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Dean Smith
Ithaca, New York
Dean Smith is a poet and sportswriter from Baltimore. He is the Director of Cornell University Press and a lifelong Orioles fan. He has written about poetry and baseball here:
Interests: Poetry, Baseball, Publishing, Sportswriting
Recent Activity
Dean Smith is now following The Best American Poetry
Apr 8, 2019
Part 2: Touch I’m still replaying Grayson Allen’s last second shot against Kansas that would have sent Duke to the Final Four. Last Sunday's game resembled a heavyweight boxing match from start to finish and Allen’s shot teased its way off the front rim to the backboard and around the rim again before harmlessly bouncing out. Off-balance in desperation when he shot the ball, I wondered whether it left his fingertips with enough softness towards the rim. Shooters trade in dodgy concepts such as “streaks” and “touch”—illusory notions used to define their ability to consistently put the ball in the basket by coaches and commentators. In this case, Allen's reputation as a "dirty" player may have worked against him in the celestial realm of the basketball gods. Karma does find its way to the hardwood. Kansas won in overtime 85-81 and it was one of the most thrilling games of the last five years. The shooting guards put on a display for both teams—and Kansas hit their three-point shots during the extra time. Villanova faces Kansas in a clash of the titans tonight. These teams explode from one end of the court to the other. Their “bigs” can shoot three-pointers and everyone fills the lane on the break. Villanova won it all two years ago and they are seasoned. Kansas is also a veteran club but may lack the discipline of the Wildcats. It will also be a battle of interesting names. Villanova has Donte DiVincenzo and Kansas LaGerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (last name pronounded MAH-KYE-LUKE) Either of these teams can win it all. Michigan will prevail against upstart Loyola. The Ramblers will battle valiantly and have already achieved the unthinkable. Led by senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan has a date with destiny and they could pull it off. This team is the antithesis of the Fab Five team from the 1990s and reflects the blue-collar character of its coach. John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines will be in the NCAA Championship with a tall order on its hands in defeating either Villanova or Kansas. I’ll be pulling for Michigan because my dad coached John Beilein at Wheeling College in the early seventies. “John was a student of the game,” my dad said, “and a pretty good player. He runs a clean program.” My father possesses an astute basketball mind and is the best pure shooter I’ve ever seen. His shot lifted from his fingertips with a tightly wound backspin and rose perfectly in a medium arc toward the basket splashing through the center of the net almost every time effortlessly. He didn’t shoot the traditional jump shot but a hybrid version that incorporated elements of a set shot with a quick release and only the slightest elevation from the balls of his feet. He idolized Bob Cousy. My first memories are of him playing in pick-up games and coaching at the collegiate level as an assistant for the University of Baltimore. At the end of practice, he’d pick up a... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Part 1: The Cavalier Curse The first week of the NCAA basketball tournament is my favorite time of the year. I’ve always been addicted to the possibility of a Cinderella story and this year I found myself in a precarious position. I’d just watched the University of Virginia win the ACC tournament in Brooklyn and enjoy what was arguably the best regular season in the school’s history along with a number one ranking for the home stretch of the season. I’d managed to resist the temptation of wishing for a Final Four appearance or even a championship for my alma mater for the entire season. As a Virginia fan, I knew better. My team’s modus operandi involved squeezing the life out of the opposition with a boa constrictor-like defense and a methodical offense predicated on screens and passing to drain the shot clock. Michigan, Kansas, and Villanova all had talented teams that could adjust their tempo--accelerating or de-accelerating--to match their opponent's style. We only had one gear and in a tournament that could be a liability. Those teams emerged as the first three of my Final Four teams. I then violated all of my rules of bracket selection and went with my heart--penciling Virginia into the championship position of my office pool. I even went as far as to wear a Virginia sweatshirt to work. I'm now convinced these behaviors helped disturb the universe. On Tuesday of that week, I learned the Cavaliers would be without DeAndre Hunter, a redshirt freshman who had become an “X” factor for the team. Amidst a collection of players who fit Coach Tony Bennet’s system of defense and ball control, Hunter took games over with his athleticism. He single-handedly silenced 27,000 Syracuse fans in early February with a 15-point outburst that defined the margin of victory. When I received the news of Hunter’s broken hand, I immediately thought of the