MOVING FROM Long Island to Palm Beach County, Fla., when he was nine was a source of culture shock for Richard Danielpour. "Black people were called Negroes down there," recalls Danielpour, 51, now an acclaimed composer and faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music. Danielpour got a job as a spring training batboy for the Braves, hoping the sport would be an escape from racial tension. "Being Persian and Jewish," he says, "I felt closer to some of the black athletes I met than some of the white kids at school."
But brotherhood wasn't always the rule in baseball. Now, 40 years later, Danielpour explores the game's racial struggle in his symphony Pastime. The piece, which premiered to strong reviews at the Pittsburgh Symphony in January and will begin a run at the Atlanta Symphony on May 31, features lyrics by poet Michael Harper about Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron.
Pastime was hatched in 2004, when Danielpour and Harper were at Yaddo, an artist colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Danielpour had read Blackjack, Harper's poem about Robinson, and told the poet that if he had more baseball verses, he'd set them to music. A week later Harper came back with several more poems, and Danielpour produced a score influenced by jazz, which he calls "the [one] cultural commodity aside from baseball not inherited from Europe."
The music and lyrics are often elegiac, touching on the opportunities denied Negro leagues slugger Gibson and the sacrifices that Robinson made. The lyrics give way to The Star-Spangled Banner before that drowns in a cacophony of strings and winds. It's a musical suggestion that, though America and its pastime have come a long way, home plate is still in the distance.
The piece also celebrates Aaron, who made an impression on Danielpour during the composer's batboy days and is expected to attend an Atlanta performance. Danielpour remembers Aaron as a clubhouse monument who counseled him on the importance of dressing neatly, making sure he shined his shoes and buttoned his top button. "He was a powerful presence," says Danielpour. "Aaron's energy was contained, grounded. He was a model warrior in many ways."
ANYONE WHO'S ever watched a Red Sox game on NESN knows that it doesn't take much for play-by-play man Don Orsillo and color commentator Jerry Remy to give themselves a wicked case of the giggles. One of their more amusing spells came on May 6, when cameras caught Manny Ramirez massaging the scalp of Julian Tavarez on the Boston bench for the better part of a half inning. "He did that to try to make me go to sleep," Tavarez explained. The whole touchy-feely affair—highlighted by Orsillo's squealing plea of "Make him stop!"—can be seen on YouTube's "Fun with Manny and Julian" clip.
ON JUNE 19, 1984, several teams set themselves up for years of success, while others made haunting blunders, at the richest draft in NBA history. The haul included Akeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton—and Michael Jordan, left for Chicago after Portland chose medical disaster Sam Bowie. Filip Bondy's fascinating Tip-Off dissects the historic draft, whose missed possibilities are enough to make fans, or a former team president, weep. Said Dallas's Norm Sonju, "I can't talk about the 1984 draft without me crying."
DAVIDOFF STUDIOS/COURTESY OF RICHARD DANIELPOUR (DANIELPOUR WITH AARON)
OFFICIAL SCORER Danielpour chatted up Aaron in '68.
MIKE MINEHAN (DANIELPOUR)
[See caption above]
MEL LEVINE (LAPTOP)
COURTESY OF NESN (TAVAREZ AND RAMIREZ)