Backing suddenly out of the box
and calling time belatedly
to rattle the brash rookie
who thinks his fast ball
is equal to the occasion,
the Babe takes a holiday,
knocking his spikes, scooping
some dirt to get a better grip
on his bat, as if he needed one,
pretending he can’t comprehend
the third base coach’s signals,
and holding his hand to his ear
to feign deafness to bench jockeys
asking him how many hot dogs
he’s consumed since breakfast.
A passing Zeppelin
gliding silently over Yankee Stadium
and flashing silver in the ballpark sun
gives Ruth another excuse
to disrupt the rook’s rhythm,
marking the passage
of the aerial phenomenon
with a swipe of his black bat
for the benefit of ballpark fans
who only have eyes for him.
“Play ball!” the grumpy ump orders,
scolding the flagrant delay of game.
The Bambino obliges,
disdaining a slow curve that misses
but gets the call anyhow
from an ump intent on teaching
the wily procrastinator a lesson
about proper conduct at the plate.
“Come on, little schoolboy!”
the batter challenges the pitcher,
after the second strike,
“You won’t be so lucky next time!
Show me what you got, baby face!”
The kid knows he shouldn’t,
but can’t resist the temptation
to put a blazing fast ball
straight down the middle,
silencing his heckler
with a heater he won’t see coming,
and sending him on the walk of shame.
Having set the plot in motion,
the Babe prepares the climax,
squaring the barrel of his bat
to lay sweet wood
on the kid’s audacity.
“I can hit it with my eyes closed,”
he informs the catcher,
who thereupon signals
for an even faster fastball.
The rest is for the record book.
Number three circles the bases
with his tiny mincing steps,
giving the first baseman a wink,
the second sacker a wisecrack,
and tipping his cap gallantly
to the dazzling blonde fan
who catches his keen eye
at the third base turn.
The awed crowed remains standing
long after the soaring horsehide
merges with the summer blue,
imagining what might happen
if the sky-high fly stings the Zep
or settles high and handsome
in the lofty crown of Lady Liberty
who lifts her exalted torch higher
to thank the unexpected gift
from The Sultan of Swat.