Aesthetic Drift #19 by Rose Lopez
The Underdog Saga: An Afternoon of Poetry and Baseball
April 6, 2019
In October 2017, my husband and I moved with our daughter from Germany back to Miami. We’d been gone from the city nearly seven years. But I have been following O, Miami since at least 2011. Back then the organization went by University of Wnywood. That year was also the inaugural year of their month-long poetry festival, held every year in April. This is the first year I’ve ever been able to attend. (Last year I was hugely pregnant with our second child.)
I take the baby, Lily, with me down to Coral Gables to watch the rematch of the Young Viejos versus the Old Poets, a baseball game at the Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center.
The Young Viejos are Miami’s oldest-running community baseball team. The team is made up entirely of men over 65. (The City of Coral Gables website, which lists the team under their “Adult 50+ Services,”does not specify that the team is men’s-only, but there are no women playing on their team that I can see.) The team ordinarily plays twice a week.
The Old Poets are O, Miami’s “ragtag”team, according to the organization’s managing director, Melody Santiago Cummings. “The last time we were on the field was last year,”she tells me. “And they slaughtered us,”she says of the Young Viejos.
The game is already underway when I arrive with Lily strapped to me in the baby carrier, and the Old Poets are at bat. There are three or four spectators in the stands beside the Young Viejos dugout, but the Old Poets stands are occupied only by sunlight. Lily and I have barely sat down when Cummings invites us into the dugout for shade.
I’ve just seen an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where the space station is being overrun by objects of the crew members’imaginations. One is a famous baseball player, Buck Bokai, who tells the space station’s commander, Benjamin Sisko, that no one has time for baseball anymore.
Even though I’ve chosen to sit among the Old Poets, I’m not cheering for a particular side. I’m there for love of poetry and baseball. I love rooting for the underdog, and I feel like literature and baseball fit that bill.
Each time a new batter comes to the plate, he or she reads or recites lines of poetry out to the field through a megaphone, which has “This Machine Kills Fascists”written along one side, a loving nod to Woody Guthrie. Sometimes the batters don’t have lines of their own to speak, so Cummings or another Old Poets player pulls pre-typed strips of poetry from a cardboard box near home plate to read for them. The lines are often about baseball or about Miami.
Both teams make some nice catches and hit some good balls. It’s clear, though, that the Young Viejos are more skilled than their Old Poet counterparts. I overhear one of the Old Poets saying to a teammate, “The important thing is it looked good,”after the teammate smacks a pitch into left field, only to be thrown out.
My favorites words spoken are from a Young Viejos player—Gonzalez, his shirt says—as he’s preparing to bat.“You can stay young forever,”he says. “Keep playing baseball.”After the game, I’ll see him ride away on his skateboard.
The Young Viejos beat the Old Poets again, 14 to 9. Afterwards, I introduce myself to P. Scott Cunningham, O, Miami’s founder and executive director, as well as captain of the Old Poets. I’ve emailed him before about volunteering for the organization, but we’ve never met in person. I mention that it’s my first time at an O, Miami event and he laughs. “This is not a typical event,”he says. “But it kind of is typical, because it’s not typical.”
I ask him about the relationship between baseball and poetry. “Playing baseball and reading poetry are both very contemplative,”he says.
I think this is true of writing as well as of watching baseball. They’re slow-moving processes.
As a kid, I played on a softball team. My coaches stuck me in right field because I wasn’t very good. I wasn’t very good because I’d get bored out there—not much happens in right field—and start daydreaming about diving to save a fly ball or hitting a home run over the fence. When a ball was finally hit my way, I’d be too distracted, and always ended up dropping the ball or watching it roll past my glove.
I think, too, of how I feel as a spectator. I hear the clean smack of a line drive ball fielded by a glove, or feel my belly swoop as a ball makes its arc to the outfield, and I still fantasize about hitting one over the fences. If I hadn’t had my daughter strapped to my chest, I might have asked for an at bat.
Each time I read something great, I feel the same way. Like picking up a pen and swinging at words until something connects. It’s why I’m there.
The O, Miami Poetry Festival has poetry springing up all over Miami in April. Learn more here.
Rose Lopez is working toward her MFA in creative writing from Florida International University. She also contributes content for the Miami International Book Fair. Her first short story was published with Big Muddy earlier this year. She lives in Miami with her husband and two children.