As our Saint Paul Saints begin another season this year, here are a couple of stars from a bit ago. Ila Border, the first woman to play in organized baseball, and Darryl Strawberry, down on his luck from stardom from the Yankees. Both players earned the applause and joy of Saints fans in 1998. Here is a poem I wrote for owner Mike Veeck, a star of a person, for the Saints’ Yearbook about these two amazing Saints, with a nod of thanks to John Lennon.
1. The Long Winter
The Saint Paul tavern radio could have been talking loss or win
new games of stick hockey, the Chippewa kind
with a different format of scoring,
and we like thawed walleyes this St. Paddy’s Day
having melted began flopping and talking once more.
After all, living a ways north of the equator for years,
chatting baseball is a special game in wintertime
and smooth music to our eager ears.
2. The Sporting News
FIRST WOMAN MAY PLAY FOR SAINT PAUL SAINTS—
ILA BORDER IS HER NAME.
We studied the beaten, mahogany box of a radio
as if it were a TV set caught in a lie.
Veeck’s done it again, Mike the bartender yelled.
Just like Darryl Strawberry coming to play
and then later hit a home run in the World Series
the season he got on his feet again, some say.
“If spring ever does arrive,” the fellow next to me retorted.
Mike hearing this doubter slapped his bar rag down with a smack
furious at the bravado of skepticism,
looking more like Moses being interrupted
by a petty messenger with a weather report
during his big one at Mt. Sinai.
Then Mike revealed what we thought we heard was the plan:
The coming baseball season would star
a woman rather than a man.
Along with June’s warm winds, Ms. Ila Border
around gardening time
started pitching her way from the sports pages
to the front pages, and on TV
surely a fresh sign of spring
for all fans to see.
She set the style that year, too
For many young baseball daughters:
ponytails and baseball caps:
way ahead of the Saks or Gaps.
Arriving at the Midway for the night
We spotted this special Saint:
a streamlined gal
with wonderfully chestnut brown hair
moving like a deer
then saw her streamlined hands, too
eager to pitch relief in a game that got away
even though she threw some strikes
to Thunder Bay.
But Mike the bartender was right
she’d leave us, too, one day.