Poetry

 

BABE RUTH HITS FIRST PROFESSIONAL HOME RUN,
FAYETTEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA, MARCH 7, 1914

This was the summer the Orioles come to town—
minor leaguers, but plenty of pep and banter.
And this one kid—green, but knows his stuff, see?
Swaggers around, joshing with the kids,
so limber for a big man, the flannels
tight over his bulky chest and
muscled arms, cap ready to fly
right off his big tousled head.

Always grinning, whatever the score,
like maybe falling behind was just a dare
to do something about it, something
those bleacher rats would remember
and tell their own kids about someday.
Now, this ain’t Orioles Park or Ebbets Field
or even beat-down Shibe Park,
just the old Cape Fear Fairgrounds,

a sun-burned infield and some wooden stands.
He loiters at the plate, loose as a grifter,
waving a scarred little bat—skinny
as a broomstick in his thick hands.
“Look at him waggle that pole,” says one of the scribes,
“like a baby with a rattle.” And it sticks, you know?
Babe. That’s what the papers start calling him,
that day forth and forever.
He don’t look like much, till he reaches out

and slaps Mr. Spalding like swatting a fly—
and boy it is not only gone, it is gone
into the middle of next week.
Some sport measures it out—
four hundred feet and counting.
He trots around like no big deal
and the bleacher rats are cheering him on,
already dreaming of their own swat at glory
on a field that stays forever green
and always belongs to the babes.