Fall Classic: ‘Pitcher’

By Robert Francis, and pointed out to me by Kate (more than once) in the anthology “Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves,” edited by Don Johnson.

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberration willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate
Making the batter understand too late.

Of Francis, I find not a lot online. Poets.org doesn’t even include a listing for him, though he was once remarked to be a protege of Robert Frost (he got an obit in The New York Times headlined “Robert Francis, a Poet Hailed by Frost, Dies”). Three years ago, NPR ran a posthumous piece that featured Francis reading some of his work.

As to the poem, well, it gets to the part of pitching that’s hardest to see, even when it’s there in plain sight. You’d think it was the work of what W.P. Kinsella describes as “a true fan of the game.” Here’s what Francis has to say about his boyhood interest in sports in his autobiography:

No need to say that I was not good at any sport. A boy who shrank from the rough-and-tumble of recess would not be one to take to football. Baseball was a little better, but only if the pitcher was not too speedy. I lacked courage, toughness, surplus energy, but I also lacked interest, interest that could have made me a fan if not a player. I never learned a single big-league player’s batting average. Once Father took me to a big-league game in Boston, but my chief impression was the grossness of the free-for-all urinating under the stands between innings.



That’s the view out to the backyard–most of the clutter is out of frame and out of focus. This is our first rainy weekend of the autumn and what appears to be the definitive end of the dry season (and fire season, too). Here in the central Bay Area, we’ve been on the southern edge of a big, wet storm that blew in from the Pacific. Up north, there are some big totals for the last 24 hours–more than 8 inches in locations in the Sacramento, Feather, and American watersheds. Here, the totals have been more modest: an inch or an inch and a half in locations close to the Bay.

Fall Classic: ‘The Southpaw’


“I have seen many a pitcher, but there’s few that throw as beautiful as Pop. He would bring his arm around twice and then lean back on 1 leg with his right leg way up in the air, and he would let that left hand come back until it almost touched the ground behind, and he looked like he was standing on 1 leg and 1 arm and the other 2 was in the air, and then that arm would come around and that other leg would settle down toward the earth, and right in about there there was the least part of a second when his uniform was all tight on him, stretched out tight across his whole body, and then he would let fly, and that little white ball would start on its way down the line toward Tom Swallow, and Pop’s uniform would get all a-rumple again, and just like it was some kind of a magic machine, the split-second when the uniform would rumple up there would be the smack of the ball in Tom’s mitt, and you realized that ball had went 60 feet 6 inches in less than a second, and you knowed that you seen not only Pop but also a mighty and powerful machine, and what he done looked so easy you thought you could do it yourself because he done it so effortless, and it was beautiful and amazing, and it made you proud.”

–Mark Harris, “The Southpaw,” 1953.

Annals of Berkeley Solid-Waste Management

cart102110.jpgOur block today enters the Fancy-Ass Recycling Cart Era. Last week, the recycling pickup crews came around and picked up the chaff the recycling poachers had left behind, and they also distributed these nice baby blue “split carts” that are apparently 1) supposed to make it harder for the recycling poachers to grab the more lucrative materials and run off with them and 2) designed to make recycling here a more efficient and tasteful enterprise.

As to the first point, it’s obvious that all a determined poacher needs to do is flip up the lid of the container and start digging around in the “cans and bottles” side of the cart to find what they’re looking for. Those who are not content to rummage around like that can also resort to just tipping the cart over and dumping out the contents. That would be aggressive, but these folks are in it for the money, not recreation. In my late walk with The Dog last night, I didn’t see any turned-over carts; but I did come across one person bent over one of the carts, pawing through the contents.

Unknown: How the recycling upgrade will pencil out for the city financially (I’ve found one reference that suggest the price tag for the carts is $2.7 million–31,000 carts at $90 each), which I believe also includes special trucks that can divide the paper/cardboard and metal/glass/plastic components of the recycling stream. It’s also unclear to me whether the city or its recycling contractor will spend more on workers to sort what’s the material the trucks pick up. I’m sure the argument has been made that any extra costs will be at least partially defrayed by additional revenue the city realizes through its increased share of recyling proceeds (the poachers divert a lot of the potential cash now).

Live On-the-Scene Update (10:45 a.m.): Although I resorted to a tried and occasionally effective strategy of not putting the recycling out until after 7 a.m.–that increases the chances the city contractor, the Ecology Center, will pick up the stuff instead of the poachers–a pirate arrived and cleaned just about all of the bottles and cans in the cart. Looked like the same had happened up and down our block. So the next question will be: how much do the new carts actually affect the amount of recycling picked up by the contractor.

cart102110a.jpg cart102110b.jpg

Two Mugs, One Shot

suspect102010.jpgWe were watching KTVU’s “10 O’clock News” tonight–the Bay Area’s erstwhile decent local news broadcast (all right, KTVU: go ahead and look up “erstwhile”; the rest of us will wait here)–when a story came on about Berkeley police announcing they’d solved several recent street robberies. In one case, involving a group who was holding up pedestrians with a shotgun, the cops said they’d picked up four locals. KTVU showed pictures of four young guys. Next, the anchor said the police had announced an arrest in another stickup, and then they put the above two pictures–or one picture–up on the screen. You just hope that this is a picture of a real suspect–for extra points, one of the two in this case–because based on the stupidity of using the same picture twice, you don’t really have any reason to trust they got any of the pictures or names right.

Helianthus whatchamacallit

Years ago—ten, maybe—Kate found a container or two of these fall sunflowers at a local drug store or hardware store that was selling seasonal flowers. We planted them. And every September, they burst out for a month or so of glory (unkempt glory, in our case, but that's in keeping with everything else around here).

Question is: What are they? Passers-by and neighbors have sometimes asked. We still have the little plastic stick label that came with the container. It says "Helianthus salvifolius" and continues: "Perennial sunflower with stems up to 4ft. Clusters of yellow-orange ray flowers in summer. Loves sun and warm position."

Fine, but just try to find one at your friendly local nursery. Or Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) "Helianthus salvifolius." Nothing comes back. 

What you do find if you peruse Helianthus are some very, very similar looking species. Take a look at Helianthus angustifolius, also known as swamp sunflower, for instance. Pretty darn close. Or Helianthus salicifolius, or willow-leaf sunflower. Not quite as close–the leaves on the stem really are long and willowy. 

Anyway. It's our minor front-yard botanical mystery. If any plant sleuths come across this, I'd be interested in hearing your opinion. 


Berkeley Dawn

Not to be confused with "Delta Dawn." Thursday morning featured an unusual altocumulus filled sky (as opposed to the usual option: entirely socked in with low clouds, or entirely clear). The week's warm days have given way to cool, breezy, mostly cloudy weather. 

Berkeley Dawn

Not to be confused with "Delta Dawn." Thursday morning featured an unusual altocumulus filled sky (as opposed to the usual option: entirely socked in with low clouds, or entirely clear). The week's warm days have given way to cool, breezy, mostly cloudy weather. 

Guest Observation: Benjamin Franklin

From his Address to the Delegates of the Constitutional Convention, read September 17, 1787:

“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said ‘I don’t know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that’s always in the right — Il n’y a que moi qui a toujours raison.’ “

Bail Bond Alley


On Boardman Place, an alley that opens onto Bryant Street and the Hall of Justice, where bail bondsmen (and women) can find plenty of customers. I especially like Sheila’s/Shelia’s flexibility about her first name. (Taken during my walk from Public Radio HQ to the Ferry Building.