Poetry Sunday: Baseball by John Updike

Watching the Astros game last night, I was reminded of this poem, which I have featured here before but I think it's worth repeating.

Baseball is not an easy game. It's a game where even the best players generally fail two times out of three and even superstars suffer slumps. (Here's looking at you, Jose Altuve!) 

But when the game is played right, it is an exercise of such grace and finesse that it just leaves the watcher in awe that the human body can do that. It is a well-choreographed ballet on a field of grass.

It is baseball. 


by John Updike

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.
The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop’s wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.
There is nowhere to hide when the ball’s
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It’s easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody’s right,
beginning with baseball.


  1. I know that most of the human race loves sports, the playing and/or watching of. I could never see why. But then people think I am strange because I would rather read than do anything else, so there you have it. I read the poem in honor of my mom who did enjoy watching sports.

    1. And then there are those of us who love both reading and baseball. I don't know if the fans of other sports have readers, but it takes all kinds of people to make up the world. At least that's what my mother told me.

  2. Happy Mother's Day, Dorothy! I love this poem. It catches perfectly the essence and the spirit of the game. :-) I love and watch baseball, not as much as I used to when I was younger but still sit to watch of few innings when the Mets are playing.

    1. John Updike was obviously a baseball fan who appreciated the nuances of the game and was able to express them perfectly in poetic fashion.


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