Singing From a Crouch

By Allan Roy Andrews

I am of a line of catchers
whose knees creak at the bend
and whose cheeks protrude
from their embrace of ’baccy.
Even my mother’s smile shows
the legacy:  a chipped tooth
smashed by a bat that swung,
missed, and slid through
the cross-bars of her mask.
And she recalls in her telling,
“I held the third strike.”

My father beat death in Korea
with baseball, plucked from
a platoon of gunners who died
on an Osan hill and shipped
to special services to catch
the professional offerings of
Curt Simmons, ex-Cardinal,
ex-Phillie, and to tour
the spas of Switzerland
and the baths of Russia
between ballgames.

His father before him
made it to Double-A and
dirtied his Raleigh-Durham
uniform and the spikes of
opposing batters with wads
of Red Man expectoration
just before each pitch, or
so my father tells it
in boyish admiration that
I cannot mimic, as I cannot
hold his pitches.

Dad speaks from a crouch,
lowering himself to
Little League level
and acting out memories
of the diamond, skipping
the dead boot-camp buddies,
lily-white locker rooms,
brawls with German teams,
and Curt Simmons cutting
the big toe off his foot
with a lawnmower.

I pitch him hints
that a singer roars in
my breast, not a catcher,
and no chest protector can
keep it from getting out
and hurting in its hatred
of a boys’ game for men.
He sees me behind my guitar
and tells me I look like
a catcher with an oversized
mitt for knuckleballs.

“From behind the plate” —
his favorite entree to a story —
“you look into the faces
of all your teammates.”
And, yes, one thousand
times he reminds anyone
that a catcher squats legally and
of the nine waits alone
in foul ground.  I fouled
his ground as this poem
swelled in my hands and mouth.

“My Daddy — your Granddad —
was a singer,” he told me,
and I was captive to surprise.
“He loved to sing old hymns.”
(My father’s faith died
with a letter from Korea:
“God,” he insists, “throws
nothing but curve balls.”)
“And your Grandmother
played the organ,” he added.
“She loved to play ‘Largo.’ ”

When I hungered for more,
he sang me ingrained lines
from “Abide With Me,” and
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
And when I was vulnerable, bent
in the heart’s probe for details,
he told me Granddad stopped
singing when Grandmom died
young.  “I guess,” my father
concluded, “he discovered
you can’t sing from a crouch.”

*Published in Aethlon:  The Journal of Sport Literature,
Vol. XIX, No. 2, Spring, 2002, page 111.

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