Willie and the Prof

Jack will livestream today’s poem at 9am, ET,  on his Facebook Page here,  and the video saved with all of his past Livestream videos here. 

Baseball and the military. I can hear an old English professor, “Stick to the topic, ONE topic.”

I’m gonna flunk this…

My wife Julie’s grandfather, the WWII War hero, the Rear Admiral, is buried at the Naval Academy. Her dad graduated from there the same year Jimmy Carter did, when they were hustling midshipmen through as fast as they could.

One of her brothers was a grad and became a Top Gun pilot, flying his F14 off aircraft carriers. Her other brother worked in the Navy’s digital imaging offices in the Pentagon before he retired. His wing was hit by that plane on 9/11. He happened to be out of the office at the time.

Julie’s father had charge of Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines during Viet Nam, where Julie lived until her early teens. He was also Captain of a destroyer going to Cuba during the missile crisis — the ships JFK ordered to turn around — the closest so far we have come to a nuclear war.

Julie married me. I was offered a Presidential ride to the Naval Academy. I turned it down.

And now for 37 years I have been happily married into a three-generation U.S. Navy family. Whew.

I bring all this up because we are so glad the Captain is not alive to see this time. He would be appalled at 45’s irresponsible attempts to use the military to put down peaceful protests. I couldn’t possibly recall how many times the Captain talked about being in the Navy for peaceful reasons, to protect every person in the United States and their rights.

He joined the military for its technology, for the science. He admired the discipline. The military wasn’t ever going to be a perfect fit for him, but he understood sacrifice for one’s country. He understood banding together to protect people who needed protection. It was okay to make your life a little uncomfortable for the benefit of all.

But above all, he understood that while the Commander in Chief is an office that deserves respect, the commands that issue from that office must be legal ones. There are lines that cannot be crossed. No soldier can be commanded to perform an illegal act.

How furious he would be to watch 45 divide the country, label protesters anarchists, arsonists, Marxists out to destroy “our democracy.”

I heard Julie’s father disagree with many a policy, many a protester. Even at the close of his career when he commanded the NROTC at the University of Wisconsin after his unit was bombed, even when he had to wear civilian clothes to class and then change into his uniform, he would always say his task was to serve and protect American citizens.

And now a Wall of Moms has taken on that job. Thanks be to them.

And so baseball.

Baseball is back. Well… kinda. Had to laugh the other day when a manager fumed at an umpire, all the time wearing a mask.

And of course, it’s the best we can do, all of us in the “stands” of our couches and recliner chairs, chomping on a hot dog that costs less than $7 and a bowl of popcorn under $8 and a beer for a buck.

Sixty games is plenty to determine a champion. I don’t wanna get into that argument. The game is back, and at a time when July doesn’t seem like July because it’s almost August and just the other day it was May, this is one small gift to our day.

So, if ya like baseball…

Willie and the Prof

Say hey! Willie Mays retired.
And I’m no longer young.

Last night I heaved my paunch
and slugged a slow pitch softball
off the left field wall. The faculty
out-huffed the frosh 26 to 25.
At second base I wallowed in my
former dream. I, too, broke in
in ’51, in little league. A wad
of raisins stuffed my cheek.
Willie went up 13 times
before he got a hit. I never felt
the first base sack beneath
my tennis shoes. I peed my pants
before each game. The on deck circle
ringed my fear that lay along
an endless streak of strike threes
through the last game when
my coach had me take on 3 and 2.
All winter I lugged a leaded bat,
swinging it against the Pittsburgh wind.
Toward the spring, I felt a lump jump
in my bicep. Swinging in the wind
paid off. I hit .650 in my second year.
Willie cracked .300.

Say hey! Willie Mays retired.
And I’m no longer young.

It wasn’t his knees, throbbing
and swollen with cortisone.
Or his arm wilting under packs
of ice. Or his chest, heaving
from the dash from first to home
on a rookie’s punk double down
the line. It was his .211 average
typed every morning. The bench
pricking his hips that once
seduced the pick-off throws
of pitchers who thought
they could hold him on.
The fly balls dropping
one by one like dead
offerings just out of reach.
And in New York.
It’s embarrassment that drives us out.

Now my days of adolescent applause,
of late-inning rallies, of off-season
days are gone like a wild pitch.
I’m left with silence when I drive
home the winning point about
a masterpiece. That’s what’s hard,
Willie: the silence. There
I’ve got a start on you.

Tonight I swung and doubled
home my colleague with the
winning run.

Say hey! Willie Mays retired.
And I’m no longer young.

