The poem “The Base Stealer” by Robert Francis and “Double Play” by Robert Wallace obviously has one common theme which is baseball. Both poems describe the critical motions of two baseball players in a baseball game. Both insinuate the pressuring idea of success and failure that depends on their ability to win the game. However, the poems of Francis and Wallace do not just describe a specific ballgame but also creatively show different poetic elements to impress certain imagery to their readers.
First off, let’s try to explicate each poem separately to gain a better understanding of the poet’s individual approach.
The Base Stealer by Robert Francis
Francis begins the poem with the line, “Poised between going on and back, pulled” (1). The first line immediately indicates the readying position of the base stealer as he is “poised” in a way that suggests hesitation. The word “pulled” is inserted at the end of the first line to create an image of the base stealer being pulled back by something. The last word also guides the reader to the succeeding line where it reveals a description of the base stealer being pulled “both ways taut like a tightrope-walker,” (2). The use of the word “taut” indicates a feeling of pain on the player’s part as the idea of not actually moving hurts him. It can be noticed that Francis used a simile in the second line. By comparing the emotional stretch that the player is experiencing to a “tightrope-walker”, the comparison highlights the image of the player being in a very critical position in the game.
As the base stealers’ “Fingertips pointing the opposites,” (3), the poet leads the reader to a much more detailed body part of the player which indicates the conflict of opposites in his situation. The player’s description as a, “bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball / Or a kid skipping rope” (4-5) shows again the use of simile to compare his movement to that of a dropped ball which creates a visualization of him repeating a certain movement like a ball bouncing repeatedly when dropped or a kid jumping up and down a skipping rope. The words, “come on, come on,” (5) brings an air of excitement to the readers by anticipating his next move.
The sixth line of the poem “Running a scattering of steps sidewise,” (6) gives a visual to the readers of the player’s feet movement. Francis describes the steps as “scattering” to create an image of the base stealer’s run as all over the place or somewhat disorganized. This movement is further emphasized in the following line where he “he teeters, skitters, tingles, teases, / Taunts them, hovers like an ecstatic bird,” (7-8). These lines produce an energetic atmosphere in the poem like the base stealer himself. His energy is given emphasis as he runs wildly around the field. The use of the words, “teeters”, “skitters”, “tingles” and “teases” creates a much different tone than the first two lines which actually suggest a great deal of concentration. However, the use of these words provided the readers a somewhat climactic tone as he runs towards the base “like an ecstatic bird” (8).
“He’s only flirting, crowd him, crowd him,” (9). This line indicates the view of the other team as they considered his movement to be only an act of flirting. It means that the base stealer is merely trying to put their attention away from him stealing the base by moving wildly around the field. The phrase, “crowd him” refers to the common instructions shouted in baseball games for throwing the ball to the base where the base stealer is supposed to steal.
The last line, “Delicate, delicate, delicate, delicate – now!” (10) ends the poem without any closure whether the base runner had stolen the base. The word “delicate” is reiterated to highlight the idea of the base stealer’s movement to be critical to the game. It also created a rushing air of anticipation as the readers are forced to ask whether he did stole the base.
The Double Play by Robert Wallace
“In his sea-lit / distance, the pitcher winding / like a clock about to chime comes down with” (1-3). In Robert Wallace’s “Double Play”, the first stanza provides the readers a common picture we usually see in a baseball game—a pitcher preparing himself for a throw. He is compared to a “clock about to chime” (1) to highlight his position as someone whose movement acquires great anticipation from the audience. He is compared to a clock about to ring because ringing clocks are usually anticipated by people who are waiting for something or someone; therefore, his movement or action is a major factor in the development of the game.
In the second stanza, “the ball, hit / sharply, under the artificial / bank of lights, bounds like a vanishing string” it is obvious that the wholeness of it can be structured in a complete sentence. It describes the ball being hit sharply by the batter and compared to a “vanishing string” because of its speed. The division of words “the ball, hit” from the adjective “sharply” leaves the readers hanging temporarily from the movement of the ball. Instead of placing “sharply” beside the word that it is modifying, it is placed on the succeeding line to create anticipation to the readers. This kind of division is evident in the succeeding stanzas of Wallace.
“over the green / to the shortstop magically / scoops to his right whirling above his invisible” (7-9). The first line is clearly the starting phrase of the stanza, however, if one would notice the first line of every stanza also works as a dependent of the last line from the previous stanza. The phrase “over the green” is the prepositional phrase that modifies the location of the ball as it was hit by the batter. This is also the same case with the first stanza and the other succeeding stanzas. Wallace’s use of the words “magically” and “whirling” gives a somewhat radiant tone and atmosphere in the poem. This type of poetic tone illustrates the poet’s consideration of baseball players’ movement as some sort of a performing arts, most particularly, a dance.
The dancing image of the players is further emphasized in the next two paragraphs where Wallace made use of “pirouettes / leaping,” (14) and “first baseman ends the dance”. Wallace also made use of personification by depicting the ball’s flight being “redirected” to the second baseman. This is considered to be a form of personification because it indicates the ball’s ability to direct itself which is of course only a human-like ability.
Wallace and Francis obviously made use of their poetic and creative skills to incorporate a specific art to a particular game of baseball. Both poems tackle a certain part of a baseball game and gave out details in the players’ movements to better provide an in depth representation of the game. Their poems absolutely reflect their own passionate feelings towards the sport. It is evident in their way of presenting the sport in an omniscient point of view.
Wallace, Robert. “Double Play.” Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves: Contemporary Baseball Poems. Ed. Don Johnson. United States of America: University of Illinois Press, 1991. 114.
Francis, Robert. “The Base Stealer.” Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves: Contemporary Baseball Poems. Ed. Don Johnson. United States of America: University of Illinois Press, 1991. 33.