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On Baseball, Ken Griffey Sr., and Finding A Black Father's Joy

Guest Post by E. Ethelbert Miller

Poet, Writer, Teacher, and Literary Activist

PHOTO CREDIT: Kurt Smith, courtesy MOHAI. Original caption dated May 18, 1989: "Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. stand for a father-and-son portrait till (see other photo) dad gives the kid a bad time about his recent notoriety by covering Junior's face." Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection image number 2000.107.079.17.14

I’ve written a number of poems about Black men. In my work, one will find poems

about fathering. In baseball, the relationship between fathers and sons is best

captured by the game of catch, the throwing of a baseball back and forth between

generations.


Sadly, the joys of black fathers are too often interrupted by gun violence and police brutality. My poem "Lost in the Sun" uses baseball as a metaphor to illustrate this point.


In writing the poem below "Ken Griffey Sr.," which will be published next year in the third book of my baseball trilogy How I Found Love Behind the Catcher’s Mask (City Point Press), I wanted to present the joy a black father finds in his son’s achievements.


Parents pave the way for their children. Everyone dreams of their children entering the Hall of Fame. May black fathers be given back their sight.


 

Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

KEN GRIFFEY SR.


Even before my son turned his cap backwards

I wanted to keep him close. Keep an eye on him.

I didn’t want to worry beyond the outfield like other fathers.


I loved watching my son play

the way he watched me play or when we played together.

Before the love for the game there was family.


And how we loved each other was how we hit

when other men were on base. There were times

when his injuries made me close my eyes.


But my eyes could never close after seeing the beauty of his swing

or the catches made near the wall.

Baseball was good to us.


History will remember us because we made history.

My son’s Hall of Fame smile

another RBI for the record books.



E. Ethelbert Miller


 

The Washington Post once called E. Ethelbert Miller, "arguably the most influential person in Washington's vast and vibrant African American arts community. And perhaps its most unappreciated." Miller is a poet, writer, teacher, and literary activist. He is the author of two memoirs, including Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a reprinting, and several books of poetry, including The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller, which celebrates more than 40 years of his work. For 17 years, Miller served as the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest poetry magazine published in the United States. His poetry has been translated into nearly a dozen languages.


Miller is a two-time Fulbright Senior Specialist Program Fellow to Israel. He holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Emory and Henry College and has taught at several universities. Miller hosts the weekly WPFW morning radio show On the Margin with E. Ethelbert Miller and is a producer of The Scholars on UDC-TV. Miller was inducted into the 2015 Washington, DC, Hall of Fame, awarded the 2016 AWP George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature, and presented the 2016 DC Mayor’s Arts Award for "Distinguished Honor." In 2018, he was inducted into Gamma Xi Phi and appointed as an ambassador for the Authors Guild. Miller’s most recent book, If God Invented Baseball, earned the 2019 Literary Award for poetry by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.



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