Mrs. Red Schoendienst Sings the National Anthem
By Cal Freeman
She sang it note for note. She had a mellifluous voice. She had a pretty voice. Everyone agreed. Bob Gibson was in the bullpen with his hat over his heart, but I doubt he listened. Busch Memorial Stadium. Polite applause. Stadiums were quieter then, I say, though I can’t know this.
It’s today, but it isn’t autumn. It’s our living room, it’s two fingers gin in a Waterford goblet. A radio broadcast from over 52 years ago streaming on Sarah’s computer. The left-center wall was 372 feet from home plate, which was nothing for Willie Horton. The yellow distance from the couch to chair.
How far is anachronistic static punctuated by gone voices? I ask. Not far from here, she says. An anhedonic face in bicycle spokes makes a sound like a carpet beetle’s wings. I remember, I tell her. No kid today puts a baseball card in spokes, she says.
She tells me Bill Freehan used to live around the corner from here when she hears his name. She knows this because she saw our friend Joe Michnuk, an amateur baseball historian and former Tigers clubhouse security guard, speak at our town’s museum last year. The day Red Schoendienst decided he’d like to manage, she sent him to the butcher’s shop for a soup bone.
They were living in Milwaukee. He was playing second base for the Braves. She often sent him for soup bones so she could practice. Before singing, off the microphone, she set her note with a pitch pipe chiseled out of bone.
It’s today, but it isn’t autumn. I think of Freehan on Parker Street, the child Michnuk hiding behind a neighbor’s garbage cans to catch a glimpse as the great catcher climbed into an Oldsmobile Cutlass to drive down Michigan Avenue to Tiger Stadium in Detroit. There’s nothing new under the sun, I say. No baseball is new baseball, she counters. The state of no baseball is new, anyway. I tell her she sounds like Yogi Berra. We are not fans, but she likes the voices. They make her feel less alone.
Nobody buys soup bones these days. It’s bouillon cubes to season soup and far too hot for that. Far too hot, it’s 52 years ago, but it isn’t autumn. It’s the summer of ’68; it’s the same tired brutality; it’s still Nixon and Daley. And who the hell says mellifluous these days? I ask her. They do, she says. Someone does. She was probably happy that afternoon as she sang, I speculate. Nobody was happy in the fall of ’68, she reminds me. Except maybe on a ball field or in the brief throes of a song.
Born and raised in Detroit, Cal Freeman is the author of the books of poetry Fight Songs (2017) and the pamphlet Heard Among The Windbreak (2016). His writing has appeared in New Orleans Review, Passages North, The Journal, Commonwealth, Drunken Boat, and The Poetry Review. He is a recipient of the Devine Poetry Fellowship and has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and creative nonfiction. He teaches at Oakland University.
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