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Reviewed by Kenneth Salzmann for Readers' Favorite
In Crumbs in the Outfield, Roger Frank marries the fleeting moments that make a baseball game with the precise observation that characterizes a centuries-old Japanese poetry form to produce a delightful and insightful collection that is further enriched by the author’s photographs. In some 85 haiku, he illuminates not only the nuances of the game that will speak to baseball fans (as in a haiku sequence on how the pitcher grips the ball to produce curves, fastballs, and knuckleballs) but he also draws on the history and traditions of what’s often called America’s pastime to create universal images in words and pictures that will be meaningful to even those who don’t connect with baseball itself. Anyone who ever played catch with their father in childhood or felt the excitement of going to a big-league game for the first time should find that those poems resonate.
For me, Roger Frank and Crumbs in the Outfield are at their best in those most personal of pieces. In the introduction, Frank tells us he was born into a baseball-loving family (on the day in 1956 when Yankee pitcher Don Larsen threw the first perfect game in World Series history). In Birthdate, he recounts the day: “October five six /Top of ninth; No one to first/By the way…a boy.” The title of the book itself, and of one key haiku, comes from the practice of some youth baseball coaches to put the weakest players—the “crumbs”—in the outfield, where the ball seldom reaches. That was his fate in his first year on the diamond, before he gained some mastery of the sport. Throughout, we see the generations sharing and bonding over the game they love, with powerful images of fathers and sons joined in ways that transcend baseball, often masterfully as in Frank’s cross-generational poem Grandpa; Hospice: “Hey Gramps, Yankees won,/3 to 4 over the O’s;’/ eyes barely flicker.” In a moment like that baseball may be the bridge but human connection is the real story.