A few weeks ago, I stayed in on a Friday night reading Hannah Arendt’s essay “What is Freedom?” After spending some time mulling over the dilemmas Arendt raises in her essay (for instance, What good is freedom if we don’t act on it, if it’s only in our minds?), something happened: I took a break to quickly check the evening’s baseball scores and saw that Johan Santana, the ace of the New York Mets’ pitching staff, was taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning of a game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
For those of you who don’t know, the Mets began their 50th season in Major League Baseball this year without a single measly no-hitter to their credit. For Mets fans, that amounted to half a century of franchise history with no No-No. (The San Diego Padres were the only other Major League team at the start of this season that had never pitched a no-hitter.) That night, though, I began to get this feeling in my gut. As I tried to return my attention to Hannah Arendt’s essay, I began believing that Johan Santana, back this season from reconstructive shoulder surgery, was going to do it—he was going to go nine complete innings without allowing the Cardinals a single hit. He was going to break the Mets’ embarrassing streak of mound-bound fecklessness.
I was supposed to be reading. I was supposed to be writing. Instead, I was staring at a little corner of the ESPN website as a real-time scoreboard kept track of Santana’s pitch count. At 9:49 p.m., I texted my brother, also a Mets fan, with amazing news: “He fucking did it.” After firing 134 pitches, Johan Santana had become the first Mets pitcher in the history of the universe to successfully throw a no-hitter.
Eventually, before the night was over, I got back to my reading. But I decided to revisit Arendt’s “What Is Freedom?” by writing a poem about what had happened in Queens that night. I would try out Arendt’s concepts and assertions in the context of Santana’s newly minted no-hitter. How hard can it be, I wondered, to write a decent baseball poem? That night I discovered that, for me at least, and especially at 10 p.m. on a Friday, it is almost impossible to write a poem of any kind. (In other words, when I finished writing my poem that night, I did not text my brother to say, “I fucking did it!”) But writing the poem brought me back to Arendt, at least, and I tried to throw some strikes. The result appears below.
If I could diagram a man’s shoulder
(the inside, where the ball of bone
fits into the smooth socket padded
with cartilage and snugly wrapped in muscle)
I would place that diagram here, first.
Every single pitch is a beginning.
Imagine Hannah Arendt at a baseball game.
“This is strange,” she says. “The players are repeating
the same actions over and over again inside the white
lines on a field.”
“And yet–?” you ask her.
She smiles and sips her $9 beer.
Every single pitch is a beginning. Good pitchers know this
in their eyes, muscles, shoulders and hands.
The finest southpaws and knuckleballers insist
on the action of effortful wind-up and release
because they’re schooled in automatism and routine, but
schooled too in the way a 95 mile-per-hour fastball breaks into the world
and delineates the texture of what’s real.
When Johan Santana, pitching a no-hitter on a cool June night in Queens,
asked his surgically reconstructed shoulder to begin 134 times
we were reminded that a miracle has pieces.