I set out to write a poem about a phenomenal player and human being named Bullet Rogan (Charles Wilber Rogan, also known as Bullet Rogan or Bullet Joe; 1893-1967). He was a two-way star, along the lines of the present-day superstar Shohei Otani of the Angels—only Rogan hit cleanup even on the days when he was pitching.
As I tried to discover the doorway into the poem, I found that my mind was wandering. I also had a couple of interruptions that threw me off. Errands I found I suddenly had to run. Each time I returned to research and ponder, I was pulled in new directions. The way it is. Over the years I’ve learned not to force a poem. I recognized what was happening and tried to relax and let go. To let the mind wander as it will.
This is when I did a search for “baseball game WWII Europe.” This brought me to a few amazing write-ups and articles on a ‘World Series’ held in 1945 in Europe with teams fielded from the service members there. It took place the day after Japan officially signed the surrender documents to end WWII.
The eMuseum for The Negro Leagues Museum is an incredible resource for lovers of the game, and it helped me with the poem.
Another excellent resource is Robert Weintraub’s The Victory Season: The End of WWII and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age (Little, Brown and Company, 2013). A quick primer on the game, adapted from the book, was done for Slate, here.
In researching Rogan, I learned that Jackie Robinson had been court-martialed while serving as an Army officer for refusing to sit in the back of a bus during WWII. I assume this is widely known, but I’d somehow never heard about it before.
I think that leads to the ending of this poem, or helped to inform the ending that this poem lands on.
In any case, I hope you enjoy the poem and that you find yourself wandering, too, through the terrific eMuseum hosted by The Negro Leagues Museum.
In Nuremberg, 1945, at the Stadion der Hitlerjugend, 50,000 troops
filled the bleachers for a best-of-five World Series. It was Sept. 3rd,
and the second world war officially over. General Patton’s 3rd Army
fielded a team stocked with major leaguers from the Cardinals
and Reds, while the underdogs, mostly semi-pro ballplayers drafted
into combat, along with the first black man to hit a home run
in the American League, Willard “Home Run” Brown, and a pitcher,
Leon Day. He’d survived the landing at Utah Beach, German
Luftwaffe strafing his position days later as he drove a freight of ammo
in an amphibious vehicle. And while the sound of small arms fire
would remain with him for the rest of his days, for a brief moment
on a sunny afternoon in human history, the war disappeared
around him, replaced by the smell of beer and peanuts in the stands,
the laughter and taunts of the crowd fading into a general blur
of noise, something like the waves of the ocean when they break
into spray and foam along a seawall. And Day, reaching back
with all that he’d learned playing against the Kansas City Monarchs
and teams in the Venezuela League, games played for Veracruz
and the Mexico City Reds of the Mexican League, winters in Cuba,
the Silver Moons, the Brooklyn Eagles, the Winnipeg Buffaloes—
this is what he threw over the crushed red brick of the infield that day,
his signature heater that Patton’s boys just couldn’t catch up to,
a curveball that buckled their knees, their line-up managing only 4 singles
as Leon won the game 2-1, and after the fifth and final game,
Leon and Willard and the rest of the winning team returned to their base
in France, where the streets welcomed them all with a parade,
prime cuts of steak, bottles of chilled champagne on ice.