–Jack Ridl

Z.G. Tomaszewski has published two new collections. KORAKIA was created with his partner, Hayley. It is a collection of poems, haiku, photographs, all arranged in a fresh design layout. The other collection is titled STONE POEMS. Each poem focuses on a different stone, revealing what is astonishing about a single stone.

The best medicine for this time has come from the great Detroit Poet and merry prankster, M. L. Liebler, and his poetry happenings online. Do follow him, show up for his Zoom readings. Feel better.

On August 4, Matthew Baker’s new bookWhy Visit America? Henry Holt & Co., comes out. It has already received exceptional reviews, and Matt has offered remarkably insightful interviews. Esquire Magazine has called it one of the twenty must-read books published this summer.

Where are the books? Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

See all of Jack’s Facebook Livestream Videos Here.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Jack on And Then Suddenly podcast by Angela Santillo.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

10 thoughts on “Willie and the Prof

  1. Willie Mays the Say Hey Kid!

    I will never forget the day I was looking at my baseball cards on a summer day, it was 1954. I was reading the back of my Willie Mays card. When all of a sudden I see Willie’s birthday is the same as mine! I immediately yelled out in excitement to my dad who’s favorite player was Willie, “Dad I have the same birthday as your favorite baseball player!” He came over to me and gave me a hug and told me May 6th brought in two of his favorite ballplayers!

    ⚾️ 👍 ❤️


    • what a wonderful story, Nick. I ove it
      Do you have his baseball card.? He was always my favorite player. Alwayswill be. Love the guy. Don’t you cherish what your dad said about his two favorit players!!!
      Thanks and “Say Hey!!”

  2. Major kudos to your wife’s family for their service. Unfortunately too few people are willing to service these days. My father was a WW2 and Korean War combat vet and carrier Army NCO now buried at Arlington — I didn’t properly appreciate his service during my young, idiot hippy years. But what news are you watching? “Peaceful protests”… hmm…. Sixty consecutive nights of violent riots, property damages, destruction of businesses, burning and over 100 police officers injured in the clashes “peaceful protesters” is most certainly NOT peaceful. And for the “wall of moms” shielding the Antifa rioters, well their intentions may be well-meaning, but I can only quote Lenin’s epithet for Western liberals: “Useful idiots.” Just sayin’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D39tUNjC7A8

    • I guess that I was lucky in that I did, for some reason, appreciate my father. And then Julie’s and her brothers. I was never a hippy. Always a square, rather out of it kid. But I do still feel the loss of friends who died in the Viet Nam War and had enough good friends who were in combat and resented it, always feeling it was a war for no honorable reason. Julie’s brothers are very much opposed to the way the military is being treated and used today. Her father gave me, of all people, his dress uniforms when he retired saying, “You will wisely and properly disrespect them.” We were more best buddies than father-in-law/son-in-law. He retired very concerned about the changes in the way the military was being used, that their expertie was being disregarded. He would be appalled at both the violent protestors and ordering in the men in camo.Ever since he passed away, we have thought about how outraged he would be at today’s disrespect and misuse of the military.

      • The disrespect of the military would break my Uncle’s heart as well. He retired a colonel in the Air Force. As for the events of today. Perhaps it’s just semantics but for me protestors and rioters are two separate groups. The BLM organizers here, in my small, mostly (as in 91%) white community, are very clear : hey advocate for the John Lewis “good trouble”–non-violent, no vandalism–expressions of protest–an open hand and converts rather than the closed fist of hate or revenge.

      • It is most certainly not semantics at all. And your uncle would be so proud to know his niece understood and also understood the illegal use of the military that 45 is employing.
        It is beyond appalling and has the potential of unleashing even more tyrannical actions.

  3. Good Morning, Jack. And thank you again for another wonderful way to begin a Thursday – yet another Thursday in this never-ending story – if only we had a dragon that looks like a dog to ride!

    I loved this line so I copied it:
    Now my days of adolescent applause,
    of late-inning rallies, of off-season
    days are gone like a wild pitch.

    I am going to forward your poem and commentary today to our son, a Navy doc, who has left the Navy for the life of a young civilian with young children in this wild world.


    • Linda,
      I couldn’t be happier that you especially liked those lines. The lines are happy,too!!! : )

      And what a joy, honor that you are sending this on to your son. A Navy doctor. Now, you HAVE to be proud as can be of him!
      Thank him, from me, would you.

  4. I’m not a sports fan, but there’s something about baseball…warm summer nights, my dad on the backporch, and the voice of Ernie Harwell calling the Tigers. This beautiful poem evokes that.

    • Betsy, Oh I am sooooo glad. I still listen on the radio rather than watch on TV because of exactly the feel you so gently describe.
      Thank YOU!

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