pitcher, and one of the advisors takes up a bat. Chris strikes him out while reciting the poem, with each pitch and strike at the appropriate point in the poem. Chris walks up to him, and points at his midsection. "That's what 'Casey at the Bat' is about. That feeling in your gut."
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