Longfellow, long balls and the Chicago Cubs

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Kyle Schwarber and Chicago Cubs brought out the boom stick against the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the NLDS.

Baseball lends itself to art like no other sport. If you think I’m exaggerating about that, consider that “Casey at the Bat” is the most enduring sports poem ever written, “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” is about the most widely known song there is, and “If you build it, he will come” is a phrase that you’d need to have lived in a cave for the past 25 years to be unfamiliar with.

Walt Whitman famously called baseball “the American game” in the middle of the 19th century, and he was right about that. Football and basketball and soccer and hockey all have their fans, but baseball still summons up our creative juices like no other sport.

It’s not surprising, perhaps, that America’s first professional poet –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – is believed to have played an early version of baseball in his college days. And while he never wrote anything particularly about baseball, a line from one of his poems came to my mind last night, as the Chicago Cubs were setting a new postseason record by smashing six home runs against Cardinals pitching.

The line was from Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline, and it reads as follows:

Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean.

October now means something far different than it did in Longfellow’s time, at least when it comes to baseball. But the idea that a mighty blast means something special at this time of year appeals to me. It sure did as baseballs were disappearing into the nighttime sky at Wrigley Field on Monday. Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Dexter Fowler all contributed a home run, and the Cubs  pushed the Central Division champion Cardinals to the brink of elimination.

Before the postseason began, I realized that the long ball was going to be what carried the Cubs. Jake Arrieta has been outstanding this year, but it takes more than that to get to where the Cubs are trying to go. And when you can’t manufacture a run like other teams can, the only thing left is to hit the ball as far as you can.

The Cubs are now 3-1 in the postseason, and the equation is simple: Whenever they hit home run(s) in a game they win, and when they don’t, they lose. Expecting six more mighty blasts on Tuesday may seem a bit greedy, but if that’s what it takes to advance to the next round, then blast away, my beloved team!

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