Mystery Baseball

Philip Dacey

No one knows the man who throws out the season's
first ball.
His face has never appeared in the newspapers,
except in crowd scenes, blurred.
Asked his name, he mumbles something
about loneliness,
about the beginning of hard times.

Each team fields an extra, tenth man.
This is the invisible player,
assigned to no particular position.
Runners edging off base feel a tap on their shoulders,
turn, see no one.
Or a batter, the count against him, will hear whispered
in his ear vague, dark
rumors of his wife, and go down.

Vendors move through the stands
selling unmarked sacks,
never disclosing their contents,
never having been told.
People buy, hoping.

Pitchers stay busy
getting signs.
They are everywhere.

One man rounds third base, pumping hard,
and is never seen again.
Teammates and relatives wait years at the plate,
uneasy, fearful.

An outfielder goes for a ball on the warning track.
He leaps into the air and keeps rising,
beyond himself, past
the limp flag.
Days later he is discovered,
descended, wandering dazed in centerfield.

Deep under second base lives an old man,
bearded, said to be
a hundred. All through the game,
players pull at the bills of their caps,
acknowledging him.