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Tampa Bay outfielder writes about Robert Creeley

Fernando Perez

"Like poetry, baseball is a kind of counter culture," writes Fernando Perez in the current issue of Poetry magazine.  "The (optional) isolation from the outside world (which I often opt for); the idleness about which—and out of which—so many poems are written or sung: I see this state of mind as a blessing. Sometimes, in fact, when I haven’t turned on a television or touched a newspaper for months, freed from the corporate bombast, poetry is the only dialect I recognize."
 
Perez is a promising 26-year-old writer who received his B.A. in American Studies and completed the Creative Writing Program at Columbia University. His favorite poet is the late Robert Creeley, who graced Buffalo for nearly four decades as a UB professor and one of the central figures in 20th century American poetry. "Long ago Robert Creeley confirmed my suspicion that words strung even sparingly together can be as aurally powerful as anything else we have, " he writes. "[Creeley] has been my most important poet, because I can take him anywhere, like oranges—even reduced to nothing in both physical and mental exhaustion, nauseous and half asleep bussing from a red-eye." 
 
Most writers have day jobs of one sort or another to sustain themselves. For many of us that means academia or teaching, the fine arts, library sciences, journalism, or the business world. Perez's day job  involves sprinting, sliding, throwing, fielding, and trying to hit a 98 mph major league fastball.
 
Fernando Perez is currently an outfielder on the defending American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays. If you're a Boston Red Sox fan, you'll recall Perez as fleet-footed pinch runner who scored the winning run against the Sox in Game 2 of last year's American League Champion Series.  If you're a Yankee fan, Perez (who wears the number 38) is the player Rays manager Joe Maddon inserted into the lineup in center field after Rays star B.J. Upton misplayed two long fly balls this past Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.


 
Perez, widely regarded as one of the Rays' top prospects, returned to the club's major league roster on Sept. 3 after nearly six months on the disabled list with a severely dislocated wrist sustained while trying to make a diving catch in a March 10 spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  In a rehabilitation stint in North Carolina, playing for Tampa Bay's AAA minor league affiliate, the fabled Durham Bulls, he hit .278 and scored 10 runs and stole 8 bases in 13 games.
 
Perez's feature in Poetry magazine "Para Rumbiar" describes some of unusual things he's seen while playing winter league baseball in Caracas, Venezuela:
 
A mere pitching change is an occasion “para rumbiar,” and the purse-lipped riot squad is always on the move with their spanking machetes swinging from their hips. The game isn’t paced necessarily by innings or score. It’s marked by the pulsating bass drums of the samba band that trail bright, scantily clad, head-dressed goddesses strutting about the mezzanine.
 
Here is Perez -- who was raised in West Windsor Township, New Jersey and now lives in New York City in the off-season -- writing about life on the road as a minor leaguer:
 
Ball players are mercenaries, taking assignments indiscriminately. Throughout the minor leagues you’ll find yourself slouched on a bus, watching small towns roll by matter-of-factly like stock market tickers, on your back in a new nondescript room, or “shopping for images”  (Allen Ginsberg) in a Wal-Mart, hunched over a cart in no rush.
 
"I’m in love with baseball," Perez writes perceptively, "but eventually my prime will end, and she’ll slowly break my heart. Baseball has remained remarkably impervious to modernity, but is, like any modern industry, highly alienating. I turn to poetry because it is less susceptible to circumstance. I’m not especially touched when a poet deals with a ball game; I’m not especially interested in having one world endear itself to the other. Right now I need them apart, right now I’m after displacement, contrast. The thick wilderness of, say, late Ashbery can wrangle with the narrowness of competition."
 
Baseball scouts often talk about young prospects with a faraway look in their eyes as if  they can already see the stars they will someday become.  Here's what they're saying about Perez: The Kid is a quadruple threat. He can run. He can throw. He can hit. And yes, he can reference John Ashbery's poetry intelligently and matter-of-factly in an essay on life in the baseball subculture.
 
You can read Perez's article Para Rumbiar in the September issue of Poetry magazine and follow his exploits on the field for the Tampa Bay Rays at  Fernando Perez Stats, raysbaseball.com.
 
-- R.D. Pohl

(Photo: Associated Press)

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