Poetry in Motion: Yankees, Red Sox, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Graham Greene, and the Impending Apocalypse


On Saturday night I attended a game at Yankees Stadium, between the local pinstriped and the visiting Boston Red Sox. It was an infinitely more engaging, pleasurable and humane version of a war reenactment, or a spirited salon. In this bloodbath, more of arms than wits, the Red Sox trounced the Yanks by the criminal score of 11-1. This slaughter began with a grand slam from Sox first basemen Mike Napoli, who at press time may have one of the worst beards in the major leagues. A kind of cylindrical cone that crooks upward, it is as much shrubbery as it is hair, and would seem more appropriate on a court jester or bridge troll proclaiming “Answer me these questions three” in exchange for free passage. If this was a battle reenactment, the Steinbrenner-enforced clean cut Yankees – hairline above the ears, shaved faces exposing robust chins and clenched jaws, nary a sideburn in sight – were entrenched in 20th century combat, WWII or Korea, while Boston’s ragamuffin hippies and Dixie-faced good ol’ boys played out the Civil War.

Above: the author from afar.
Above: the author from afar.

As Homer teaches, “There is a strength even of very sorry men.” Were he to have seen Brittney Griner, Elle Delle Donne, and Fallon Fox in recent weeks, the sentiment might extend polar north to impressive women. And lo might he find power in the tailspinning Yankees. As a native Bostonian, such a sentiment reads to me as sympathy for the devil. And as satanic legends oft suggest, historically the Yankees are most dangerous the moment one stops believing in them. Nonetheless, I would hope that the camaraderie on both squads on Saturday night remains tight. This July, a different show comes to Yankee Stadium for two nights: Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake, live onstage for two nights in something called “The Legends of the Summer Stadium Tour”. I wonder how the two of them get along. They tend to be pretty clean cut. I can’t picture H.O.V.A. with a full beard. But then, I couldn’t picture him in George Burns’s glasses, and he hasn’t stopped wearing those. Are Jay and Justin particularly summer-centric, or is it simply that they are Legends who have their punch card re-stamped each season? Is Daniel Day-Lewis a Legend of Winter? Are Fun Size Twix a Legend of Autumn?

Saturday was the first time in ages that watching live baseball felt like seeing surging acts of raw power. There is grace and elegance to baseball’s key motions. A diving catch paints from a distance a swath of tan or light green upon the sliding fielder’s uniform. Perhaps everything looks good under those floodlights. The state of being high up in the grandstands and looking down upon Dustin Pedroia – more of a wee feller than ever before – is dizzying until you get a beer and some solid food in you.

There was a good deal of post-marathon “Boston Strong” clothing in the crowd. Even “Wicked Boston Strong” t-shirts. Where you come down on those may just as likely rest in how you feel about t-shirts as it does in how you feel about the metropolis in question or the deed that went down. Seeing David Ortiz intentionally walked by Yankees manager Joe Girardi, it was for one shining moment 2007 again, the last six years of diminishing returns from the Sox and Ortiz reversed. The lumbering Gargantua – who recently let out an obscenity-laden on a live mic at Fenway Park addressing fans in the first game back after the bombings, as the FCC could only look on in semi-supportive, context-squeezed handwringing – even seemed to add a little swaggering strut into his slow trot around the bases.

In seeing Ortiz jog about, like some heavy-breathing Hercules, an oversized cardboard cutout of a styling-and-profiling “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, I wondered if I was loyal to the Red Sox or loyal to Big Papi, he of endearing New England regional television ads for his own artisan brand of mango salsa. He of cursing and brute force and possibly even the same banned substances that tarnished his old pal Manny Ramirez. Let’s remember that when the new Yankees Stadium was being constructed in 2007, one of the construction workers – a Sox fan – attempted to bury a David Ortiz jersey beneath the stadium in an effort to put a hex upon the place. While his efforts were rooted out, the man claims to have also cemented a 2004 American League Series scorecard into a nearby undisclosed location.

Am I loyal then to Ortiz, to the team, to those mad enough to plot hexes, or to some bigger represented force? The rationalist is reminded of Graham Greene’s notion from Our Man in Havana:

I don’t care a damn about men who are loyal to the people who pay them, to organizations…I don’t think even my country means all that much. There are many countries in our blood, aren’t there, but only one person. Would the world be in the mess it is if we were loyal to love and not to countries?

I subscribe to all of this, and in the most bloodbath – that damned word again – of contractual obligations, you can start to see baseball’s biggest markets as little nations. Loyal to the people who pay them should be bronzed atop every Player’s Association headquarters in professional sports, albeit with a wink and more admirably tart sentiment than what Greene alludes to: the notion that we find what we want first and justification for wanting it second. The Yankees and Red Sox are mutually evil empires, disloyal to love, especially to the old codger who today sits in the nosebleeds of Wrigley Field in Chicago, or Kansas City’s Kaufman Stadium and wonders why his beloved Cubs or Royals have been so bad for so long. Inequitable? Yes. When bad things happen to good franchises. Congratulations: we have recognized competitive unfairness which we as fans have little to no agency in genuinely remedying.

But as my companion and I left Yankee Stadium on a Saturday night, and soaked up its impressive scope – we talked not of its fortitude, but the impermanence of all structures and institutions. Empires crumble, often faster than their best buildings. Yankee Stadium isn’t Mount Olympus, it’s the Coliseum. One day Martians will take guided tours of its ruins, having taken a stop-and-start trip on the 4 train, making all local stops after an earlier incident. And it will have been so long since anyone actually filled out a scorecard or even wrote a blog post about Yankee Stadium that the sands of time will cover up the correct stories. The Martians will be told that games were regulated to go ten innings. That onlookers consumed rolls of rice and raw fish called “hot dogs” while watching games. That the Yankees won 6-5 this past Saturday night, and that it was a close back-and-forth game that went back and forth and late into the sweltering night. That President Timberlake once stood in this very spot to deliver his famed SexyBack Address. And that deep below this field, the uniform of a rival gladiator was buried as a form of revenge for a prior curse laid upon his arena. That it remains under the soil to this very day. The Martians will be told all of this and more, and fill history books with misinformation. Because it all makes for a better story, riper for the telling.

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