Friday, December 21, 2018
Sport and Other Things, Vicariously
Donald Hall is better known as a poet -- and a fine poet he was, too -- and he approaches the essays in this collection, Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport [Mostly Baseball], with a poet's eye, ear, and sense of timing. They are a pleasure to read, in no small part because Hall appreciates the intricacies of baseball in a way that appeals to my own sensibilities about the sport.
Hall isn't exclusively a baseball fan, as he readily admits, but there's something essentially unhurried yet precise about his poetic approach that marks baseball as his first choice for relaxation, reflection, and even participation. One of the funniest and most poignant essays in the book recounts Hall's participation in the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training camp, everyone's nightmare fantasy come to life, where he discovers the pain and freedom of attempting to do the physically impossible, failing, and almost immediately getting another chance. Perhaps the whole experience is summed up best in his own words: "Fielding is total humiliation. I don't care."
Another pleasure of these essays is that Hall regularly and sometimes densely refers to various literary baseball works, leading me to develop an entirely new branch of the baseball-oriented TBR list. As a reader, that's as thoroughly enjoyable as the anecdotes and musings Hall's quotes and references support.
And of course the book is also about writing, and poetry, and teaching, and family life, and the development of a career in letters, sewn together with sports, as it should be.
I'll always be on the outside of both poetry and sports, but thanks to this book, it's not so bad. In fact, I might even echo Hall by saying I don't care -- as long as I can read about both.
In the dark Register building I finished my last lines for [sports editor] Ed McGuire, who took them to the Linotype room muttering imprecations. I put on my overcoat, mittens, and earmuffs; I stepped outside into the midnight air to wait a long time for the late-night bus that would take me four miles out Whitney Avenue and leave me at the corner of Ardmore to walk the dark block to my parents' house. I whistled white steam into the cold air of early morning, fifteen years old, thinking of maybe being brave enough to ask Patsy Luther to the movies--the proud author of a story right now multiplying itself into morning newsprint, ready to turn up on the doorstep in a few hours, large as life, BY DON HALL.
Note: I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.