Cavalier Curse. I served as an usher during seven-foot four center Ralph Sampson’s illustrious tenure at UVA and remembered in 1984 when guard Othell Wilson injured his foot, dashing all hope of a national championship that year. My namesake, Dean Smith tortured the Cavaliers as well back then--shortening games with his four corners offense. When I attended UVA, Coach Holland's dog shared my name. (How I was named and my basketball lineage will be the subject of another basketball post). I've learned to cultivate as much irony as possible in life. Back to the curse. In 1990, the Virginia football team incurred a costly personnel infraction with their number one ranking on the line against Georgia Tech and had a touchdown nullified for too many men on the field. The touchdown would have allowed them to win by four points instead of losing by three. Also, one of their top receivers had fallen down a stairwell in a construction site the night before to end his career. There had already been enough mishaps over the years. Surely, this year was going to be different.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
I will be forever nineteen driving a white Impala convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway...– Wild Thing, Campbell McGrath The Baltimore Orioles’ season ended abruptly on Tuesday night with a walk-off three-run homer by Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion in a Wildcard playoff game. The orange-and-black hot air balloon of the Orioles soared across the heavens through the All-Star break, clubbing round-trippers at a record pace only to descend slowly back to earth through a hole in the Toronto SkyDome roof, collapsing in a rumpled swath of canvas on the infield. Thirty–three years ago, the Orioles last appeared in a World Series. I left my poetry workshop co-taught by Charles Wright and Gregory Orr, borrowed a friend’s metallic blue Volkswagen Beetle and drove three hours from the University of Virginia to Memorial Stadium to watch Mike Boddicker defeat the Phillies 4-1 in the second game. The Orioles won the series. On the brink of the World Series in 1997, we lost an excruciating game to the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards with Tony Fernandez lining a solo shot into the right field bleachers to end our season in extra innings. A chilling rain fell upon the city and fourteen losing seasons followed. Last week, I stayed close to the radio and monitored every game and score that affected the Orioles making it to the postseason. The Orioles were fighting for a consolation prize known as a Wildcard berth and faced a steep challenge playing both the Blue Jays and the Yankees away to end the season. The Rodgers Centre in Toronto has been a horrific experience for the better part of a decade and 161st Street in the Bronx is where would-be playoff teams go to die. After taking two of three from the Jays, the Birds battled the elements in the first game against the Yankees launching two home runs in one inning for the eleventh time this season into a driving sideways rain to win 8-1. They were in control in the second game on Saturday, leading 3-2 entering the seventh. Manager Buck Showalter had walked a tightrope with his starter Wade Miley through six innings, one of the best outings from the veteran hurler since joining the O’s. Tyler Austin homered and tied the game. Leaving Miley in was criticized by the media and it ultimately led to the Orioles ending up in Toronto for the one-game playoff on Tuesday. The criticism was nothing like the media storm he has faced in the last few days for not using his closer Zach Britton on Tuesday night. Buck rarely uses his closer in a tie game. Yet he had called Britton's number during an extra inning game in Toronto on July 31st of this year in the same situation and the Orioles won. Britton’s untouchable 2016 season has propelled him into contention for a Cy Young award. In 47 appearances, he delivered 47 saves – a major league record. This time Showalter and Britton both watched Ubaldo Jimenez serve... Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Oriole starter Wade Miley took the loss Sunday against the Yankees. Since joining the O’s a few weeks ago, his name has been nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. I’d seen him pitch in person once before. On April 26th, 2015, Miley started for the Boston Red Sox. It was the day after a riot swept through downtown Baltimore and included the destruction of a police car and widespread acts of vandalism. Peaceful demonstrations in response to the death of Freddie Gray suddenly spiraled out of control. Just before the game, protesters clashed with Red Sox and Oriole fans alike a short distance from the gates of the ballpark. I attended that Sunday afternoon game believing the Orioles had lost the night before. The coverage on WJZ had been preempted by the riot and the Birds were behind by a run entering the tenth. Amidst the swirl of helicopters and sirens, the Orioles tied the score. David Lough then drilled a liner into the right field seats to win the game. Still, a newscaster reported that dejected O’s fans were filing toward the parking garages. Baseball was the last thing on anyone’s mind as the camera from above