Sunday, November 16, 2014

Melville Nine

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Melville Nine that April Day
Coach Ralph was calling us a circus, as if we had never come to play.
So when Peaches grounded out and the Greek did the same,
A sickly silence fell on those who had traveled to Amityville for the game.

The score was five to eight when Wags dropped a bunt down the line
And then Hat doubled in the alley and things were suddenly fine.
Amityville had no reason to deal with Dandy, who had homered before,
Crocker, the Amity hurler sent wide ones and we heard a very loud Ball Four!

Then from 100 throats rose up a muffled roar.
It bounded on the mountaintop and rattled in the flat.
For Willie, our very own Willie
Was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Willie's manner as he stepped into his place
There was poise in Willie's bearing and a smile on Willie's face.
And while responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt--it was Willie at the bat.

Willie stood out on our Melville squad, he was the only black on our Nine
The fact that Amity was mostly black for us was good and fine.
In April, 1968, race was not a problem at our school
In the rest of America, that just was not the rule.

As the angular, black hurler dug the ball into his hip
Defiance gleaned in Willie's eye, a sneer curled Willie's lip.
Close by the sturdy batsman, the ball unheeded sped.
Willie ignored it--Strike One the umpire said!

From the benches black with people, there rose up a muffled roar
Like the beating of a storm upon a stern and distant shore.
Kill him! Kill the umpire. Someone shouted from the stand.
And it was likely they would have killed him if Willie hadn't raised his large black hand.

With a smile of non-violent platitude, great Willie's visage shown,
He stopped the rising tumult--He bade the game go on.
He signaled to the pitcher and once more the spheroid flew.
But Willie still ignored it and the umpire said Strike Two!

Fraud, cried the maddened spectators and the echo answered Fraud!
But one startled look from Willie and the crowd was awed.
They saw his face grown stern and cold--they saw his muscles strain
And they knew that Willie wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The smile is gone from Willie's face--his teeth are clenched in hate
And with cruel violence, he pounds his bat upon the plate.
And then a funny thing happened on the field which filled my head with doubt
The Amityville coach huddled with the umpire in a protracted time-out.

And then our Melville coach had joined the huddle at the plate
In a few short moments, we would learn what was to be our fate.
All of a sudden the Amity team was joyfully throwing their gloves to the sky
The game was called for darkness and our question was why?

Oh somewhere in this joyous land the sun is shining bright
And somewhere men are laughing and somewhere hearts are light
And somewhere bands are playing and somewhere children shout
But there was no joy in Melville that day--there was still only two out.

It wasn't until later that night that we learned what it had been all about
Why Amity was declared the winner even though they only had two out.
When in 51, the shot heard around the world was the homer by Bobby T
17 years later, another shot was heard and this one in Memphis, Tennessee

The umpires feared a race riot on that day in April, 1968
100 years after Casey at the Bat, a different ending on this date.
The day in American history when MLK was shot dead
And Willie was left at the plate and nothing was ever said.

Almost 50 years later, I asked Willie at a reunion event about that historical day.
Willie smiled as he did when he stepped into the fray.
He put a hand on my shoulder and said he has no memories of that day.
But I will never forget it, the Melville boys or MLK.

A day in history--April 4 and you can look up the facts and story.
It was a dark day in America, one where there is no glory.
Still and all, it happened in Melville's final dance.
When one black man was shot in America and another denied his chance.

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