Some Call It Ballin'

Issue 3: Fall 2014

"...but in joy create for others the house, the poem, the game of athletic beauty" — Dudley Randall

Dear Readers, 

Before I say a little about the essays in this issue, I’d like to convey to you a short petition of support. If you’ve enjoyed our magazine, I hope you’ll make a donation to help defray operating costs. In our first year, we have gathered high quality, literary sports writing from award-winning writers like Martín Espada, A. Van Jordan, and Aracelis Girmay as well as essays from some of the most anticipated emerging voices in contemporary writing. Among them, Matthew Olzmann, Sarah Dohrmann, and Ife-Chudeni Oputa. Our issues have also featured beautiful, original illustrations and artwork from Nick Rosal. Curating, editing, and design are done by editors and a few very hard-working assistants. We don’t get paid and neither do our contributors. (But we hope to offer compensation to them at some point; watch out for our Kickstarter.) 

For now, we would very much appreciate anything you can give. You’ll find a new DONATE page in the sidebar menu that will allow readers to send funds to help us continue to run the magazine. We at Some Call It Ballin’ thank you. And now, a few thoughts about this exciting issue… 

The word for sport comes from a Latin verb that means to carry off or away. That’s straight forward enough — sports help us escape the grind — our jobs, our bills, our stacks of dishes, our doorknobs going-on-six-months-busted. Sports allow us to get carried away. But what, then, are we carried off into? 

The rules of a sport make the game familiar and predictable enough so that we have a common context. We’re able to name the players and the action. We know what to expect. Ultimately, however, as a fan I don’t just want to see the same old game. I don’t want to watch a matchup where the contestants simply follow the rules. I want to be dumbfounded, even amazed, at the game’s variations — some stroke of luck 
or quirk or sublime maneuver that defies my expectations. Sometimes this happens within the often strict constraints of a game’s rules. Sometimes our awe arises out of an until-then unimaginable violation of the sport’s precepts. 

Sport is, in part, a desire for the unfamiliar. 

In short, we have rules so that we might be astonished by that which deviates from form, patterns, established traditions and conventions. We love sport because it is history and innovation, both. We love it because it is conducive to the unusual. That is, sport — etymological kin to deport and deportation — has the potential to make us foreign to ourselves.

Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa’s essay “Intentionally, and with Precision” is a fierce and personal meditation on the very experience of foreignness or, more specifically, exile. It is a reading of the metaphors of home — not just through baseball, but in light of the summer of 2014, through the death of Michael Brown, through the spectacular performance on the field by a black girl named Mo’ne Davis. That is to say, for many of us Americans, the feeling and actuality of exile is not so clearly about a distinct sense of home and away. Oputa’s essay makes us acutely aware of this nation’s mandates and boundaries. When a writer like Oputa puts that awareness to use, a mostly invisible America can (and does) become visible. 

Similarly, when the borders of America are drawn, redrawn, and contested (which is to say perpetually), many of us are thinking deeply about how hard it is to gain sovereignty of one’s home — sovereignty, in fact, over one’s own body and the spaces through which it moves. Martín Espada’s erudite and fiery essay on the World Baseball Classic activates the kind of dual, simultaneous seeing that subjects of American militarism and colonialism have mastered. Espada points out the disparate versions of history that emerged (and were ultimately submerged by American media) of the 2013 faceoff between the United States and Puerto Rico. Appropriately the tournament, played every four years, is dubbed a “Classic”, for Espada’s essay enacts a struggle — or agon (as poet Carl Philips reminds us in the tradition of the Greek choral ode) — between private wish and public expectation. 

In a radical formal departure of the sports essay, Lauara Legge’s piece is a lyric catalog. It’s a thought-image-soundbite remix of Carmelo Anthony’s historical scoring performance at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks can’t mesh with him or each other, and so, the ironic references to bromide (chemistry) are not lost on this New York sports fan. Legge’s essay moves dynamically between thought-skipping and thoughtfulness, summoning Toni Morrison’s Nobel speech, Samuel Delaney’s literary sci-fi novel Babel-17, a cameo by Ludwig Wittgenstein (and perhaps a haunting by his metaphysical logic), and much more. “After that,” Legge writes, “she commits to silence.” Language itself is a game whose rules can change within a conversation or a single sentence and Legge’s numbered litany pushes the formal limits of befuddlement and even confusion. It’s an essay that concerns itself with the apparent clarity of victory, but also its opposite — loss… and lostness. 

Being lost, even briefly, inside a familiar game is one experience of sport, but sometimes the sport itself belongs to strangeness. To this day, with time to kill, a small body of water, and some stones, I can’t help but skip them across a calm pond. Sarah Kennedy gives us a glimpse into competitive stone skipping. The essay is also a remarkably entertaining examination of a sport where play and heated passion intersect. We also witness Kennedy’s ability to perceive and portray what her own mind is doing. She watches, she feels, she judges and questions and we get a sense of her simultaneous confusion about stone skipping’s absurdities, but also a sophisticated and lovely affection for the quirky and the bizarre.

I happen to share some of Sarah’s affection for the strange. Last year, Bernard Hopkins changed his ring name to The Alien, so I offer you the essay, “Bernard Hopkins: Alien”. The transformation, as symbols go, is stunning and made me think of the trajectory of his fighting life. For the last year, I’ve been contemplating what it means in our system of cultural metaphors to go from Executioner to Alien. It’s amazing enough that Hopkins fought for a world title on the verge of turning 50 years old, but there is another sub-narrative that this aging boxer has been constructing and crafting over the course of his remarkable career. It made me ask, What exactly can an alien do that an executioner can’t?

Finally, we at Some Call It Ballin’ are happy to introduce our first literary reviews. Dionisio Velasco reviews Heart of the Order, an anthology of baseball poetry. And Malik Abduh reviews Derrick Harriell’s Ropes, a collection of poems about boxers and boxing.

As a postscript, I want to welcome Jaime Oppenheim to our staff as Assistant Editor. He's been a great help in putting this most recent issue together. I'd also like to acknowledge Greg Sullivan, who helped me research Bernard Hopkins' name change timeline. Many, many thanks.

We thank all our contributors for such rich and varied work. And we thank you for coming to visit us. We hope you enjoy this fabulous compendium of sports writing as much as we enjoyed reading it. 

Patrick Rosal