“I was cruising through the lineup, 6-0, decimating my neighbors in our annual July Fourth softball tournament when a pinch hitter came to the plate. It took a minute — two pitches, actually — to place him but then it hit me. I’d seen that chin before. I stepped off the rubber and went a few steps to the visitor’s dugout and called out.” — “Guy Just Loves To Play” by Ken Derry, Hobart.
Hello from a park which I will not name. Hello from a couch upon which I am belatedly invoking the park. Hello from me ironically singing Adele’s “Hello from the Other Side” when I was younger. Hello from “Hello Goodbye.” Hello from the perpetual whirlpool of parataxis from which there is no escape. Hello from those who whistle their greetings at one another in Northern Sweden. Hello from a cabin down by the York River in Virginia where it feels like I should be working on a new draft of the Breton Woods Agreement. Hello from those who appreciate the fact that a teacher simply greeting a middle school student increases the likelihood that they’ll do the task at hand. Hello from someone who can’t recall which park the person at the beginning of the paragraph was talking about, in no small part because he has been busy writing reviews of mattresses for a contract gig and has just realized he wrote reviews for the wrong mattresses. (And, as stand-ups say: who does that? How can you get a mattress wrong? Does the … mysterious figure not referring to himself in the first person need to write a letter of complaint to these mattress companies demanding mattress with more distinguishing features — comically large disguise mustaches, Pee Wee Herman nightmare fuel googly eyes, and more? “Hello — you may think I am a talking mattress, but I am just … very flat.”)
A CONVERSATION WITH MITCHELL NOBIS.
Evan Fleischer: Hey, Mitch! So you wrote “Kid Glove” and “Baseball Dust” over at Hobart as part of Hobart’s yearly baseball publication, and I wanted to start with a simple question: what does baseball mean to you?
Mitchell Nobis: Ha, nothing is simple to an overthinking poet.
Baseball is my first love, really. The first sport I played and understood. I grew up on a dairy farm, and we had this huge yard in front of the farm where we played ball. My parents would play with us, but my brother and I played for hours by ourselves too, when we made up scoring systems for how far we could hit each other's pitches and stuff like that. We lost a lot of balls in the field across the road or, worse, if you hit a dinger over the barn, it might get lost in cow manure.
So the game was hundreds of hours with my family and friends too because I played Little League. It was one of the first things I was good at but then got eclipsed when I never understood breaking balls, so it taught me love and loss at once. Also, I'm old, so we still had This Week in Baseball on TV. Between that and the Tigers being great then (and baseball cards too!), a huge chunk of my childhood memories revolve around baseball. I got a trivia question wrong this morning about international capital cities, but I can still vividly picture Rick Dempsey's rain-delay shenanigans from 1982. The brain is weird, man. But at the same time, baseball is also still just a game, so baseball means everything and nothing. Basketball now takes up most of my brain space, but when I was six- to fourteen-years-old, baseball was life.
EF: Did you follow the lock-out this summer and the attendant conversation regarding how to make the game ‘better?’ Because what you’re describing is something that sounds essential to a kid. And yet some of the ideas coming down the pike — pitch clocks, larger bases, banning the shift, trying to decertify minor league teams, etc — seem more like an extension of corporate thought than of something that acknowledges the heart of the game.
What maintains the poetry of the game for you? Is there a way to describe that strange balance between the hope and expectation bound up in the game and the fact that we probably won’t get something like a Players’ League anytime soon?
MN: First of all, I’d forgotten entirely about the Players’ League, and boy howdy did Cleveland ever miss a great opportunity by not reclaiming the Infants mascot. Just imagine the logo possibilities! The merch! They’d instantly be my #2 team. I’d only root against them when they played the Tigers.
I followed the lock-out a little, but in general I try to avoid sports news that feels more like it belongs in the business section than the sports section. That said, we as a society owe a massive debt to Curt Flood. We’re only now barely starting to recognize players’ rights on a remotely appropriate level.
Do I think pro athletes salaries are nuts? Sure, but only in comparison with other jobs. As a slice of the sports pie, they’re too small. When you look at the billions of dollars in TV contracts alone -- well, yeah, absolutely the players deserve an insanely large and larger amount of the pie. The whole notion of owners trying to avoid paying players what they’re worth is ludicrous, but, of course, one reason we love sports is that they’re microcosms of society, and the treatment of workers in America is ludicrous.
I do think the myriad attempts to change baseball’s rules are more or less silly. As a society, we try so hard to suck the poetry out of everything. The game was beautiful as it was, of course. On the other hand, I’m also a pretty firm believer that beauty will always rise to the top regardless, so rule changes won’t prevent incredible moments in the game. I just think they’re driven by annoying profiteering desires.
MLB isn’t losing young viewers because the game got longer. They’re losing the kids because the game got longer by getting less fun. Stop fretting when a guy flips a bat. Play up the personalities. Play up the fun. If someone tried to pull a Rick Dempsey during a rain delay today, he’d get docked pay for messing with the field. The only truly offensive thing I’ll say about rule changes is I’m pro-designated hitter. Pitchers don’t need to hit. They do need to be allowed to pitch complete games, though. I sound like a grouchy old man with that one, but I am what I am, eh.
EF: If you could make one word repeated seven times be a grammatically correct sentence, a la "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo,” what would it be?
MN: Since we're talking baseball, I should say "blooper," which through Google I discovered is called a "Texas Leaguer" most places, but we grew up calling them bloopers. My real answer, though, is "basketball" because my older son and I already have entire conversations where we say only "basketball' in different intonations. But to be fair, we're doofuses.
“I skip the first page to get to the good stuff. The anatomy of the human face—skull, jaw, arteries—are picked out in strange colours; red and blue veins wound together like tightly-tied shoelaces. I trace the lines with my finger and picture Emilio from English class, whether his full lips puckered in a kiss would move this muscle or that one.” — “Half Sestina” by Lindz McLeod, HAD.
MINGUS IN A FIELD —
Kareem … wrote an episode of Veronica Mars? / A Bob’s Burgers Movie is on the way! / As is a new Black Star album! / As are new episodes from Kids in the Hall! / “I remember a wild party in Barcelona on the night that Franco died. I remember that no one even mentioned the dead dictator. There was too much else to talk about.” / A nice thread about Bruce Willis from Cosmo Baker’s time DJ’ing at the Palmer Social Club in ‘97 / The City and the Writer: In Manila with Miguel Syjuco /
That’s a good outfit you wore today. You’re looking good. Keep it up.