tracked a mob smashing storefronts. A day after the melee, Oriole bats thrashed Miley and the Red Sox 18-7. *** Now an Oriole, Miley lost 5-2 to the Yankees. He was picked up at the trade deadline to bolster the starting rotation and pitched better than previous outings but not well enough for the win. Now their only left-handed starter, Miley is a low-risk acquisition brought in to eat innings before the bullpen takes over. The Yankees capitalized on Miley’s walks in the first to jump out to a 3-0 lead. He nibbled and painted the corners and his curve fooled some hitters but it wasn’t enough. He lasted longer than the game I saw more than a year ago. The Yankees never looked back and the Orioles squandered a host of chances to score. New York veteran Chase Headley, reduced to a limited role in the youth movement drove in two runs along with teammate Austin Romine. They waited for Miley to throw strikes. Yankee pitcher Joel Pineda craftily escaped several jams with a nasty slider that dipped under Oriole bats. Still eyeing a trip to the postseason, Manager Joe Girardi said it was the most important game of the year for his team. Girardi is masterfully giving experience to his young players and milking the veterans to keep their postseason aspirations alive. Miley is 1-4 since joining the team. There are a number of issues related to his acquisition that are vexing to the average Orioles fan. We’ve known since before last season that the pitching staff needed an upgrade. Pitching talent has left Baltimore in recent years. Eduardo Rodriguez was traded for relief specialist Andrew Miller in 2014. He came within a few outs of pitching a no-hitter on Sunday for the Red Sox. Cy Young winner Jake... Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
The essence of the rivalry between the Orioles and the Yankees revealed itself last night. Tense, cerebral, nail-biting, four-hour pitching duels have defined their contests over the past three decades. Add managers Buck Showalter and Joe Girardi into the mix, two of the game's great tacticians and you're in for a satisfying nine course movable feast. In a season of decent outings and little to show as far as wins for their efforts, C.C. Sabathia and Kevin Gausman hurled gems last night and the game turned on three plays. In the 4th, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out. With the count full, Gausman uncorked a mid-80s splitter that dove to the bottom of the strike zone. Starlin Castro couldn't hold up and swung at ball four. The game hung in the balance and Castro had the chance to alter it. Brian McCann hit a fly ball to deep center for the final out. In the bottom of the inning, an error by the rookie right fielder Aaron Judge on a Chris Davis single allowed Mark Trumbo to score from second base. Sabathia brilliantly worked the edges last night. He relies on location to confuse the hitters -- extending them little-by-little into his zones. He mixes speeds and locations and then sneaks fastballs by hitters. It's difficult to pick up the ball because of his mammoth presence and his ability to hide the pill. He has great success against Baltimore but he made one mistake. In the fifth with two out, Sabathia left a ball up and in the middle of the plate for Adam Jones, who connected for his 26th home run. Writers often talk about persona. Pitchers are no different. Since losing his Kent Tekulve spectacles and growing a goatee, Kevin Gausman is on a streak of nineteen scoreless innings. He no longer grooves ninety-five mile an hour fastballs down the middle of the plate. His ball bends and darts as it reaches the hitter. Both teams played solid defense and O's third baseman Manny Machado once again flashed his prowess on a ball hit by Brett Gardner. Orioles closer Zach Britton notched his 42nd consecutive save in preserving the win. This series is the exact opposite of what happened last week in New York when the Yanks took the first two games. American League East teams spend so much time trying to beat each other, they often lose touch with the rest of baseball where the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Rangers, Mets and Nationals lie in wait. The Orioles gained a game in the Wildcard hunt and crept closer to the division leading Blue Jays. Only 30,000 fans showed up last night and much has been written including this screed by Thom Loverro in the Washington Times as to why fans aren't going to Oriole games this year. Was it last year's riots that led to the first Major League baseball game ever in any empty stadium? Are the Orioles bad marketers? Are tickets too expensive? It... Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
