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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lessons on Losing and the Mighty Casey...

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.  

There is no joy in Mudville...
We were having a wonderful time at Tropical Park.

It was midmorning on a beautiful Spring day.  The kids were off on break and I had taken several days to be with them.

After driving around the entire park, I picked a perfect shaded area, lined with trees and between a couple of softball fields, to take cover from the scorching Miami sun.  And, we were there just having fun; playing two-man ball with a whiffle ball and a plastic bat, as I had done many times in my youth with my brother and friends in the vacant lot next to our Hialeah duplex or backyard. 

Only this time, I was playing with my kids.  It was my six-year-old coach-pitch-playing son and thirteen-year-old softball-playing daughter against my nine-year-old daughter, who has never played the game, and me.

Alright, so I had an unfair advantage but we were only up five to two in the third inning.

I kept referring to the mighty Casey, from Casey At the Bat poem by Ernest Thayer, every time my older daughter would strike out but they had no clue what I was talking about. 

"Who is the mighty Casey?" they asked. 

"You never heard of the mighty Casey?  I'll tell you about him later," I answered.

Everyone was into the game, including my nine-year-old daughter, who had opted for picking flowers when we first started playing but I made her go into the field and she reluctantly obliged.  That is until, she got her second or third hit of the game, and I came up with two "men" on.

I batted lefty to try to even the playing field, which isn't much of a disadvantage, considering I switched hit while playing baseball most of my adult life.  In any case, my oldest daughter was pitching and my son was playing the field behind her when she tossed up a floater about chest high and I jacked it over the trees that we agreed would be the homerun mark for the second time in the game and drove in three more runs (I made the rules since they had never played before but they were fair.  My son hit a first-inning line drive past the trees for homerun as well).  Now, it was eight to two.  (Yes, you can call it abuse or think I was reliving, what Bruce Springsteen would call, my Glory Days, but I think kids have to learn a lesson on losing, as much as winning, in today's everybody-gets-a-trophy, we're-all-winners culture)

It went downhill from there.  My son had had enough.  He's still learning the game and doesn't take too kindly to losing, so he slammed his glove into the ground and said he didn't want to play anymore.

"That's not fair," I told him.  "Losing is part of the game and in life, you're going to lose much more than you win, which makes winning only that much sweeter  You can't give up on your team when they are losing.  You just have to try harder."  (Could you tell once started reading Vince Lombardi's biography?  Believe me, this is something I learned from personal experience growing up.  I played on many great teams that won State, District and League Championships and several woeful teams as well.  To top it off, I'm a lifetime New York Mets fan, need I say more?)

Anyhow, he wasn't having anything to do with my rah-rah speech and stood there pouting in defiance with his arms crossed.  Kind of reminiscent of my younger brother when he would get upset because he didn't hit a homerun when he was about my son's age.  He was feast or famine hitter during those days and would either hit a homerun or strike out, which would make him cry and pout, like my son was doing.
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. 

As serious as I was trying to be, it was funny to watch and my daughters were getting a kick out of watching their little brother seethe in his anger.

He grabbed his glove, snatched the ball from my oldest daughter's hands and said he wanted to pitch.  After throwing about ten balls, he struck out my younger daughter and what was I supposed to do?  I swung at several pitches that were nowhere near the plate, which got him excited again. 

"Two strikes?" he asked. 

"Yes, two strikes.  I'm down to my last pitch, if you can get me," I answered. 

After throwing a pitch behind me, I swung at the next pitch and missed.  The mighty Casey had struck out!  (Ok., so I let him; more or less!)

"Who's the might Casey?," they asked.  "I'll read you the poem when we're done," I answered.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, 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.   

But, the excitement didn't last long, as I struck him out twice in the last inning (I wasn't trying to but he kept swinging at bad pitches!) and had to stop him from slamming his bat on the grown and keep him from hitting his sister with a ball, in a teary-eyed tirade.  Boy, talk about sore loser!

After settling him down in the car, before pulling out of the parking lot, I searched for the legendary 19th century poem on my I-phone and read it out loud, which, after describing how hope seemed lost in Mudville with two outs in the ninth, the next two hitters surprisingly got on and a glimmer of hope went through the crowd as the mighty Casey stepped up to bat.  But, the tension built again after the great hitter took two strikes and was down to his last pitch, so the poem goes:

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.

"See," I told them, "Even the mighty Casey struck out."...

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