Stealing Home, a book of poetry by Dwayne Brenna, begins strong, careening through a tour of baseball parks. Some of the more notable parks mused on include Ebbets Field, Candlestick Park, and The Big O. In a poem called “Shea Stadium, New York City, 2005” Brenna uses the senses to provide vivid imagery: “the thwack of hickory…and rumble rising from expensive seats down low.” Here, auditory language is used to evoke the sounds of the game, which causes seasoned fans to reminisce about their ballpark experiences, or allow someone who doesn’t understand sports fans to put his/herself in their place. For those of you scoring at home, this also calls to mind that before television, most people experienced professional baseball through radio only.
At the end of the first section, in “Cairns Field, Saskatoon, 2010,” Brenna evokes the visual: “the infield grass is luminous, as green / as spring in your imaginings. The lights / of Saskatoon are dots against the sky, / the deep blue sky behind right field.” This is my favourite passage, putting me right back on the mound. I recall seeing the red of my glove against the bright green of the manicured grass, the feel of the ball in my right hand, waiting for the next batter.
Just as I’m remembering playing ball as a child, the narrative turns, in section two, to the persona’s own childhood memories. Nervous about playing, he sits in the “pick-up truck brush painted red,” as his dad drives him to the field, “staring at my baseball glove / my brother’s pancake hand-me-down. / Nicely broken in, my dad would say. / I’ve got my fingers crossed, / hoping I’ll be good.” Before the persona jumps out of the truck, “don’t be shy, he says, and tell ‘em you can pitch.” This poem “You’re Gonna Like This Game,” endears me to the writer. Feeling apprehensive is, especially if you’re a pitcher, universal to a child’s experience of baseball. In a poem called “Sports Day,” Brenna evokes taste: “dust still lingers in my mouth.” This book takes me on a tour of memories I didn’t think that I had retained, but this couplet puts that gummy, dry post-game taste right back in my mouth.
Section three is all about the pitch: fastball, curve ball, and knuckleball. Part four is about women, including schoolboy crushes on a ballplayer’s wife, oh, and the cute physiotherapist, the allure of the baseball uniform, and a trilogy of mock personals ads seeking female baseball enthusiasts. Section five calls up the baseball greats: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, and Christy Matthewson, the greatest pitcher in his time. Stealing Home celebrates all things baseball, from playing, to coaching, to umping, stoic fans, the ball, the base, paraphernalia, autographs, and even rained out games. The origins of baseball! The spirituality of baseball. A person can live a life through the enjoyment of baseball, as reflected by this book.
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