Ballad of the Reachers
by Mark Smith

(with deepest love and apologies to Ernest L. Thayer)

 Twas an hour before game-time and up to the field
came the old men with leather and bats they would wield.
They pulled on their caps and laced up their cleats.
They prayed for good weather, they dreamed of great feats.

They know time’s a bandit, a rascal, an imp.
Call him a dodger – for what’s in a name?
He’ll cozen your youth and give back a limp
but the old men know two can play at that game.

These faded gods of sandlot yore that come to prowl the grass once more…
What spark burns wise in those crafty eyes?
Dream on, old dreamers, of when flesh was firm
and each one an early bird catching the worm.

They stretch on the bench, they groan and wrench
and chuckle ‘bout broken-down heaps.
But each one’s smile is laced with guile...
These junkers, old-timers, these one-more-hill climbers
play all for the joy but they all play for keeps.

The blood has cooled, the bones aren’t fooled
by lotions that promise rebirth.
They know in their guts - no ifs, ands or buts –
that fate much as muscle will destine the tussle
that waits for them out on the sod and the earth.

“C’mon, you grey bastards,” said Cap. “On your feet!
There’s one more to play, there’s just one left to beat.
We’re too old to tell ourselves ‘Wait till next year…’
And who the hell knows if we’ll evenbe here!

“Now one ump’s a blind man, the other’s all gas.
They couldn’t find fleas on an alley cat’s ass.
Just take what they give you and keep your yaps shut
and don’t give ‘em reason to kick out your butt.

“Look sharp, Big Dee… Bobo, watch out for the lights.
Buzz, keep the chatter up – make this a fight.
Now Jason… Throw strikes – just not over the plate,
but don’t nibble, neither – you make ‘em swing late.
I’ll be out in left cuz I like it fine there.
Smitty, you’re catching – and what’s with the hair?!

“Now Mikey and Freddie – go hit some line drives!
Tilly and Goldie… Bend at theknees.
And Jimbo and Eddie… Go run for your lives!
Arch, Link, and Boom-Boom… Callfor it, please!

“Now I’m not gonna tell ya this one’s in the bag.
Those guys over there – they know how to play tag.
The shortstop’s a wizard, their clean-up’s a pain,
and the guy out in center can run down a train.
First base knows his business, the pitcher is bold,
but the mook out in right couldn’t catch a cold.
The rest – they can play - sure, they know all the rules.
They’re just like us – ornery, creaky ol’ fools.

“But look at ‘em watching us, punks to the last,
smirking and nodding and tugging their caps -
wondering what good deeds they’d done in the past
that God would hand them a bunch of ol’ saps.

“Well I aint come to ‘have some fun’…
At our age that just don’t sound right.
It seems to me tonight should be
Floyd P. and Johansson, the Earps and the Clantons,
or Frazier–Ali in Manilathat night.

“Sure, it’s agame – that’s why we came.
SportsCenter aint covering us.
And ‘Never say die’…? That’s just a lie.
We all see strike three and that’s how it must be.
We’ve all got a seat on the Kingdom Come bus.

“But we didn’t come this far to just take some hacks.
We’re tied at the hip and have each other’s backs.
So I’ll tell ya this, boys – and that’s all that I’ll say:
Screw Ol’ Man Time… We aint losing today!”

“Play ball” howled the ump, “ and the echo cried ‘Play!’
like a clarion call from years far, far away.
The men shared a look. No words need be said.
They stood as if one - one body, one head.
The lights on the stanchions shone crystal and bright
as they trudged from the dugout and into the night…

Oh, somewhere in this weary world men fight and never win.
The dice are loaded, life is rigged, the deck is always thin.
For some, the race is lost before a step is ever run.
For some, the game is called before the umpire says “Strike one!”

And somewhere men are peaceful, and raise a glass or three
and dream about what was and might have been…and destiny.
They wink at fate, or chaos – but what is in a name?
Players all, a team, old friends, and winners of the game.

    Copyright © 2016 Thom Forbes, all rights reserved. Contact Thom Forbes