The Orioles took Wee Willie Keeler’s advice last night and “hit them where they aint.” Adam Jones lifted a seeing-eye RBI single to centerfield that broke a scoreless tie and four home runs took care of the rest in an 8-0 victory. The win boosted their record to 44-24 at Camden Yards. The Orioles have dismantled the opposition at home this year as through they were using mallets and shell crackers at a crab feast. The Birds ended the game in the second inning. They struck quickly and surgically unleashing a cannonade of home runs to stun the visiting New Yorkers and take a six run lead. In the third Manny Machado homered to make it 8-0 where it stayed. The Yanks managed two hits. Even though I could watch the game on cable, I listened. The sudden explosions of Oriole home runs, coming in bunches and the frenzied voices of Joe Angell and Fred Manfra slicing into the silence and breaking up the mundane reportage have made this season unique and exhilarating. I held my daughter Julia’s arm. “Listen sweetheart, there it goes,” I said. “Is that the Ravens?” She looked up from her anime. Home runs taught me to read. I discovered a whole range of exciting verbs in the Baltimore Sun when I seven and mesmerized by Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Boog Powell who regularly “clouted,” “crushed,” “demolished,” “socked,” “clobbered,” and “whacked” balls out of the park. Though I love pitcher’s duels and abhor statistics, the home run is the most exciting event in sports. Marianne Moore wrote in the poem Baseball & Writing, “the massive run need not be everything.” The Orioles have hit 213 homers. The Major League record is 264 by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. The home run, the tater, the big fly, the dinger, the moon shot, the jack, the big fly, and the souvenir—whatever you call them--the 2016 Birds can't live without them. Orioles’ radio announcer Jim Hunter called Manny Machado’s third inning round-tripper “a majestic blast.” The ball traveled high above the stadium before landing deep into the left field bleachers. You can see it here in the 4th spot. Campbell McGrath has a “majestic” description of an Eddie Murray home run in Captalist Poem #25: And when Eddie swings at 1-1 pitch we know it’s gone before the ball rockets off his bat in a tremendous arc, moving slowly and even gently through the air, perfectly visible, stage-lit against the deep green of the grass, the right fielder not moving, just turning his head to watch it go, and it’s like the perfect arc of youth… That’s just the overture in the greatest description of a home run I’ve ever seen in print. There are 250 more words that follow before the ball lands in the bullpen. That took place in Memorial Stadium. McGrath’s Capitalism is a grand slam of a book—please bring it back in print. Roger Angell wrote eloquently about Memorial Stadium but Camden Yards is a... Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Back and forth, back and forth-- my one point of rest is the orange and black Orioles swinging nest! An off day in a pennant race is torture. Last evening, I paced the room mumbling lines from Robert Lowell poems. There is only insomnia now. After leading the division for most of the season, the Baltimore Orioles are tied for the second wildcard spot and fading. It’s not our year. This mantra has a calming influence. The team has been assembled like a Long Island slow-pitch softball team in a perpetual home run derby. Mark Trumbo, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop and Chris Davis have clubbed 152 home runs combined --but that's the only offensive weapon the team possesses here of late. The defense and bullpen are solid but the Orioles starting pitching has flown south too early. They've lost their ace, Chris Tillman to the disabled list. The seasons rests on the shoulders of his supporting cast. I’ve been an Oriole fan since I was old enough to crawl. I watched the O’s dismantle the Dodgers in 1966 on my father’s knee at Memorial Stadium. I wept alone in the apartment clubhouse as Met fans spilled onto the field in ’69. In ‘70, my dad took me out of school in a blue blazer and knee socks (e.g. John-John attire) to Memorial Stadium on the day that Dave McNally hit the only World Series grand slam in the history of baseball, destroying the will of the Big Red Machine. I can still see the ball going over the left field wall. A few years later, my first lines of poetry appeared on a poster in the left field bleachers: Yankees Beware/Here Comes Paul Blair. I’ve spent a lifetime in Birdland—including an ear tuned to nearly every game during 14 consecutive losing seasons with one exception. In the summer of 2001, I began dating my wife Christina and stopped listening in July. “You hid the baseball obsession well,” she told me after the wedding. I rode the rails to the Bronx in 2012 to watch C. C. Sabathia hold my team at arms length in the deciding game of the playoffs. The largest human being on a pitching mound that I’ve ever seen, his pants rippling in the wind, he stood there like an installation in Monument Park. I sat in the icy rain warming myself with an oozing tranche of Nathan’s cheese fries until Curtis Granderson ended the Orioles season by sending a ball just inside the right field foul pole. Even in victory, the new Yankee Stadium was as quiet as a Forest Hills tennis court. The Yankee fans knew it wasn’t their year. Now I listen to Oriole games under the under starlit skies of Western New York. We haven’t won a World Series since 1983. We were also close in 1979 but the Pirates and Willie Stargell denied us. Poet Campbell McGrath had followed the O’s that year observing in Capitalism Poem #25: …the crowd... Continue reading
Posted Sep 2, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Dean Smith is now following The Typepad Team
Aug 26, 2016