Kent Greenfield

  • …Yes, a day is merely forever
  • In memory's shiningness,
  • And a year but a gust or gasp
  • In the summer's heat of Time, and in that last summer
  • I was almost ready to learn
  • What imagination is—it is only
  • The lie we must learn to live by, if ever
  • We mean to live at all. Times change.
  • Things change. And K up and gone, and the summer
  • Gone, and I longed to know the world's name.…
  • And I, too, went on my way,
  • the winning and losing, or what
  • Is sometimes of all things the worst, the not knowing
  • One thing from the other, nor knowing
  • How the teeth in Time's jaw all snag backward
  • And whatever enters therein
  • Has less hope of remission than shark-meat,…
Kent Greenfield-Photo from article appearing in Todd County Standard, Elkton, Ky. dated September 22, 1976.

All lines of poetry on this page are from “American Portrait: Old Style” by Robert Penn Warren. Used by permission of William Morris Agency, New York, agent for the author.

In September 1923, Greenfield began his major league baseball career pitching for the New York Giants and his first pitch was a fastball to Cy Williams of the Philadelphia Athletics. Williams promptly swung and knocked the ball out of the park. John McGraw, then manager of the Giants, told Greenfield not to worry because that was what Williams did to most pitchers. Greenfield's career would last six years in the majors with the New York Giants, Boston Braves, and Brooklyn Dodgers. He played with and against Casey Stengel, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Frankie Frisch, Dazzy Vance, and many other legendary players.

Greenfield was an outdoorsman and a man of many talents. In his introduction to his recorded version of the poem, “American Portrait: Old Style” (Robert Penn Warren Reads Selected Poems 1923-1978, (New York: Caedmon, 1960), Warren says that Greenfield taught him “what little I knew about woodcraft. He was born sadly out of phase. He should have been with Lewis and Clark to open the path to the Pacific.” To those that knew Greenfield this is the perfect description. He was an excellent shot being able to strike a match held between two bricks with a .22 caliber rifle and could shoot a dime out of the air with the same rifle. He trained birddogs. He could imitate almost any birdcall. Athletically, he was gifted as evidenced by his career as a professional baseball player in the major leagues. He was an excellent hunter. He could do script freehand and could draw excellently.

It might be asked why material about Kent Greenfield is on a web site honoring Robert Penn Warren. The reasons are varied. Greenfield was Warren's best friend and favorite playmate during childhood. Warren has stated that Greenfield was almost three years older and “a thousand years older psychologically”. They played together, hunted together, and it was Greenfield who taught Warren to swim. Because Warren owned a catcher's mitt, it fell his lot to catch Greenfield, the local pitcher, in the local pick-up baseball games but as Warren has related, “with me fifty feet behind the plate.” This ordeal was not to last long as Greenfield was, even then, on his way to the major leagues as a pitcher. He could throw so hard that Warren soon gave it up. When Greenfield was in New York with the New York Giants, Warren would visit him. After Greenfield returned to Guthrie, when his baseball career was over, Warren would see him during visits to Guthrie to visit family. So the friendship lasted for all of Greenfield's life.

Another reason is that Greenfield appears, from time to time, in Warren's writing. He kills a goose in Warren's book length poem Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse & Voices–A New Version, (New York: Random House, 1979) and he is “K” in “American Portrait: Old Style”, a poem included in the volume, Now and Then Poems 1976-1978 (New York: Random House, 1978). In the same volume appears “Red-Tail Hawk and Pyre of Youth” and Warren has stated that, in that poem, it was actually Greenfield who brought down the hawk. He is the main character in “Goodwood Comes Back,” in The Circus in the Attic and Other Stories (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1947).

There is one other reason for including Kent Greenfield on this web site. It is of a personal nature. The developers of this web site knew Kent and Warren personally and admired them. After all, as children we knew Kent had been a pitcher in the major leagues and with no less than three ball clubs. In our neck of the woods that was “pretty tall cotton” to use a local colloquialism. As children we watched in amazement when he would shoot the rifle for us or do script freehand which was as natural to him as breathing. In our lives the childhood memories have turned out to be some of the best and strongest and so it is with the memories of Kent.

Kent was, like all of us, with positives and negatives. But in knowing him we knew that even with his imperfections here was a person that was always friendly and with a big smile. He was never arrogant with regard to his baseball accomplishments and had a certain charm, quietness, and charisma that could not be ignored.

The role of Kent in the Greenfield-Warren childhood relationship was that of friend and protector —the older, athletic boy, outdoorsman, locally respected and then still amateur baseball player—looking out after the younger boy who was an intellectual “bookish outsider” of sorts and not considered “one of the boys”. In other words he took Warren under wing. This was his true character. An incident warmly told by Warren to Floyd Watkins, author of Then and Now: The Personal Past in the Poetry of Robert Penn Warren (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1982) and documented therein describes the long friendship. To paraphrase the incident, in an early grade Warren sent Kent a Christmas card he had made himself showing Santa Claus looking at his ledger. The left heading showed “Bad Boys” and the right heading showed “Good Boys” Kent's name headed the “Good Boys”. Warren tells Watkins that when he was in his fifties, “Kent sent me the same old card, which he had kept all these years, with a one-sentence note: 'Please send back'. I sent it back.”

Well, that was Kent. As Warren wrote in one of the lines from American Portrait: Old Style, “Polite in his smiling, but never much to say”. Yet it said so much about their relationship.

To Kent then, this is for you and well deserved—with thanks for all you did.

For more information concerning Kent Greenfield and his relationship with Robert Penn Warren see Then and Now: The Personal Past in the Poetry of Robert Penn Warren by Floyd C. Watkins (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1982) and Robert Penn Warren: A Biography by Joseph Blotner (New York: Random House, 1997).