(National Poetry Month, Day 4)
Every once in a while, something reminds me of the magic that is baseball in America. I’m not saying that rabbits inexplicably pop out of batting helmets or that the sand shaken off of cleats is pixie dust. However, there is a certain mystique surrounding baseball: the dreams it awakens in young children playing in all-important little league games; the glamor of MLB games on television; and the small-town America feel of minor league games, attended by families and friends of all ages.
Usually, seeing the first Red Sox game on television gets me ready for baseball season. Last year, listening as the knowledgeable and witty Charley Rosen, author of The Emerald Diamond: How the Irish Transformed America’s Greatest Pastime , got me ready for baseball season.
This year, the recollection of “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer has made me want to watch the next baseball game I can find on television. In fact, after reading “Casey at the Bat,” it’s taking all of my willpower to avoid lacing up my cleats, grabbing my glove, and running outside to play ball.
You see, “Casey at the Bat” is a very special poem. I was fortunate enough to grow up within a stone’s throw of both the Bellevue Avenue Library and one of our town’s best softball fields. When I was eight years old, shortly after I had begun collecting baseball cards, I played softball on a town league for the first time. And that summer, I visited the Bellevue Avenue Library regularly to participate in the summer reading program. Our children’s librarian, Molly Critchlow, was fantastic; she did whatever she could to make sure that the words in the books we read jumped off the page and into our lives. One of my favorite activities that summer was a performance of the poem “Casey at the Bat.” I was a little bit disappointed not to be the narrator, but the disappointment didn’t last long. Guess who played the vainglorious and ultimately humbled Casey? Yours truly: the Graceful Grammarian, just a little bit shorter. How much fun it was to bring this poem to life for our audience! And the best part is that, through the magic of VHS, we still have the live version of “Casey at the Bat.”
I hope that you’ll enjoy this poem, our fourth poem in our celebration of National Poetry Month, as much as I did as a child and still do today. Please share it with fellow baseball fans, and, most importantly, with children. They’ll always remember.
Casey at the Bat
by Ernest Thayer
The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they’d a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.