Goodnight Em: Baseball and Life Through Haiku
The review in 90 feet or less
Scroll through Johnny Doskow’s Twitter timeline and eventually you hit this post from last March:
Then he did another.
By March 24 it was tagged #dailyhaiku. He was off and cooing, counting syllables and whatever wasn’t so supercilious in the grand scheme of the baseball life and how he affected his filters through the ancient Japanese poetry structure:
Hold on, we can’t just give this stuff out for free at this point, right?
As the voice of the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A Sacramento River Cats since the 2001 season — he started in 1993 doing the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the Midwest League and had a couple years with the now-defunct Single-A High Desert Mavericks and the then-Giants’ Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies — Doskow has some time on his hands these days.
No minor-league baseball to call. What’s a poet to do?
Doskow, who got a communications degree from the University of La Verne prior to his first professional broadcasting job in Charles City, Iowa for a group of radio stations in 1991, couldn’t just disappoint his own Facebook fan club that once celebrated his own bobblehead night for the River Cats (it was actually a bobble-nose if you study it close enough).
Nor did he disappoint when we engaged in an email exchange to ask more about how this whole book project came about for him:
What’s became your thought process on the haiku format to try to frame your experiences – not just at the ballpark, or with the team you’re covering, but also some of the things in your personal life? Is it some kind of zen experience that is opening this up to you as a mindset?
It actually came together organically for me as I was in my backyard in the middle of March with my coffee just basically enjoying the moment. I went inside to grab a pen and some paper to write down what I was experiencing in the moment and then I began to write some haiku. I had been writing haiku for years and years on the flights to all the Pacific Coast League cities, but I had never kept any of them.
My older brother Tom had taught me about the haiku many years ago and I really enjoyed writing them on those flights. So fast forward to March and I started to write them and my friend Josh Suchon (the former Dodgers’ pre- and post-game show host now with the Triple A Albuquerque Isotopes) told me I should tweet a haiku out every day with the #dailyhaiku, so I did. I am not the most proficient with twitter but I thought it might be fun to spread some haiku love out to people who follow me on twitter. After several weeks and putting together dozens of haikus, I knew with no baseball to broadcast for quite a while, why not put these in a book. Honestly, when I decided to put these haiku in a book, I had no idea if anyone would actually buy it. The response to the book has surprised me and I am happy that there are folks that are connecting with some of the haiku. When I first thought about putting them into a book, I noticed that many of them were non-baseball haiku. My wife (once again, the smart one of the couple) said “You know, you are in baseball. You should write more of them about baseball.” So I did, and I think people can relate to many of them.
Is it the simplicity of the haiku that attracts a way to simply something that’s otherwise complicated? Is haiku kind of a prayer format for you?
I do like the simplicity of the haiku and the challenge of telling a story with a mere 17 syllables. Writing these short poems truly brought me down memory lane and after writing many of them I would be in a trance for several minutes taking my mind back that specific memory.
Is watching baseball like poetry?
Watching baseball is a little like poetry and I think listening to baseball on the radio is like poetry as well. There is something about the daily need for baseball during the season that is unlike any other sport. This may sound like a typical baseball cliché but it really does fill a daily need for a lot of people. It the perfect game with the 90 feet on the bases and the 60 feet 6 inches between the pitching rubber and home plate. Those dimensions are absolute perfection. But a baseball game like poetry is subjective. Have 12 people watch a ballgame and you will have 12 different views of how each one perceived the game. You have 12 people read a poem you will also have 12 different views of that poem.
What’s your background of Southern California sports – in reference to your haiku about Vin Scully and Chick Hearn?
My folks moved my brother, sister and me to Hollywood when I was six months old in December of ’66. So I grew up just a short drive from Dodger Stadium and you could actually see the Dodger Stadium lights from my brother’s room. We spent our childhood going to some Dodger games to watch the long-time infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey. Listening to Vin Scully describe the games to us and listening to the Lakers’ Chick Hearn are the reasons I chose this career path. I would fall asleep many a night listening to those guys. When I was 12, we moved to Claremont, about 35 miles east of L.A.
As I wrote in the haiku, they were my childhood storytellers. There were so many great calls for both of those guys but more then specific calls, I just remember those guys being a big part of my childhood. Radio was king back then so listening to the baseball games was just part of the nightly routine in the summertime. Hearing Vinny say “She is GONE” on a homer or hearing him get excited on a great play in the field was the best. And even hearing Vin do the Farmer John commercials. All of it. All of Chick’s expressions like “yo-yo-ing up and down on this 94 by 50 hunk of wood” or “the eggs are cooling and butter’s getting hard and this game is in the refrigerator.” Or when he said: “The Lakers couldn’t beat the sisters of mercy right now and Sister Josephine is out with a bad ankle.” He had so many great sayings. I feel very fortunate to have grown up listening the two of the best — plus another phenomenal broadcaster in Bob Miller who was an icon with the Los Angeles Kings. Those guys taught me the game. Much like the Bay Area announcers, who are incredible themselves, do for the kids today. Just listening to those guys made me want to do that when I grew up. I would turn down the sound of the TV and call the games sometimes. Or I would get a pencil and act like I am interviewing my family and friends.
What’s become your favorite haiku in your book? The one that settles your mind and expresses yourself in as a close to perfect way as possible?
I have a few favorites but I would say if you made me pick one, I would say “He Got The Call” because I have seen so many triple a players right after they are told they are going to the big leagues for the first time and it is emotional to watch them. These guys have worked their entire lives to pursue their dream and to watch it be fulfilled in real time is something that I feel very lucky to witness. Similarly, I love the Tyler Rogers haiku because when he called his twin brother to tell him the news, he literally couldn’t even get the words out. And as I said in the last line of the haiku: “he didn’t have to.” I cried when I heard about the exchange.
And of course I am pretty partial to the title of the book, which my wife actually came up with “Goodnight Em”. The haiku “Sign off” which I have said since she was born to conclude my nightly baseball broadcast. She is 14 now and I can’t imagine not saying it when I get to broadcast a baseball game again.
How have you kept your sanity during this baseball season? Does the haiku exercise give you a sense of purpose and structure?
Yes, it certainly is strange to not be calling baseball as I have not had a summer without calling ball since 1992, but I have definitely taken advantage of the time and to get a full summer with my wife and kid has been amazing. Writing has been very therapeutic and to be outside with pen and paper and your mind is really freeing. These are my experiences in life and baseball and I understand that not everyone is connect with every haiku and I also understand that as I said earlier, that different haiku may mean something completely different depending upon ones interpretation of it.
How it goes in the scorebook
When the reader gets into the rhythm, he can read it many ways — quickly at first, a very deliberate pace the next time, and skip around to see what resonates with one’s connection to the game.
More on Doskow
A timeline on other baseball/haiku works
== “Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written about the Game” edited by Nanae Tamura and Cor van den Huevel in 2007
== “Haiku for Baseball Lovers” by David Ash in 2007
== “Fungos and Fastballs: Great Moments in Baseball Haiku” by Phil Cosineau in 2008
== “Baseball Haiku” by Glenn Berggoetz in 2012 (He notes baseball haiku goes back to the 19th century and even includes Jack Kerouac doing in haiku form).
== “The Birth of a National Pastime: Baseball Haikus” by William J. Maloney in 2016
== “Crumbs in the Outfield” by Roger Frank in Aug. 2019
Dodger haiku? Yup
More baseball Twitter haiku? Why not?
One more for the road: A timely haiku
From page 16, in reference to how this day is an important one in any normal baseball season — the trade deadline: