Baseball & Poetry: A Heartfelt Ode to “The Corner”

I hate poetry, and with good reason.

Here’s why: I’ve never been able to understand the famous poems that are said to be great works of art and really worthwhile. And the poems I can understand are nearly always awful, just horrible stuff.

So because of that, I never write poetry. Oh, in the throes of young love, I’m sure I wrote some dreadful romantic notes that rhymed “fair” … “hair” … and “Lake St. Clair” in the hopes of impressing some east side date. Otherwise I’ve steered clear of the stuff, with but one exception. I DID write one extended piece of poetry. But instead of directing it towards a fair maiden, I poured my heart out to another true love of my life … a stadium.

I made reference recently here to a television show that Channel 50 aired on the 1999 closing of Tiger Stadium, a beauty that ultimately left us all. At the end of the show, Ray Lane recited my stadium poem over wonderful video showing the stadium under the lights, in all her nighttime glory … and with a recurring list of the great names of sports heroes who had ever played on the field at Michigan and Trumbull over its 100 years of use. The names came up, and then faded out … as Ray read the poem. Under it all, the strains of a great old Irish folk song played, called “The Parting Glass,” in a final toast to the old ballyard. The list of names covered all eras of the stadium’s century, and the sports played there … from Jim Thorpe and Ty Cobb, to Red Grange and Hank Greenberg … Bobby Layne, Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio … Sam Crawford and Mickey Lolich and Dutch Clark and Jackie Robinson … Sammy Baugh, Mickey Mantle, Bob Hoernschemeyer … Mickey Cochrane and Jim Brown and Alan Trammell … I think there were about 140 names in all.

And it ended with one last name that came up, and froze onscreen … staying longer than the others, the last name seen … that of Al Kaline. And as his name finally faded, we showed a shot of Al coming out of the Tigers dugout for one final time in the empty stadium … with all its lights blazing. He walked to home plate, paused and took one long last lingering look around the old ballpark … before slowly turning, and making his way up an aisle, into the darkness of that final night, out of the stadium, but into our shared consciousness forever.

And here, for better or worse … (and please be kind, even IF you understand it) … is the poem I wrote in honor of that greatest of American playing fields, and in honor of the generations of Detroiters who had gathered together on that holy ground:

Read the roll of those that played
Count every face; the crowds that made
A church of light, a field of dreams
A century of us; our team

Farewell the sun, and bar the gates
As fades the final roar
The brightest home; our eager youth
Like summer is no more

But ah, the blue and green of it
The light upon the field
The noise, the smell, the crowd, the sky
Our common heart revealed

The many, one; in summer’s sun
We pulled the runner home
A grassy sea, an English ‘D’
The athletes’ skill a poem

The memories stray in twilight’s fade
Was Boone at first, or third?
Did Kaline stem the Cardinal tide?
Who was it caught The Bird?

But recalled exactly in our hearts
We loved our time, this place
100 years, let’s go! … play ball!
The thrill … this park … its grace

Echoes carry; springtimes fly
Now autumn’s shadows yield
Forever winter drapes the cry
“Long gone!” across the field

If there be ghosts that know the land;
Called back to hallowed scenes
My father and my father’s Dad
Still hold this field of dreams

That section there, in leftfield high
My father and I came
And then, in turn, I brought my son
To our eternal game

So read the roll of those that played
Count every face; the crowds that made
A church of light; a field of dreams
A century of us … the team

—Tom DeLisle, 1999