October 18th, 2005

Sweet Sixteen - Part Two

The first entry in the notebook I described in my last entry, from October 9th, 1989, is about baseball. It's the origin of the poem "In the Clutch" that I shared yesterday:
Game 5, NLCS

Will Clark comes to bat , only one -- I think -- hit in game so far. S.F. wants to clinch the pennant at home. And he triples down the line, just beyond series goat André Dawson's outstretched glove, then scores on Kevin Mitchell's sac. fly, tying gaem at 1-1.

Reuschel, bombed and pulled after 2/3 of an inning in Game 2 at Wrigley, gets out of many jams (several by getting Dawson to strand yet a few more runners) and does the job, keeping Cubs to one run through 8.

Bielecki, after pitching a great game for the Cubs, under intense pressure walks Maldonado, pinch-hitter for Reuschel, after getting first two outs in bottom of the 8th. Then he walks Butler. Cubs manager Don Zimmer walks to mound. Beau and I are sure he's going to change pitchers. He leaves Bielecki in, who promptly walks Robby Thompson on four pitches. Zimmer brings in his ace reliever Mitch Williams, with the fall-away follow-through.

Will Clark is up again. Earlier, after Maldonado had fouled of several pitches, I had turned to Beau and said, "This is the game and series condensed (focused?) to a point." With Clark up the point must be smaller and denser, then. Unbelievable pressure. Clark takes first pitch for strike, fouls next one off: 0-2 already. At the beginning of the inning my fantasy had been to have everyone walk and give Clark the chance to drive the runs in.

That has happened, but my faith wavers, even though I know and feel that Clark is clutch. Ball one outside. Clark fouls, I think, two more off. Amazing tension. I'm clenching and unclenching my sweaty palms. Then, as perfect as can be, Clark raps a single up the middle driving in two. He didn't overswing and strike out. He just came through.

In the game he ends up with three of the four Giants' hits. They win 3-2 after some ninth inning pressure. But the image that sticks is Clark once again being more than clutch, coming through not just with runners on base but with runners on base in the most important and pressure-filled at-bat of his life. He ends up hitting .650 for the series, with two homers, eight runs scored, and eight RBIs. Amazing. Clutch.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a conviction's truth and a faith perfectly placed. My own ability to rise to the occasion must, I think, have been developed by my incessant fantasy acting-out of myself coming through in various clutch situation in make-believe baseball, football, and basketball games. And those games I made up drew their inspiration from clutch performances I had witnessed: Reggie Jackson in the '78 World Series, Villanova against Georgetown. And now I find nothing to top Will Clark in the NLCS. Fodder for more inspiration I hope. Proof people do come through when it really counts.
My friend Beau was this long-haired raconteur who lived up in the the marijuana-growing hinterlands of Northern California and was attending UC Berkeley under the assumed name of his favorite musician Robert Johnson. He drove back home almost every weekend. While in Berkeley, he stayed in a motel on University and spent most of his time hanging out at the Bear's Lair earning the money he needed to finish his degree. I loved talking to him. He told me about being a D.C.-area high-school quarterback in the late 1960s when the Summer of Love filtered down to the junior high level, about taking so much acid before a show by The Band at the Greek Theater that he hallucinated a toga-wearing audience, about how James Joyce stole the concluding paragraph of his story "The Dead" from Dubliners from a Bret Harte story. His words and deeds sustained me at what was a real low point in my life.

Reading this account now, I cringe at the references to conviction, knowing that my friend Steven would have all the evidence he needs to condemn me for exemplifying the sporting-world Romanticism that hides the light of reason behind a thick layer of fog. Then again, I had just had my first real conversation with him only a few days previously, sitting at Kip's after the graduate class that he, Annalee, and Joe Sartelle were in, watching the Giants and Cubs. Maybe he'll let me off the hook in light of the auspiciousness of that fateful night. To my credit, at least, I began to question the language used in this first foray into sportswriting the minute the ink had dried. The next few pages of my notebook document a self-reflexivity that was pretty new to me then. But for that material you'll have to read my next entry.

[This is the first of three interconnected entries. Go here for the first one and here for the third one.]
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    the new Broken Social Scene album

Sweet Sixteen: Part Three

As I noted at the end of my previous entry, as soon as I was done writing on about Will Clark and the Giants' victory over the Cubs, I began to question my word choice. These notes are also from 10/9/89, then:
"CLUTCH" -- I told Beau about the hand imagery in the Bible -- God's hand metonymically represents his whole being and power. Hand represents control: "Things got out of hand." By extension, "I'm losing my grip." And "clutch" must be of the same metaphorical etymology.

Think of Rilke's "soft" hand poem.

Inversion of sign is a powerful tool in poetry

Write a poem in which hand is soft and not harsh like in Old Testament

Beau talked a long time about the beauty of Taos in the Bear's Lair -- D.H. Lawrence

Picture Will Clark in my own "clutch" situations

Another from the "hand" metaphorical etymology: yielding, succumbing is "letting go" i.e. releasing one's grip or clutch

See Lakoff + Turner's books on metaphor
While I'm pretty sure I had less control of my thinking than these notes might suggest, it's obvious that I was trying to rethink the idea of "coming through in the clutch" by questioning the image's connotations. I wasn't ready to take the stathead approach -- I'm still not -- but at least perceived that there was something amiss in the way people talk about pressure situations. The way to handle pressure is to relax, not tense up. That's the message of the poem I ended up writing.

There's one more entry in my notebook from 10/9/89, a passage from Corrado Pallenberg's The Art of Seduction -- more on that book later -- that I annotated, and then a long gap. Here's how it resumes on 11/9/89:
One month and a major (7.0) earthquake later. . . even if Will Clark did so-so in a very one-sided A's victory in the World Series, I can still hold onto that one at-bat. At least I got a poem out of it.
Indeed. And that poem played a major role in getting me into Thom Gunn's poetry seminar the following semester. More importantly, the approach I took in developing the poem, reflecting on the way metaphors condition our experience of everyday life and subjecting them to detailed scrutiny, has become a cornerstone of both my teaching and my writing.

[This is the first of three interconnected entries. Go here for the first one and here for the second one.]