Do you think baseball and poetry are not compatible?
Then what about the lines, “And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout/But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out”?
The legendary poet Walt Whitman reportedly said of America’s pastime, “I see great things in baseball.”
What downtown Jersey City resident Frank Messina sees in baseball was the inspiration for his new book, Full Count:The Book of Mets Poetry (164 pp.; The Lyons Press; $12.95).
The 40-year-old Messina, a fan of the New York Mets since birth, has compiled prose and personal essays written over more than 10 years for his new book, to explore not just his life as a fan but also other personal themes with baseball as a backdrop such as childhood, the father/son relationship, and romance. It also touches on 9/11, when he volunteered at the Jersey City waterfront helping survivors ferried across the Hudson River from Ground Zero.
“New Jersey [Senator] Jon S. Corzine and Senator Robert Torricelli spoke at the foot of Grand Street, greeted and thanked the volunteers. One of the staffers handed out ticket vouchers for the next ball game at Shea Stadium. In the midst of this horrific loss, who was thinking about baseball?” Messina wrote in his essay “9/21/01 (for Mike Piazza)” about the first Mets game after 9/11, when then-Mets catcher Piazza hit a game-winning home run against the Atlanta Braves.
“I would hope the poetry would preserve the integrity of the game.” – Frank Messina
Messina, who has the moniker of “The Mets Poet,” regards his writing’s purpose as celebrating and cherishing the sport.
“I would hope the poetry would preserve the integrity of the game,” Messina said. “Also honor the fans, the people behind the scenes such as the vendors and of course, the families who come to the game.”
Becoming a fan
When Messina the poet writes about being a “Mets Fan” in the poem of the same name, it is hope intermingled with agony:
“I’ve been yanked/drag-bunted, tossed to the corner dive-bar/looking for solace in a static-ridden TV/ sipping beer, waiting for glory/in the bottom of the ninth; the miracle RBI that never comes, but never goes away, always believing, always believing/because….I’m a Mets fan!”
Messina the baseball admirer said he became a Mets fan “by default”, as one of four sons of a father who had grown up in the South Bronx with the New York Giants baseball team, but took to the Mets to compensate for the Giants’ move to San Francisco in 1958.
Messina also remembers being hooked after seeing his first game in 1977, when Mets’ Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver threw a one-hit shutout against the Chicago Cubs.
“I really had no idea what a one-hitter was, but there I was, experiencing history, and I immediately had a love for the team,” Messina said.
What also fueled Messina’s love for his team was growing up in the Bergen County town of Norwood (“Mets Hell”), where some of the star players of the cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees, lived. He captured in the essay “‘Playing’ for the Mets” a pickup game in 1978 teaming up with a childhood friend against then-Yankees stars Graig Nettles and Catfish Hunter. It serves as a reminder for him of the days when baseball players were just “regular guys” you would see at the supermarket.
“When I grew up, there was innocence to the game,” Messina said. “Now there is ugliness when you see the hype, not just in baseball but through all sports.”
Poetry in motion
Messina became serious about writing in high school.
He would go on to receive awards and fellowships as he developed into a spoken-word performer and musician, as well as a painter.
It was in 2006 when he meshed his Mets poetry into his spoken word performances. Soon, producers for SportsNet New York, the official cable network for the New York Mets, contacted him to do a television segment, and soon his reputation spread. Messina then started getting offers from publishers in 2007, but it took him a year to decide to embark on the project.
“It was just so brutal to think about writing after that 2007 season,” said Messina, about the year when the Mets lost 12 of their final 17 games and finished out of the playoffs.
The book is divided in nine chapters for baseball’s nine innings with chapter headings such as “Settling In” and “Working the Count.”
Messina said his book may be the first compilation of writing devoted to the subject of baseball, and to a specific sports team.
He said with his book he hopes to accomplish something beyond just preaching to the choir of devoted Mets fans.
“What I realize as a poet is that I am bringing poetry to people who haven’t incorporated poetry in their lives.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.