Twelve years ago or so, McFarland Publishers in Jefferson, North Carolina, sent me Waiting for Godot's First Pitch: More Poems from Baseball.
The poet was someone named Tim Peeler, of whose story and life I knew nothing.
For a very long time I paid little attention to Waiting for Godot's First Pitch, beyond sporadic readings, here and there.
But because I write Baseball Notes five days a week and end each posting with "Quote of the Day," I decided to use one of Peeler's poems, "In Somewhere Out There":
Beyond the rim of what we can see,
A drain waits for Mantle's uncareful foot -
A drain named Martin moves in slow
Pickup truck movements across
The hoary crest of the morning hill.
History loops in long horse lopes
As Davy Lopes covers second
On a runaway steal.
Somewhere out there,
Time staggers on the teeth of a reel
And the God of the universe
Checks His counter obsessively
And curses quietly to Himself.
Dick Enberg, the Hall of Fame sports broadcaster and television voice of the San Diego Padres, sent me an email saying how wonderful he found Tim Peeler's poem. (Enberg is one of several hundred people around the country who receive my Baseball Notes.)
His email prompted me to read more seriously Peeler's poetry and from that reading I decided to invite him to The Great Fenway Park Writers Series I chair for the Boston Red Sox.
I knew from our first conversation I would like Tim Peeler, and the more I knew about him and his work, a sense of friendship grew - and when he came to Boston and spoke August 16, the foundation of a friendship was established.
Tim teaches at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, North Carolina, and has written 11 books and collaborated in three others, and what you know from him and his books is his profound love of America's Game (how else to explain his book on the history of baseball in Catawba County?).
In his first book, Touching All the Bases: Poems from Baseball, it is easy to get caught up in the Tim's work, because it is so good, and if you read one of his poems you will read the next and the next and the next - until at page 119, when there are no more to read, a sense of void will come upon you.
But if you think its poetry about baseball hat has caught me up in his work you would be wrong. The subject matter is baseball but his work transcends a sport or sports and goes to the very soul and spirit of life itself - which is always true of great poets.
Am I saying Tim Peeler is a "great poet", someone you have most likely never heard of? Indeed, I am.
Read this from Touching All the Bases:
In the family pictures,
My brother stands at the plate
Forever waiting on a pitch,
My dad squats by the dugout fence,
His chin resting on his hands;
Somewhere beyond the eye of the camera,
I hold a huge scarlet plum behind my back,
Left leg kicked high in a pitching motion,
As near to the spirit of the game
As I'd ever be.
On "great poets", here's a simple test: beyond Whitman, Frost and Sandburg, say, how many poets can you name? Most Americans would stumble naming those three, and are basically clueless as to the very art form itself.
But know this: That is not a judgment about poetry, it is a judgment about us - and it is not flattering.
Somewhere out of my voluminous reading I read the average book of poetry sells less than a thousand copies. But even that number may be inflated, and as that figure relates to Tim, his sell even less.
Let's think about that. Let's say the thousand figure is correct or nearly so, that would be a thousand copies in a nation of 310 million! Which means that we are ignorant of poets, ignorant of their work - and we are the lesser for it.
True, the literati among us are reasonably knowledgeable about poetry and poets, but even at that there are thousands of poets whose works we have no knowledge of - poets perhaps like Tim Peeler.
It's a damn shame.
That said, there's darkness in some of Tim Peeler's poetry, but there's darkness in the works of most poets (unless they are named Phyllis McGinley), but the cause of that darkness is life itself, more shadow than sunshine, more sober than sybaritic.
That judgment notwithstanding, I do not count myself a critic of either literature or poetry, because literary criticism is a demanding and scholarly profession and I have other causes to champion, but I have some judgment about what matters in life - and poetry matters.
I want you to know Tim Peeler and I want you to buy, before it's out of print, Waiting for Godot's First Pitch (see www.mcfarlandpub,com). If you do that, you will in due course, thank me for bringing to your attention this lovely man - citizen, teacher, poet.
I close with Tim Peeler's "The End of the Century":
And the comparisons are inevitable -
All us fanatics must know for sure:
Who is the greatest athlete
Of the last 100 years?
It will come down to the final two
As ESPN is nice enough to decide for us.
And why not? When we are so frantic
To be told, gripping the sweaty cans
Of our beer, adjusting the angle
Of our recliners - we are a fallen race
Of men who have managed to catch
Ourselves just like this, in this action
Of watching action.
A week will turtle by in the office break rooms
And out by the furniture loading dock
And in the student lounge, even.
Michael or the Babe, what do ya' think?
Black or white, yin or yang?
And I will be called stupid, racist, out of touch
For taking the Babe - though I love the other
Game for the way it turns into dunks,
Revenge into blocks, violence into good defense -
The way it brings hope to the hopeless and money, too.
So the week will drift along while I defend the Bambino
Against my family of sports fans, point to the support
Of his numbers, the sheer ineffable dominance of peers,
The pitching record, and the stolen bases, I point to
These things as if to a pie chart, but Michael will get it,
Here at the high-flying end of the century;
And nobody, not a single arguing one of us
Will listen to Satchel Paige, who cocked his cap
And said, "Don't look back."
Know Tim Peeler.