Joy In Mudville

Baseball is in the air. Here at the Wiseblooding abode, there’s a high level of anticipation as the Arkansas Razorbacks (#WooPigSooie) play host on their home field to the NCAA SuperRegional. The #OmaHogs (as fans are calling them) will face the Missouri State Bears on Friday.

Hog fans can get a bit crazy when it comes to cheering for their team … hearing a stadium full of fans rocking the stands as they call the Hogs is an impressive experience. Friday’s game is sold out and they’re expecting a capacity crowd for this event. The fans will start early and make a festive day out of it.

For nearly a hundred and sixty years, baseball has been considered our “national pastime.” When I was growing up, my two brothers (one older, one younger) and I played sandlot ball almost daily. It was an easy sport to enjoy … we only needed gloves, a ball, a bat and scraps of cardboard to mark the bases. Since there were three of us, we always had a batter, a pitcher and a catcher. When neighborhood kids joined in, we’d expand our positions to first and third and move out from there. Baseball was certainly the “local pastime” for the children living in my neighborhood.

Today happens to be a memorable occasion for baseball history. On June 3, 1888, the baseball ballad, Casey At the Bat, was first published in The San Francisco Examiner. The poem was quickly popularized by a traveling comedian and vaudeville performer, DeWolf Hopper, who recited the poem during his shows.

However, honors for actually composing the “single most famous baseball poem ever written” (according to the Baseball Almanac) go to a writer named Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1863-1940). Thayer is described as the model of the “one-poem poet” because Casey is his lone composition.

This ballad isn’t a great work of poetic art. It’s a simple rhyming poem that delivers a vivid slice of American life and unites baseball fans of today with those long-ago baseball fans who first heard a recitation of the poem back in 1888. The crack of the bat, the stadium full of cheering fans, the umpire’s clear voice calling out steee-rrriiike one! … such images are universally recalled by avid baseball fans.

Thayer’s poem has been performed by a variety of artists through the years. In the video below, James Earl Jones gives a dramatic reading of the work. Here’s a link to the poem itself if you care to follow along or re-read it later. As baseball season gets underway – and the Hogs set their sights on playing (and winning) in Omaha – sit back and listen to the sonorous voice of James Earl Jones masterfully tell the story of Casey At the Bat.

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