I’ve been writing a lot more about baseball lately. This is the natural consequence of me thinking a lot more about baseball lately. As a Santa Cruz native who has spent the past 6 years living in Santa Barbara Dodger country, my recent move to Berkeley has come with a new depth of interest in the national pastime, and in our Giants as well. I’m thrilled to be new to the world of sports writing, and somewhat surprised by exactly how I ended up heading in that direction.
Recently, I somehow found myself caught in a lively debate over whether American culture is more thoroughly represented in 'The Road Not Taken' - that endless, lovable, and shamelessly American poem we all were asked to read and analyze constantly throughout gradeschool - or baseball classic Casey at the Bat.
Early on, I found myself on the side of Casey. Casey’s story is a tall tale - the story of a larger-than-life hero who meets with tragedy. It’s a story of rampant overconfidence. It’s easy to see some Americana themes pretty at home in this poem, and plus it’s about baseball which gives it an edge of relatability over most poetry.
But regardless of these easy connections, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was so taken with this ballad of failed offense. The story of Casey's struggle is normally thought of as having about as much importance as a knock-knock joke, but in defending its legitimacy I realized exactly why I was so compelled by the story.
For one thing, the baseball poem is an indictment of the whole idea of 'the sure thing.' Casey is certain to catch that elusive win, he is expected to by everyone watching. That the odds might be foiled by circumstance or unexpected chance doesn’t enter into the imagination of the fans assembled. This is our story since America on the whole, and baseball in particular, is the story of anything but the sure thing. That’s when it hit me.
Casey at the Bat is the story of an impotent hitter; but there is a character in the story who is never named and only mentioned once. While Casey at the Bat is the story of disaster for the beloved hitter, it is also the story of unassuming victory for the villainous, opportunistic and sneaky pitcher. Casey’s failure is not chance or circumstance. He is outclassed by the man on the mound.
Now that’s a story I can relate to; and I figure Casey at the Bat takes on an entirely different meaning for a Giants fan. This is the story of the big, mean, square-jawed power hitter beaten by his own over-confidence into watching three strikes fly by him. He loses simply because he can’t believe he might be beaten by anyone. For every impossible loss, every Giants fan knows, there is an impossible victory.
As much as it is a game of numbers, it is a game of breaking probability. Baseball is a game of impossibility. So this is what I’ve started thinking about. There is more going on in baseball than we often bother to stop and consider. I’m fascinated by the sides of baseball that reach out and affect society outside the park, and this is the line of thinking I’m going to be following - alongside the rest of the math, hope, grief and future projections that make up our life as baseball fans.
And I’m thrilled to among the crabbers. Cheers.