Prose from Poetry Magazine

Para Rumbiar

Robert Creeley in the outfield.

by Fernando Perez
The Poetry of Fernando Perez
Image courtesy Tampa Bay Rays

I write from Caracas, the murder capital of the world, where I’ve been employed by the Leones to score runs and prevent balls from falling in the outfield. At the ankles of the Ávila Mountain amongst a patch of dusky high-rises, the downtown grounds of el Estadio Universitario packed beyond capacity are ripe for a full-bodied poem. A mere pitching change is an occasion “para rumbiar,” and the purse-lipped riot squad is always on the move with their spanking machetes swinging from their hips. The game isn’t paced necessarily by innings or score. It’s marked by the pulsating bass drums of the samba band that trail bright, scantily-clad, head-dressed goddesses strutting about the mezzanine. The young fireworks crew stand mere feet from flares that don’t always set out vertically, sometimes landing in the outfield still aflame. “The wave” includes heaving drinks into the sky.

In earning my stripes as a professional baseball player I’ve been through many cities and have stared out of hotel windows all over the Americas. Ball players are mercenaries, taking assignments indiscriminately. Throughout the minor leagues you’ll find yourself slouched on a bus, watching small towns roll by matter-of-factly like stock market tickers, on your back in a new nondescript room, or “shopping for images” (Allen Ginsberg) in a Wal-Mart, hunched over a cart in no rush.

Like poetry, baseball is a kind of counter culture. The (optional) isolation from the outside world (which I often opt for); the idleness about which—and out of which—so many poems are written or sung: I see this state of mind as a blessing. Sometimes, in fact, when I haven’t turned on a television or touched a newspaper for months, freed from the corporate bombast, poetry is the only dialect I recognize.

Long ago Robert Creeley confirmed my suspicion that words strung even sparingly together can be as aurally powerful as anything else we have. He has been my most important poet, because I can take him anywhere, like oranges—even reduced to nothing in both physical and mental exhaustion, nauseous and half asleep bussing from a red-eye.

One of my first managers always preached separation from the game for the sake of our own health, and for the sake of our performance. The game can be maddening, and we ought to corner ourselves in this trade only so far. I’m in love with baseball, but eventually my prime will end, and she’ll slowly break my heart. Baseball has remained remarkably impervious to modernity, but is, like any modern industry, highly alienating. I turn to poetry because it is less susceptible to circumstance. I’m not especially touched when a poet deals with a ball game; I’m not especially interested in having one world endear itself to the other. Right now I need them apart, right now I’m after displacement, contrast. The thick wilderness of, say, late Ashbery can wrangle with the narrowness of competition.

Originally Published: September 1, 2009

COMMENTS (25)

On September 3, 2009 at 10:36am Kevin wrote:
This is a beautiful snippet into the life of the baseball player, and a wonderful cross-comparison of the poetry/baseball connection.

On September 3, 2009 at 11:49am Rob wrote:
I loved the imagery: the "ankles of the Avial Mt.," the "narrowness of competition." I loved baseball, as a child listening to it, then playing it. It's evolution into a business has ruined some of that love, but this poem restores some of that, as well as opening my eyes to a great writer.

On September 3, 2009 at 3:05pm Shawn wrote:
Keep up the great work both on and off the field Fernando. This was an excellent read.

On September 3, 2009 at 3:16pm Ed W. wrote:
Living in Tampa I'm a big Rays fan. Also, a poetry enthusiast. It's great to see a major leaguer with literary inclination. I can understand the need for some "contrast" against the baseball life. The same can be said for poetry as contrast against other professions that feature frequent, monotonous travel. I know the feeling. Thanks for that reminder.

On September 4, 2009 at 12:11am Nanette wrote:
His imagery is elegant and fluid, so consistent with his ease as a baseball player. How refreshing to see someone we admire in sports inspire our admiration for their gift of verse.
Well done Fernando!
PS. Hope the Rays bring you to Tampa , we miss seeing you in the game!

On September 4, 2009 at 12:53am Monica wrote:
Written as a 'true' poet - what ever that is. Love of language and craft unite to make this article a wonderful read and Im sure his poetry is equally powerful.

On September 5, 2009 at 11:00am H.G. wrote:
I'll never look at a jock the same way again.

On September 5, 2009 at 11:20am tampa girl wrote:
Fernando, you are the real deal, both on the field and off.

On September 7, 2009 at 1:40pm rockytony wrote:
Lovely, emotional and descriptive. But while in the uniform of the Rays or one of the other 29 MLB teams, this player as all others, enjoys a starting wage of $400,000 per season and an "away" meal allowance of $94.00 per day. And that is for his first year. It increases meterorically in each subsequent year. Compare that to the wages of a poet. The best of two worlds I would say.

On September 7, 2009 at 3:47pm Terreson wrote:
This is such good writing. What is even more striking, however, is how the shape of the writer's thoughts gets handled. This especially:

"Baseball has remained remarkably impervious to modernity, but is, like any modern industry, highly alienating. I turn to poetry because it is less susceptible to circumstance. " This is the thing.

Terreson

On September 7, 2009 at 4:44pm Lori George Alexander wrote:
When talking about Robert Creeley, Fernando Perez writes:" He has been my most important poet, because I can take him anywhere, like oranges—even reduced to nothing in both physical and mental exhaustion, nauseous and half asleep bussing from a red-eye."

