by Thomas Fronckowiak, Jr.
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Shetland squad that day,
The team surrendered five of six, with four of them away,
And Mudville offered no relief from consternating fans,
Hecklers stood behind the plate and braggarts filled the stands,
“Your town’s a joke,” some patrons yelled, “Your city is a rash,”
While insults rained from balconies, so did food and trash.
But oh, their own, that hometown team, they loved their Mudville nine,
Mighty Casey walked on water; Barrows healed the blind.
When Shetland took the field that day – a godforsaken sight,
The team looked like a mangy mutt, without its bark or bite,
Dapperman, the catcher, was cursed with stomach pains,
Lackey wasn’t fit to play and Dobbs was nursing sprains.
Grey had gone the distance in the evening’s late night test,
His muscles needed ice bags and his shoulder needed rest.
So that just left, to tend the hill, Thatcher, Dent, and Rawls,
But Rawlly couldn’t throw a strike and Dent threw only balls.
And so that rookie Thatcher, heckled here and cursed,
Stood restless on the muddy hill at the bottom of the first.
There was angst in his demeanor as he paced about the mound,
There was sickness in his stomach as he tended to the ground.
The skipper limped up to the field to stall the brewing rout:
“Just keep us close until the stretch … then Grey will close it out.”
But both they knew that Grey was spent, the game was his alone,
Against the mighty Casey and those sluggers of the throne.
Though Mudville stranded three that frame, no man crossed the plate,
As Thatcher’s arm had settled down, his fast ball found its gait,
His breaking balls were lively like his passion for the game,
Not even Mudville faithful could deny his righteous aim.
He scattered hits, and when he did, his jersey hung his heart,
Unlike the polished veterans who practiced for the part.
He nearly ripped his glove in half when Casey, in the fourth,
Took his fast ball over left where then it traveled north.
And in the seventh, Casey’s hammer echoed yet again,
Instantly the pitcher knew he threw the cardinal sin,
But Thatcher battled every count and kept his bases clear,
He carved his pitches from the plate and challenged without fear.
Even Shetland’s offense showed some moxie in this game,
And Thatcher took a four-two lead into the final frame,
Though the trial wasn’t Cooney; his swing was his demise,
And Barrows tried to leg it out but his ball was lacking eyes.
With two men buried, fortune weighed upon the crowd’s control,
When, from the first base dugout stairs, rose Casey – in the hole!
But Thatcher never cowered and fought Flynn ounce for ounce,
And caught him on his knuckles; but Flynn – he caught a bounce.
At first base now a’clappin, Flynn placed his dusty socks,
As Blake, who couldn’t hit a truck, stepped up into the box.
“Git ‘er done,” Flynn hollered, “stay tough, and mean and tight,”
And with that, Blake delivered, and spanked one deep to right.
Now patrons here, both young and old, said Thatcher hung his curve,
They said the rookie’s arm was done, they said he lost his nerve,
They jeered the vanquished pitcher as the skipper made the call,
Limping to the grassy field and asking for the ball.
But Thatcher, with a hungry plea and first base left to fill,
Bargained with the skipper’s sense to leave him on that hill.
“Casey doesn’t see a strike!” at last, the skipper said,
As Thatcher turned now to the plate with Casey grinning red.
Then from the swaying bleachers huddled full with Mudville’s own,
Came a thunderous commotion like a beastly demon’s groan,
It rose above the ballpark and it clamored through the vale,
It broke beyond the neighborhoods and echoed in the dale.
Young Thatcher fixed upon the plate to mute the blaring sound,
He checked the runner back at third and dug into the ground,
And with his lively windup, flung the pill at such a rate,
That it started in below the hands but somehow found the plate.
Casey just ignored it as it beat his outside guess,
Truth was, it wasn’t worth a swing – on an empty count, no less.
And yet the mob erupted and despised the umpire’s view,
’til Casey cleared the calling and absolved the man in blue.
Then Thatcher kicked his foot again, pushing off his wedge,
And this ball came in tighter still – and still it caught the edge,
And still the batsman watched it, and still the patrons cried!
Here Mudville’s fate hung on a swing and Casey’s pompous pride.
The smile drew from Casey’s lip as he spat upon the deck,
He thumped his stick into the plate; he choked upon its neck.
With two strikes at his kneecaps, the next would come in low,
Thought Casey, as he eyed the fence and grimaced at his foe:
“No way the kid comes at me when his slider’s working fine,
“No way the kid brings mustard when the game is on the line.”
At once the Shetland hurler propelled a fiery dart,
He sent the ball a’screaming down the axis of the heart,
It started at the buckle and the ball began to rise,
And Casey’s angry bat was sprung, so quick to recognize;
But then the pitch, it cleared the zone and here it seemed to dance,
It deftly fooled the catcher as it pulled him from his stance,
And Thatcher, as his ball rose up, could hear her stitches sing,
And desperately the batsman tried to terminate his swing,
But Casey’s walk-off homerun bid had sent his club around,
And his brawny stature twisted like a corkscrew in the ground.
Oh, critics study athletes and the fabric of their team,
Brute and brawn are overdrawn and muscle reigns supreme,
Persistence isn’t measured when power is the goal,
There is no benchmark for the heart, no scale for the soul.
But somewhere in this favored land, an unknown boxer grins,
Somewhere hustle beats out speed, somewhere courage wins,
Somewhere on a tennis court, a no-name takes the prize,
An underdog is crowned somewhere, and somewhere sleepers rise,
And at some old Kentucky track,
A long shot captures fame,
The mighty may be favored –
But ’tis why we play the game.
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