It’s been a really long winter. I don’t mean the snow has been heavy or the air temperature has been unbearable. It’s just been a long time since the last baseball game. That all ends today, which is Thursday as I write this blog.
“Hope springs eternal…” That’s what opening day does for me. My son, Sam, and I share the same crazy passion for major league baseball. I know I probably spoil Sam, but I made sure he had the new MLB video game the day it came out, which was Tuesday. He’s already planned our annual summer baseball trip, which I think is going to be Boston this year.
However, all is not calm between my son and I when it comes to baseball. The conflict is all about his latest assignment for his Composition class. He must write a paper about one of the “classic” poems. That is perfect timing to write about my favorite poem, which just happens to be a poem about baseball. The “classic” poem is Casey at the Bat.
I could see an “A” in Sam’s future since he would be writing about something he is passionate about. A decent grade on this paper would certainly be welcome. Sadly, Sam is adamant about the fact that Casey at the Bat is not a “classic.” The Composition instructor only wants this paper written about one of the “classics.” I have tried to argue with Sam, but unfortunately, he is as stubborn as me. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Since he won’t listen to me, I am going to state my case in this blog. Please feel free to add your opinion if you happen to read this on my Facebook page. I will go to my grave claiming that Casey at the Bat is without a doubt a “classic.”
“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day.” Ernest Lawrence Thayer wrote that opening line to his “classic” poem in 1888. Anything that is still popular today, 130 years later, has to be a “classic,” right?
Thayer was a graduate of Harvard. That’s impressive enough, but he also was the editor of the Harvard Lampoon. It prints six editions each year and is still published today. The magazine is the second oldest of it’s kind, a real “classic.”
Thayer’s best friend was William Randolph Hearst. Hearst built the largest newspaper chain in the United States. Thayer worked for Hearst at the San Francisco Examiner. Casey at the Bat was the last column he wrote before he left the newspaper. He received $5 payment for the poem.
Thayer called Casey at the Bat a ballad or love song. It became so popular that an actor by the name of DeWolf Hooper made the reciting of Casey at the Bat as his life’s work. Hooper read the poem his audiences an estimated 40,000 times. There also were two movies and an opera created from the poem. Could that happen to anything but a “classic?”
The last element of my argument is the construction of a statue with the imaginary of Casey. It stands at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. “Mighty Casey has struck out!” I rest my case. Casey at the Bat is a “classic.”
Opening day of the baseball season is a “classic” time of the year. I’m not going to profess I was a great reading or English teacher during my years as an elementary teacher. However, I think I was a great teacher on baseball’s opening day. Each year, the assignment that day for my reading and English classes were all about that “classic” poem, Casey at the Bat.
I would give all my unsuspecting students a copy of the poem. First, I would perform my version of Casey at the Bat from start to finish. The line I recited with the most gusto was, “When the dust had settled and they saw what had occurred, there was Blake safe at second and Flynn a-huggin’ third.”
The assignment wouldn’t end when my inspired reading was over. It was just beginning. Each student drew from a hat a single verse from the “classic” poem. They were instructed to see the words of that verse as if they had just arrived from Mars and knew nothing about baseball. Each student would get a blank sheet of paper. They were instructed to draw what image formed their mind, remembering they knew nothing about baseball.
“Five thousand tongues applaud as Casey rubbed his hands in dirt.” That makes for an interesting Martian picture. “Ten thousand hands applauded as he whipped them on his shirt.” Are you starting to see what I was asking of the students?
I have a confession that should never be made by an elementary teacher. I absolutely hated making bulletin boards, a necessity for any decent elementary teacher. That all changed the opening day of the baseball season. I could fill two full bulletin boards with the verses and art work of my imaginary students from Mars.
Opening day also meant extra-long recesses if the main activity was a baseball game on the playground. I would be the all-time pitcher, so I could make sure everyone had a pitch to hit.
If we were lucky, there would be a baseball game on the cable line-up on opening day of the baseball season. It gave my class and me a great excuse not to open a book on this special day.
Sam and I went to the Royals home opener. It wasn’t a great day for the Royals. You know what they say, though; a bad day at the ball park is a good day anywhere else.
I have all day to try and convince Sam that Casey at the Bat is a “classic” poem. I doubt Sam changes his mind. I am just as stubborn, though. I will swear to my dying days, it is a “classic.” Sadly, “There is no joy in Mudville” or Kansas City on this opening day.