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2nd Annual National Baseball Poetry Festival Hosted at Polar Park

May 10, 2024

The National Baseball Poetry Festival was held at Polar Park for the second year in a row from Friday, May 3, to Sunday, May 5. This festival is held at the beginning of each year to punctuate the end of National Poetry Month in April, celebrating one of the earliest

The National Baseball Poetry Festival was held at Polar Park for the second year in a row from Friday, May 3, to Sunday, May 5. This festival is held at the beginning of each year to punctuate the end of National Poetry Month in April, celebrating one of the earliest written art forms.

The festivities of the weekend began with a welcome reception in Polar Park’s DCU Club on Friday. On Saturday, the youth poetry readings were held on the Berm, and the adult readings were held at the Worcester Public Library. Saturday night, following the WooSox v. IronPigs game, poets took to the Canal District to attend open mic nights at the Steel & Wire and Boland’s Bar.

Through the years, the game of baseball has served as a muse to many poets. One poet of the weekend claimed baseball and poetry are twin spirits. The weekend’s poems perfectly captured everything from the innocence of simple sandlot games to exalting their major league heroes through the written word.

In many early newspapers, box scores were accompanied by short pieces of prose, often celebrating a win or lamenting a loss. One of these poems was composed right here in Worcester. Often considered a seminal work in baseball poetry and literature, “Casey at the Bat” was written by Ernest Thayer in 1888 and published in the San Francisco Examiner. The humorous poem follows the story of the Mudville 9 in their last inning, whose only hope is the “Mighty Casey.” Casey lets the first two pitches fly by as strikes, and he’s called out swinging on strike three. But unlike in Mudville, there was joy in Worcester last weekend as the poetry community could rejoice at their second annual festival.

Attendees were greeted at the festival with a reading of this poem by both this year’s adult and youth poet laureates, accompanied by a dramatic reenactment by Devon Kurtz, a well-known “Worcester Worcesters” reenactor. Another poem followed, welcoming the group to Polar Park with a reading of “WooSox ‘24” by team president, Dr. Charles Steinberg. The lines "Old friends, new friends gather around / An afternoon in the blue sky sun / Fireworks rocket, and we’ve only begun!" resonated with attendees, who were treated to UniBank Fireworks after Friday night's game and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon sun during most of Saturday’s festivities.

Massachusetts State Senator Robyn Kennedy extended a warm greeting to guests in her cherished Worcester district. Her evident pride in the community shined through as she recounted her visits to numerous local businesses with colleagues that morning, eager to showcase the abundant artistic talent woven into the fabric of the area. Senator Kennedy concluded by presenting an official citation of gratitude to festival organizer Steve Biondolillo.

Molly McCullough of the Worcester School Committee greeted guests on behalf of the city of Worcester. She shared her love of the festival, declaring that by combining America’s National Pastime of baseball and the written word, they are able to touch all facets of society, from sports enthusiasts to artists of the community.

The welcome reception closed with even more pieces of creative work. A reading of one of last year’s winning poems by Tom Clark rang true this year, as it recounted an April snowstorm. Stephen Murray presented a song from his mini-opera about “Casey at the Bat” assuming the role of umpire, and Biondilillo read his poem, “In Centerfield.”

The second day of the festival began with the youth poetry readings on the Berm. It was a day that finally felt like springtime, the sun slowly peeking through the clouds with only a slight chill in the air. This year, there were 160 submissions from Worcester Public School students, almost doubling the numbers from last year. Children from all over Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island gathered in their baseball best on the Polar Park Berm, eager to share their poems. As the children read, their poetry was accented by the sound of balls hitting mitts as the WooSox and the IronPigs warmed up right in front of them.

Pamela Gemme helped to host the event and marveled at the bright future for these young poets.

“If you are young and writing poetry now, you have a very bright future,” she said.

These students from grade 3 to grade 12 found inspiration for their writing in the WooSox, the Red Sox, their own Little League games, and rain delays. Following the recognition of winners, Biondolillo wanted to provide a learning opportunity for the students by posing the question, “What is more important? Reading poetry, or writing poetry?” While most suggested writing poetry, Biondolillo replied “You’re all wrong!” He countered that by simply writing poetry, students will never have the opportunity to learn from others and elevate their writing. He encourages all students to spend more time reading poetry, in addition to continuing to write their own pieces.

During the pregame festivities on Saturday, May 4, renowned baseball artist Jeff Brain tossed out a first pitch on behalf of the poetry festival. At the same time, the adult poetry readings and first open mic session were just beginning at the Worcester Public Library. The readings all shared a poetic nostalgia for the game, preparing us all for quiet summer nights and magically encapsulating the feeling of watching a game. These poets found their inspiration from all aspects of a ballgame—from the arrogance of pitchers, the fear of coming face to face with Bill “Spaceman” Lee on the mound, imagining a fantasy baseball game with the founding fathers, or even taking a detour in Worcester. The passion in the room resonated with every poet and attendee as they often shared personal details of their own lives and families through the lens of this shared pastime to which we could all relate.

On Saturday night, the Canal District was alive with the written word, as festivities went late into the night. Steel & Wire and Boland’s Bar were bustling with their open mic nights, welcoming visiting poets to showcase their talents. It is safe to say, that at least in Worcester, “The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light; / And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout” as there was plenty of joy in Worcester this weekend.