Homage to Frank:
The Official End of the Third World Softball League
by Sea Glassman
Nantucket Island, Mass.There’s alot to remember when you think of Frank Conroy. The
slight bulge of gentle alarm in his eyes, the grinning, sardonic expression of having been there, done that, the hunched nod, quietly affirming friendship. You wouldn’t likely forget the cranky yet affable grind of his voice, or the jazzy, fluent play of his hands across piano keys. Everyone knew Frank Conroy in this or that a way but no one knows a pitcher like his catcher, and though we each had our own claims to fame, I secretly identified myself to myself as Frank Conroy’s catcher.
On a scruffy softball diamond and dusty field, the infamous yet almost secret society called the Third World League Softball team played ball.
We were a scattered, slightly skilled skid row of famous occupants, shabbier than the bottoms of well worn jeans. Off the elbow of Cape Cod on the island of Nantucket, just outside the teeny town of ‘Sconset, and at the end of Milestone Road we met, camoflaged by low scrub brush so no one could really see us: actors in various stages of fame and comebackdom, local poets and printers, writers and inventors (Tom invented the Pepper Gun), vacationing cameramen and a few flimsy armed but spirited gals clueless about the great game, all appeared miraculously whenever the word leaked out – via the progeny of Conroy, that there would be a game. The edict was handed down by Frank himself and whispered in fevered sleep to him by Someone Higher.
The Conroys were the keepers of the bats and mitts, which were in a ratty old bent up cardboard box that somehow stood up for decades, changing shape. Towards our last games, it became a triangle. Frank was the silent boss of us all. Mostly, whenever we felt the need to convene, the team materialized as if by magic, a psychic hunch emerging from an unspoken but collective urge.
Somehow at the same moment of summer, everyone would either pull up in their rusted summer jalopies, jog onto the field in sawed off shirts, roll in on bikes with rusty spokes or get dropped off by wives amidst hollers and door slams and rejected “Can I come?”s. The old canvas bag and beat up cardboard box of mitts and bats would be pulled from the back of Conroy’s wagon by his two older boys and flung to the ground to be pawed and tested by regular vultures who ate up the game. One by one, teams were chosen. Frank picked slowly, deliberately, the underdogs,as if he had a plan.
Was it weekly? Was it monthly? Was it Saturday or Sunday? How many years did it go on? Nobody knows. It was always somehow run by that cantankerous voiced and jazz fingered Frank Conroy, quietly and demurely, kind of like the benevolent Irish Kingpin of some civilized writing Mob. The ribbing was poetic and jousty, quips were thrown through bee buzzing air by people who knew each other over the course of one or four decades. The song of “battah battah battah” was a great hymn equaling the songs of summer birds. It was a kind of bliss, that ragtag team.
There was Dick of Poet’s Corner Press, Tom the Pepper Gun guy, Gene Mahon of the Camera Shop, John Shea the actor, Conroy the Iowa writer, his sons Will and Dan, me the NY actress/director, a movie theatre owner, a chef and restauranteur, various ex-spouses, wives, girlfriends, children, nieces, nephews and out of town guests who could not be shaken. John Shea became legend the summer he ricocheted with force off the back chain link fence in a failed attempt to catch a high ball to center field. It flew so high over his head he lost track of the world and hit the fence, knocked the wind out of himself. There he lay on the ground, motionless- high drama.
We all had dirt on our shirt fronts, some more than others. There were grass stains on our bare knees. A proud and ramshackle bunch to be sure, speaking the unspoken language of eyes. Frank’s pitches were even, quiet and secretive. His pop eyes rolled at me knowingly, a man of words not needing words. He pitched so people could hit, he leaned in slow and low for the kids and the girls, dropping his head and showing me the back of his hand, like a dog giving his paw. Sometimes I’d drop an upside down peace sign between my knees for the crowd, as if that meant something, and he’d shake his head seriously as if he’d consider it or cock it and sneer as if I were a fool. He knew how to put a little spin on it if he wanted to, but he liked to not be too fancy.
The whole game went on for years or for decades – I’d swear it, but the day it stopped, we all knew, didn’t we. Frank even wrote about it in his book.
That final summer we were invited to a private field in the town of Nantucket. We should never have left ‘Sconset, because we were mostly ‘Sconset people, and ‘Sconset people are the most particular, peculiar and intimate people on earth, easily repulsed by the antics of out of towners, off the Rockers (Nantucket is known as “The Rock” to on-islanders), and Americans in general. Admittedly, we were swayed by the beauty and extravagance of the field, green and perfect, a metaphor for wealth, which was a paradox our name would not allow. Despite our poor beginnings we aquiesced and showed up in good faith at the mansion and private baseball diamond of that nice rich guy, the murderer of our team. God bless him, he recognized the purity of a true American past-time, even if it was tainted by the bunch of artistic hoodlums that made up our pathetic yet endearing mess of a team. I think they offered us t-shirts.
When we got there, fumes of butter and salt issued from a shiny red and golden popcorn cart. The rag tag team sprawled toward the field, worried with high expectation. Frank had his doubts, I remember. He smelled doom. You could see it in his eyes – they were hanging a little too low under the pupils – suspicious, he was. We signed the possibility of the Third World away when they handed us release forms saying we wouldn’t sue the nice rich guy if we got hurt swinging our cracked bats on his fancy field, and as soon as we slapped our John Hancocks down, we all looked at each other guiltily and knew the Third World League would never survive the luxury. It was over. I don’t even remember the game, and I don’t have the t-shirt. We knew it was the end of an era, and yet it never fully died in us. There was always the hope of a game, the hint of it whenever one of us saw each other. But four days ago, when Frank Conroy died, we knew, without a doubt, that the Third World Softball League will never play again. It’s over.
This past summer, some of us spoke of a reunion, still looking with such sweet longing onto the lumpy, weed bludgeoned field that lay unmowed in our memories. We could have done it- made a come back. But without Frank, it wouldn’t do.

Sea Glassman is a filmmaker, writer, painter and poet who lives and works in LA.
Her first film, stacey steals flowers, was shot and debuted in Nantucket at the Nantucket Film Festival. She was Frank Conroy’s catcher, Third World Softball League, Siasconset, Nantucket Island, Mass.