Baseball's Poet On His Love For Verse

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Fernando Perez, the 26-year-old outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, has written an essay in the September issue of Poetry Magazine about the firm place poetry holds in his life. Perez says poetry and baseball occupy different realms of his life.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There's an unlikely contributor to Poetry magazine in the September issue, someone better known for speeding around the bases or diving to make a spectacular catch than he is for, say, onomatopoeia or rhymed couplets. Fernando Perez, a 26-year-old outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, has written an essay about his love for poetry and the firm place that holds in his life. Perez is a graduate of Columbia University with an emphasis on creative writing. We spoke earlier today, an off day for the team, and I asked him if he keeps a book or two of poetry in his locker.

Mr. FERNANDO PEREZ (Outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays): I do. I have this new - well, it's new for me, this John Ashbery book, "Chinese Whispers," that I'm starting to get through. And, you know, there's the infamous meeting with Mark McGwire, when he's sitting at his locker, and I guess the reporter saw the…

BLOCK: Oh, the creatine, right? Right. Right.

Mr. PEREZ: …andro or whatever it was in his locker. And similarly, I was in my locker in spring training and, you know, somebody saw - I think it was "My Life," the Hejinian sort of crossover book, and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Not quite the same thing.

Mr. PEREZ: Not quite the same thing. But, you know, it's funny. That's how it all began. People started to kind of ask me, you know, you're a ball player. What are you doing with that sort of thing? But, yeah, often, I do have it.

BLOCK: Do you think that poetry in some way gives you perspective on baseball, or is it really more of a release from baseball? Are they just occupying two completely different spheres in your life?

Mr. PEREZ: They are totally different. Poetry to me is - I don't necessarily want to say that it's a release. It's just something that has become a part of me. I'm lucky that baseball has continued to be a part of me because I've been involved in it so long. To me, it's my preferred means of communication, my preferred food. It's just kind of what I enjoy consuming most.

BLOCK: And you write in this essay you're in love with baseball, but she's slowly going to break your heart. Poetry will not break your heart, at least not that way.

Mr. PEREZ: It can't, yeah, because especially being the type of player that I am, I'm, you know, a speed guy, high-flying - you know, baseball is a thing. You know, you have your prime, and, you know, I'm sort of entering it, and then when you come out of it, it's just - you don't - you aren't able to do the things that, you know, you are able to do. I just sort of - really, what I meant by that is just, you know, poetry is sort of a long thing. I think I'm, you know, just starting to understand what's coming out of me. I'm just -slowly starting to understand what I'm producing, where it fits.

BLOCK: You know, I'm thinking, Fernando Perez, baseball players have an at-bat song, comes out through the PA system when they come up to bat.

Mr. PEREZ: Yeah.

BLOCK: You know where I'm going with this, I think. I think it's time for you to have some free verse out there, a little John Ashbery or something, mix it up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PEREZ: Maybe so. You know, I was quoted as saying I can't do that, though, because when you play this game, you really see, it's really a - it's a circus for the fans, really. You know, so I would just probably come out to something that they would rather hear, like, you know, James Brown or whatever is cool at the moment. You know, I don't think I want to put people through that because it just doesn't seem like that's what they would want.

BLOCK: Fernando Perez, thanks so much for talking to us about your love of poetry.

Mr. PEREZ: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Fernando Perez is an outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays. His essay about his passion for poetry appears in this month's Poetry magazine.

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