To get the backstory of
Box Score: An Autobiography
- a free app that mashes Philadelphia history, baseball, and poetry - you've got to go back to 2004 and picture Kevin Varrone walking through the Italian Market with his son, Emmett, then 3 and riding in a stroller.
The boy was wearing a Mets T-shirt.
Approaching them, like some taunting funhouse doppelgängers, were a father and son, the stroller-bound boy clad in a Phillies T-shirt.
The exchange, recalls Varrone, was classic Philly.
"Don't talk to that kid," the approaching father instructed his son. "He's a Mets fan."
Varrone, 43, was already pretty deep into the well of self-doubt - the Queens native had just moved here and was weighing how long he would hang onto the rooting interests of his boyhood.
"I thought, 'What sort of dread am I putting my kid through, being a Mets fan?' - which is torture in and of itself, but being a Mets fan in Philly at a time the Phils were really ascendant?"
Varrone tried becoming a Phillies fan, but that was not an easy adjustment. So he started reading about Philadelphia baseball history, poring over old photos and box scores with an eye toward some sort of poetic output - he teaches the subject at Temple. "As usual, I figured I'd write my way out of it," he said, which led to what he calls an epic poem/conversion ritual.
A Pew Center for Arts and Heritage fellowship turned it into something even cooler.
Box Score: An Autobiography is a 79-part poem made for iPads and iPhones that's expressed on the back of virtual baseball cards fashioned from old photographs of Varrone's Little League days and black-and-white pictures of Philly teams he unearthed at the Temple University Archives and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. And it's pretty.
An early thought was to print the poem on the backs of scores of baseball cards. A meeting with poet/programmer Vladimir Zykov led to the creation of a free app. With some Pew money he was able to hire Randel Plowman to create more than 20 collages.
The poems are assembled fragments of others' words - prose, poetry, the aphorisms of his father/coach. The pieces can be read linearly or on shuffle. Or you can listen to them being read aloud. A few characters and themes repeat - Harry O'Neill, a Moonlight Grahamesque former Philadelphia Athletic who played only a half-inning before dying in World War II; Bill "Spaceman" Lee, the eccentric pot-on-pancakes-loving Red Sox hurler; and the Eephus pitch, a loopy, slow, junk ball typically attributed to Rip Sewall of the 1940s Pittsburgh Pirates.
Last time Varrone checked, Box Score: An Autobiography had been downloaded more than 700 times. That's not so great for an app, he said. But it's twice the typical audience for his books of poetry, which, he explains, tends toward the experimental.
"There are a lot of baseball fans," he said. "Hopefully this will have some legs under it."