PORTLAND – It’s ironic that at the start of National Poetry Month and the Major League Baseball season, I’ve resigned myself to the loss of my youth’s most revealing poem, one that used baseball as metaphor.

I wrote the verse in the late 1980s, on a sultry Bronx night, in the Yankee Stadium bleachers.

The poem wasn’t long, maybe about a dozen lines, and somewhat derivative. While prolific in high school and college, I had less time to sweat over verse as my 20s moved along.

But this night was different.

I had driven up to New York from Virginia on business. It was also a chance to revisit old college haunts, and the stadium was on that list. As if by ritual, I stuffed a sports poetry anthology in my bag. On the morning of the game, over breakfast, out it came.

Flipping through, I chanced upon John Updike’s “Tao in the Yankee Stadium Bleachers,” one of my favorites. In the poem, Updike waxes on the existential nature of global issues and personal angst, all nicely woven into a midsummer hardball tapestry:

The opposing pitcher’s pertinent hesitations,

the sky, this meadow, Mantle’s thick baked neck,

the old men who in the changing rosters see

a personal mutability,

green slats, wet stone are all to me

as when an emperor commands

a performance with a gesture of his eyes.

That evening, the same lines echoed above the crowd. Slugger Dave Winfield came to the plate and milked a full count during an oddly patient at-bat. Sweat ran everywhere: down my neck, on my forehead as it soaked my cap, and even off my bent elbows. The players were visibly shiny, and dripping.

During this epic duel between pitcher and batter, it happened. I scrambled for any kind of paper in my wallet, retrieved a 3-by-5 card and called around for a pen. Someone handed me a Bic.

I scribbled the title: “Renascence on 161st Street,” and then my first line: “The Bronx right is restless.” I remembered how Updike had worked Yogi Berra into his poem’s last line:

The thought of death is peppermint to you

when games begin with patriotic song

and a democratic sun beats broadly down.

The Inner Journey seems unjudgeably long

when small boys purchase cups of ice

and, distant as a paradise,

experts, passionate and deft,

hold motionless while Berra flies to left.

Suddenly: The crack of Winfield’s bat and a towering arc to right that would be the envy of any monument. Everyone around me burst up in a rising din. I sat and kept scribbling.

And never saw the play.

Updike left us in 2009.

The Mick, whose hard partying was the stuff of legends, succumbed to his liver’s protests in 1995. Today, Berra is still with us at age 86, surfacing every spring training in the Florida sun. Winfield took his millions back to the Left Coast and eventually, a cushy ESPN analyst gig. The Stadium? Moved across the street in a polished Wall Street reincarnation.

It’s been years since I’ve penned any verse. Sadly, I’m often too busy writing prose for pay to lean back in my chair and listen to iambic pentameter. And I’m way past fighting the bleacher bums in the Bronx or at Fenway.

These days, a low-level minor league game is perfect. Its fledgling, hungry players aren’t yet jaded by life in the bigs. And I’m much older, but the crowd’s age is still the same: Young.

For me, it all came together with one fastball, one drive to right and the rabble’s anticipation at the visiting outfielder sprinting back in full stride — a few seconds when the outcome, and the ball, were left hanging.

More than three decades later, there’s no consolation. Family and friends remind me — often not so gently — that if my office didn’t resemble Armageddon, I might have found the poem years ago.

But I’m still hoping for “Renascence on 161st Street” to rise like a phoenix from the wasteland therein. It’s like finally hearing a rhyme I never nailed, or reeling in that fly ball just before it cleared the fence.

Telly Halkias (email: [email protected]) is an award-winning journalist who lives in Portland’s West End.