I have to admit I have been prejudiced about sports and their players. Not anymore. Perez and his flowing prose and easy to see verbal images have showed me the error of my ways.

There is poetry and art out there on the baseball diamond and outfield.

On September 8, 2009 at 1:38pm Stephen Rodefer wrote:
Who might be the women in your litry
lineup? And the overall batting order so
far? I mean mean, Ginsberg, Creeley,
Ashbery and so forth?

On September 8, 2009 at 11:35pm Colleen Wilson wrote:
I agree that baseball is alot like poetry. It can also be argued that baseball is alot like song because of the link seen between poetry and music. Depending on who is reading a poem, there can be multiple ways to interpret it. The speed, mood and attitude of the reader heavily alters the perception of a poem. This is the same with music and baseball. Depending on the speed of the innings, the power of the players or the mood of the crowd, one baseball game can differ drastically from that of another.

On September 9, 2009 at 11:22pm Ervys wrote:
You are AWESOME! God Bless you.

On September 10, 2009 at 8:49pm Jim wrote:
This is to Fernando - I am not a major baseball fan but my favorite poem is about baseball - It is about Bill Buckner and his fateful play in the world series, called The Walk of Life.

Here it is - http://www.standupoet.net/Poems/Walk_of_Life.htm

The author, standup poet' Jack McCarthy, was a long time resident of Boston, now transplanted to Seattle. He writes plenty other excellent stuff too but I don't think he gets to the southeast too often.

So that's why I wanted to bring 'The Walk of Life' to your attention.

Keep on writing, Fernando. You do good work.

Jim

On September 10, 2009 at 11:39pm robert McIntyre wrote:
Thank you for your thoughts ..Baseball
has always been poetry in motion . From
Roy Campanilla to Maury Wills, to Sandy
Koufax.I knew I had more of a reason to
love the game..

On September 10, 2009 at 11:48pm Gillian Nance wrote:
It's so nice to read an essay with so much poetry in its prose! That swinging verbal jazz infuses the words with a seemingly effortless music, making it all sound deceptively easy, but actually, it sounds instinctive, to a degree. The way each word meshes perfectly in its context sounds so *not* belabored: Perez obviously has the gift of wordplay in his blood. It's the written equivalent of the way that a perfect hit or catch has everything to do with the lyrical rhythm of the athlete's physical memory. So many hours and days and years of reading inform the writing the same way that night after night of practice until it's too dark to see informs the home run or a double-play. I know I'm wading waist-deep in my own messy metaphors-- really, I just wanted to say thanks for drawing such a beautiful connection between poetry and the game.

On September 11, 2009 at 4:34pm Mighty Writers wrote:
If you're ever in Philly, we have some young student writers at 15th and Christian who would love to meet you. We're also hosting a sportswriting workshop for them this fall! www.mightywriters.org

On September 12, 2009 at 5:50pm Ted Pelton wrote:
To echo Rockytony, I'd love it if
apprentice baseballer Fernando spread
some of his baseball wealth to the
commonwealth of letters in the form of
tax deductible contributions to the small,
largely volunteer organizations that
publish our apprentice poets. Like others
I was touched by his dual-career. I write,
but never could catch up to a fastball. All
the best, my friend -- I wish you a long
career and many blows dealt to your
division rivals, the hated Yankees!

On September 13, 2009 at 12:26pm isaac m. flores wrote:
Fernando,
i like it because it's short and well-focused, and at the same time conveys a continuing snapshot of the Grand Ol' Game and its players and followers.

On September 13, 2009 at 6:11pm Terreson wrote:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112725003

NPR interviews Perez.

Terreson

On September 15, 2009 at 12:10pm Leslie wrote:
A beautiful piece! I hope it finds a wide audience...and the same for your future creative endeavors.

On September 17, 2009 at 1:18pm Shirley wrote:
This writing is very fluid and utterly captivating. I am especially impressed because, I expect that English is your second language. I unfortunately don't have a second language but I admire your writing ability. I too, am a poet. Some of the images in this piece are just spectacular. They provide a whole other dimension to a baseball player's life. thank you so much. Oh by the way, did I say I am a baseball fan? I will be watching closely for you when next I see a ame where the Tampa Bay Rays are playing! Well done Fernando!

On September 21, 2009 at 12:21pm Mona Lisa Matthews wrote:

Baseball is such a complex game. There is always more to learn so it does attract the more cerebral as both fans and players. It is one of the only sports where not being a "smart player" could limit your success at any position on the field. This complexity is also why baseball is easily compared to so many other aspects of life. Life is messy, and mistakes we make make it messier. Errors in baseball both mental and physical can turn a game into an awful mess! It does lend itself to the flow of poetry easily, but poetry itself is also a great release from the hard edges of the game and the business of the game. Again, like life. My hope is that Fernando Perez can achieve ultimate sucess in baseball and in his life outside of baseball. I am a huge fan.

On March 23, 2010 at 11:01pm Peter Korbel wrote:
i played baseball with fernando perez
back at columbia. the kid was a star from
the day he walked in the clubhouse. both
on and off the field. that was real. your
friend peter korbel.

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This prose originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2009

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Biography

Fernando Perez is an outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays. He received a degree in American studies and completed the creative writing program at Columbia University in New York City, where he lives in the offseason. 

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