Precisely how and why I became keen on sports I cannot say. My family had little interest. My mother had essayed a little tennis when she was young, but that was for social reasons; she never showed any interest in sport otherwise. My father was assigned to the cavalry during his stint in the army, at a time when the cavalry was already obsolescent and dashing cavalry charges, which usually resulted in the slaughter of a great many horses, lived only in Currier and Ives prints. Otherwise he had no interest in sports either,

However, as a boy I cottoned onto sports—baseball from spring to fall, ice hockey on ponds in the winter, basketball in between. I never played golf; I am left-handed and a set of left-handed golf clubs would have been beyond my means, even had I known such existed. The one time I played golf was in college, where there was a course nearby. During one of the fraternity parties that blossomed on weekends some of us were smitten by the idea of playing a couple of holes of golf. We provided ourselves with a pint of Old Deadly; the rule was that the pair who won the hole got a snort of the stuff, the losers only a sniff. Under this system the odds tended to even out fairly rapidly. But unquestionably baseball was my favorite, and as a boy I played it most afternoons when the weather allowed.

Today, chances to play baseball are rarer. However, they sometimes occur. Back in 1925 when my uncle bought the little farm house I now own, he and my aunt decided to put on a Fourth of July celebration. The attendees included some burgeoning literary lights who they numbered among their friends, among them the poets Hart Crane and Allen Tate, the critics Malcolm Cowley and Matthew Josephson, poets like E.E. Cummings, and actor Paul Robeson. Crane in a letter said: “Nothing could beat the hilarity of this place—with an omnibus full of people from New York and a case of gin….You should have seen the dances I did—all painted up like an African Cannibal….A small keg on my head and a pair of cerise drawers on my leg!….We gratified every caprice for three days…”

The party has become a tradition and continues into today. The property has changed little since that first July Fourth, a simple farmhouse surrounded by fields and woods in all directions providing considerable privacy for uproar and indecency, should any occur. There is always a washtub full of beer and a potluck supper. The guests, as has been the case since the first episode, tend to run to artistic types – a motley collection of poets, painters, novelists, sculptors, actors.

A key feature is the baseball game. The open fields can be mowed by various means – I sometimes mow the outfield with a scythe, which reminds my wife of the Grim Reaper. These fields are a little rough, but if I run my ancient mower over the grass inside the basepaths I can manufacture a reasonable simulacrum of an infield.

We perforce use a softball, as a hardball not only can be walloped out into the woods by younger members, where it will disappear, but which might also break a nose. Nonetheless we call it baseball.

Due to many of the participants being writers, painters, and so forth, they tended to have spent their childhoods reading books and drawing cowboys and Indians on pilfered school paper, not swatting baseballs or kicking soccer balls. As a consequence there is a certain inexactitude to the proceedings. When a ball is popped up into, let us say, short center, several people of artistic temperament will circle under it, bumping into each other and shouting, “I got it, I got it,” until some water-colorist, having spun around several times, falls down, creating an impediment for the others. Balls bounce between the legs of poets unable to bend low enough to field grounders, pop flies fall between actors relegated to the outfield where they can do the least damage, novelists trip over bases and fall heavily to earth. A querulousness ensues.

“Hey, Frank, how about pitching one over?”

“What the hell are you talking about John, that was right in there.”

“Right in there? For Christ’s sake, it was practically in the woods.”

“If that’s what you think, Frank, you better get yourself a new pair of glasses.”

Dimming eyes are not the only problem. There is also the question of failing ears.

“I thought you were going to take it, Earl.”

“Me? I kept shouting ‘Take it, Mel.’”

“That’s not what I heard, Earl. You said, ‘I’ll take it, Mel.’”

“The hell I did. Get your beard out of your ears.”

A woman playing second base and is therefore near the outfielders, smooths the matter over, and the game continues. For reasons that escape me, women seem frequently to play second base. Possibly it is in order to be near to the outfielders, but there is another aspect to it, which is that the outfielders in these games typically play very shallow, usually about 20 ft behind the infielders. This is partly because they do not expect anyone to hit the ball very far into the outfield. However, there is also the fact that if someone by some fluke does cream one a fair distance into the hay the outfielders could not throw the ball back to the infielders in time to be any use, even if they were to actually catch the ball, which is highly unlikely.

Given these moments of contention, the fact that many of the players are growing long in the tooth, and the general risk to limb, if not life, I once suggested to some of the participants that we skip the game and proceed directly to the beer and the supper. The cries of outrage could be heard for some distance. The baseball game was their birthright: they will stop playing only when they have to be carted of the infield feet first.

So, we play. Fortunately, there are coming along the off-spring, and in some cases the grand off-spring, of the older generation. They, too, are starting to circle uncertainly under pop flies, complain about errant pitches. There is, thus, every hope that as I totter into my dotage I will still, come July Fourth, hear the voice of the poet crying, “Yours, Mel.”

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