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.

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