The coach sent me behind home plate,

Had me crouch and catch for his son

All through the warm-up before each game.

Did I say I had to catch without a mask?

His son’s name was Jerry. I could hear—

The whole team could hear—how buried

In the coach’s calls behind the backstop,

Behind my back, he was ordering Jerry

To hit me. It’s hard to say how I heard

That message laced into his thick voice.

But it was there, a command as greasy

As spitball shouted in each attaboy.

Jerry heard it too, and, a good son, obeyed.

With each pitch, the white jet of the ball,

Unscrewing its way through the air

Until it smacked into the fat-lipped

Catcher’s mitt I had to wear. By now,

You’ve guessed the coach hated me

For good reason. I was useless. Standing

In right field praying—actually praying—

No fly would find me, and when the Lord

Refused those prayers, I would hang

My mouth open as the ball rose and grew

Overhead like a day-moon, crashing  

To the earth. Do I need to say what

Happened? The ball before the sun, the mitt

Before the ball? My eyes behind the mitt?

You see, the coach was fair-minded

With his hatred: Judicious in fact in how

He gave it where it was earned and scowled

Until I went to kneel behind home plate.

Now, Jerry was something else: The screw,

The fast, the curve, the changeup, the palm-ball—

Each left his hand like a Homeric bird.

When it spanked inside the catcher mitt,

It sent another batter out. Even I spied on

The grace of his windup without a doubt:

Here was an Achilles with horsehide

And nightly the whole team watched him

Knock runs beyond perfection. Of course,

This meant we never spoke (he and I),

Stationed far apart on the bench or if

We chanced to come too close, the coach

Was there to throw his shadow in between.

He knew uselessness was catchy, kindness

Arcane. A kid sent out by a single mother

For an afternoon divorced from television,

Was the stuff defeats were made of.

It was only those afternoons when I went

Without a cage before my eyes, cap

Turned around, the mitt held up to block

The blow of every pitch that sailed

Toward my head or sailed toward my crotch—

Jerry and I looked each other in the eyes.

What did I catch? the nod, the wind-up,

The pitch thrown hard and true for love.

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