Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Poet out of Rhythm with Today's Game

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Poet out of Rhythm with Today's Game

Article excerpt

Heading into the turn of a new century, spring brings a new baseball worry for this lifelong fan. The question is not how the Cardinals will do this year. It's how the game will do.

This has previously been a fuzzy concern, like the gut feeling you get from a poem that's not understandable word for word.

Strikes, lockouts, bad attitudes, a car dealer in charge, interleague play with nine- or 10-man lineups. A pit in the stomach says baseball is in trouble. It took a poem, or more precisely a poet, to clarify this sense of dread. Jim Smith, who teaches at Mullanphy Elementary School in his native South St. Louis, is another lifelong fan. He wrote a long tribute to Jackie Robinson, which begins: "A Golden Anniversary we celebrate today "Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was the Man who led the way "African by descent, African from the start "Who could quarrel that this lad had a stout heart "The integration of Major League Baseball was at hand "A positive change would sweep through the land "April 15, 1947, was the date "Citizens knew the country could not wait" We'll leave the literary criticism to the pros. The point is that Smith loves baseball enough to compose this poem and talk a prose merchant into reading it over coffee at 7 a.m. on a mutual day off. That enthusiasm is bad for bleary-eyed scribes but good for baseball. What's less good is that Smith is not smitten with today's game. He is 43. Although his third graders presented the poem in Black History Week, and a young black man later saw it and said, "Thank you for teaching me about my heritage," the poem appeals strongly to his fellow white Baby Boomers. As Smith put it, "When I run it by people, especially if they're baseball fans and they're older, they all want a copy." Even when told the price is $25 for an oversized, laminated version. Smith himself prefers the game in the past tense. He talks lovingly about the World Series as it used to be, played in daylight to the unseen mystery of kids like himself. "We were in school and couldn't watch it," he said, "but we all had transistor radios. …

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