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Mar 08

From my archived columns: Baseball and the Royals, a hope that springs eternal

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True.
And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” – George F. Will

Surprise Stadium

I might just burst with excitement if I don’t say this before I start waxing poetic about baseball. How about those Royals!

I feel better. Now, on to my story.

Baseball fever is here, and many of us have the bug. It happens every spring.

More than flowers or sunshine or April showers, it is baseball that is our true April love. It has been that way as long as most of us can remember.

After all, baseball is America’s game. Granted it may have gone global, but we invented it, and we love it.

In fact, we love it so much, that when opening day of baseball season finally arrives, folks take off work often braving bitter temperatures and cold rain just to watch. You know the drill.

Some of us have to be there. Period.

Others of us prefer the coziness of our homes or offices on opening day, but make no mistake, we are paying attention just the same.

Each spring, baseball makes us believe all over again that all things are possible (i.e. how about those Royals), for a few weeks at least.

Any team can win the Pennant on opening day, maybe even the World Series. The worst team in the league can be at 500 in mere days. The coaches have winning records, and the pitchers have great stats. Every batter can be Babe Ruth, every fielder Jackie Robinson, on opening day.

If they can be all things, then so can we. At least that is our hope each and every spring.

To be on the safe side, we throw up a silent prayer along with our hopes, “Please do not break our hearts this season!” How well we remember last year when our home team had an indescribably miserable and embarrassing record, we lament.

Let’s face it. Some years, it is nearly impossible to be a fan. We pray it will not be such a year. We pray hard.

“No more 3 to 2 losses in the ninth, please,” we beg.

“No more pitchers losing their groove.”

“No more batting slumps by our star hitter.”

Ernest Lawrence Thayer understood our baseball psyche, our worries, and desperate baseball prayers such as these as long ago as 1888. That is when he wrote “Casey at the Bat”, the single most famous baseball poem ever written. “Casey at the Bat” was first published June 3, 1888, in the San Francisco Examiner.

Another writer Albert Spalding once wrote of it, “Love has its sonnets galore. War has its epics in heroic verse. Tragedy, its somber story in measured lines. Baseball has Casey at the Bat.”

In his legendary poem, Thayer describes a baseball hero, the mighty Casey who is advancing to the bat just in time to save the day for Mudville’s home team.

It is fun to remember some of the poem’s perfectly written verses. Here are some excerpts:
“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play…
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.
The rest clung to the hope that 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…
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped,
‘That ain’t my style,’ said Casey. ‘Strike one,’ the umpire said…
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, ‘Strike two’…”

Thus the legendary story goes, but let us pretend we don’t know how badly the game ended.

After all, it is April. Baseball season has just begun and all things are possible once again.

Case in point. I have the fever and cannot for the life of me resist saying one more time “How about those Royals.”