Don’t like baseball? That’s fine. The wonderful thing about Bruce W. Niedt’s collection of baseball poems Hits and Sacrifices is that being a fan of the sport is not a requirement for enjoyment. While it is true that appreciating the countless details and dynamics of the game can enhance the appeal of this work, it is also true that the book has a universal quality to it. Our culture is filled with songs, books, and films about baseball and other sports. The best of these works find an audience who knows the game inside and out, as well as those who appreciate other qualities of the sport in question. Works on the subject of baseball are perhaps better at finding those audiences than any other sport. I doubt very strongly that this thought compelled Niedt to collect these poems into Hits and Sacrifices. It’s just important to remember that sometimes, you shouldn’t let the subject matter stand as the sole deciding factor on whether or not a work is worth your time.
Hits and Sacrifices is very much worth your time, regardless of your actual feelings on baseball. Unless you have an intense hatred of the game, you’ll find a lot in the collection to engage your attention.
The imagery and characterization of this book is far-reaching and profound. Baseball lends itself well to religion and humanism in equal measures. Niedt uses baseball to simply set the stage for larger thoughts about the people who play, the people who keep the field in good shape, and those who show up on opening day. He writes about the people who are waiting for winter to end, which often heralds the beginning of a great many wonderful things. Niedt also depicts the various scenes in which the game can take place. Obviously, baseball figures heavily into all of these poems. Yet as you read them, you find that a lot of other things are going on. You will also note that Hits and Sacrifices seems to have a lot of fun with poetic forms. Niedt is comfortable with a variety of styles, using form as carefully and expertly as he uses the words themselves. He covers the game and its metaphorical implications on a number of levels, keeping things interesting every step of the way with a charming playfulness to structure.
In a way, Hits and Sacrifices is a book about constants. The romantic notion that baseball is one of those constants, no matter what might be going on in the world around is, will win you over more likely than not. Most of us have memories of days of boundless possibilities, impossibly kind weather, and the roar of great company. With both subtlety and pronounced drama, Niedt taps into these memories. He presents his own at the same time. All of it amounts to something we can at least appreciate. However, with poems of such abundance in humanity and community, it is likely that you are going to do much more than simply appreciate all of these pieces. You’re going to love the skill with which Niedt makes you understand exactly what he is talking about.