Monday, August 10, 2015

Whatever Happened to Casey at the Bat?

It is one of baseballs greatest questions. Does writer Frank Deford, a Casey raconteur, know? What about baseball junkies Buster Olney and Peter Gammons? Even Curt Schilling (Hall of Famer to be) who vaulted to national recognition with his timely advocacy banning cancer causing smokeless tobacco products, might have a guess. But only I have the answer. Have you heard of the Past Lives Pavilion? Surely, if you are a fan of the extraordinary genius of Albert Brooks you recall the scene from defending your Life, one of the best movies ever made. For you see, I am Casey--at least I was in a former life. So in 1888 when Lawrence Thayer created me due to a dare from the son and heir to the Hearst newspaper fortune, a classmate of his at Harvard, I showed up in Mudville. The date was June 3, 1888. You can look it up. The entire baseball world and then some know what happened next. If you nee4d a refresher course, you can catch my comedy act on stage on Fox Sports San Diego television filmed during the ASG in 2014. Just go to Is it worthy of a Ted Talk? Because that is on my future menu of speaking engagements. Now, back to my former life. Whatever happene4d to Casey? Well, now you know he is in my body, but how did he get there? Most people who believe in past lives believe that our past soul is carried forward into the future to live again in a brand new existence. This would mean to me that I would have met Casey on December 29, 1949 the day my birth certificate says was my entry date to this world. This would have made Casey 61 which would be plausible with lifespan charts and actuarial tables of the day. But my memory is drawn to June 3, 1968 which would have been Casey's 80th birthday. I was 18 at the time and the varsity center fielder for my high school team--the Melville, not Mudville Nine. What was so special about that date June 3 in addition to the significance of Casey's birthday/anniversary? It is recorded as the one and only game ever played by the great Casey and the greatest game ever hardball game of my own life. We don't get large crowds at our high school games. Plenty of parents, my dad and other moms and dads of teammates, a sprinkling of girlfriends and classmates and even a few local characters of the town. One of these flakes was attracted to my game for whatever reason and called himself Peanuts or Crackers. I forget which. My Pal Hat said it must be Crackers so I will go with that here. At first, this crackers fellow was all over me. He was like a heckler at a comedy club and he seemed to never shut up. I came right back at him until my coach, "Ralphie Boy" Lewis advised me to knock it off and pay attention to what was going on at the field. After that, Crackers seemed to become my greatest fan and he was in the "crowd" on June 3 when we lined up at our Melville park against the Northport Nine. Before the game, Crackers motioned me to come by the stands. Keeping in mind the admonition of my coach, I reluctantly approached the fanatic. He gushed how I was his all time favorite and how I had grown on him during my Senior season on the varsity. He old me he had played pro. "Like your dad." He said. That got my attention. "You know my dad?" "No." Crackers drawled. "He played years after I left the game." Coach Lewis was walking my way and I had to wrap this up. "Oh, yeah. When did you play? Crackers rubbed his chin. "Only one game. In fact, it was 80 years ago today." ************************************************************** I didn't think more of that conversation. I was too concerned with the Northport Tiger left-hander who had struck me out on two deadly curves my first two at bats. Now, it was the final inning and we were down a run. I joked with hat and Dandy, our GQ model third sacker that this was a scene out of Casey at the Bat. They looked at me like I was an alien. "Don't you remember Casey?" the outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day the score stood four to two with but one more inning to play Hat, who was our star shortstop when he wasn't our All League pitcher, was quick to point out. "Yeah, but this is Melville, not Mudville." He had a point. I winked. "Pretty damn close, buddy." Coach was walking my way again. What had I done wrong now? Coach had one question for me. I noticed Crackers had move4d to the first row of the bleachers just behind the backstop. He was waving wildly trying to get my attention as coach got in my face. I ignored Crackers and my eyes focused on coach. His words stung. "Do you think you can hit this guy?" I hadn't noticed it at the time, but I was reminded later that a pinch hitter was ready to step in for me if I failed to assure Ralph. Crackers was still gesticulating and causing a scene behind our bench. He was shouting something--something like TELL HIM YOU KNOW YOU CAN!! I looked directly at coach. I said the words Crackers had suggested. "I know I can." Coach seemed satisfied, nodded and returned to our bench. I was smiling and I didn't even know why. When I looked over to find Crackers, he had vanished. Just then, I heard thunder and a loud flash, indicating that lighting was near. I looked up at the sky and there were no signs of a storm. It was a sparkling late Spring day on Long Island. What was happening here? ************************************************** Just like Casey, I came up in the final inning. That fact I must admit hadn't dawned on me at the time, but as I was about to enter the Batter's Box, that mysterious lightning shook the Diamond again. This time the thunder was accompanied by a voice. "I know I can." I was in shock. "Peanuts." I mumbled. "No, this is Casey, buddy. Don't screw it up again." Screw it up? What was he talking about? My strike outs today or his failure 80 years ago? Another flash--this was the loudest yet. It sounded like it was coming from God. When my vision returned, the ball is flying over the Northport shortstop's head and bouncing wildly, heading to the gap in left center with the Tiger outfielders trying to cut it off--in those days there was no outfield fence and the ball could roll forver it would seem. I see myself in this Mind Movie circling the bases as the tying run scores and my teammates and the fans are cheering wildly. A walk off hit? The term had still not been invented. From the benches black with people There rose up a muffled roar It was the booming voice of the umpire And he sounded pretty sore "Are you OK son?" I blinked again and in an instant, I was back in the precious present. I could still hear Crackers, I mean Casey's voice in my head. "Just step in there, buddy. You have seen a glimpse of your future. All you have to do now is let it wash over you." The next five minutes would be the most exhilarating of my 18 year life to that point. I circled the bases into the arms of my celebrating teammates. Mudville and Melville were winners. I had reversed the curse. Maybe the greatest winner was Casey who 80 years ago, a day of his ignominious failure heard around the world, lived in my body to become a hero once more. Yes, they were cheering me. But they were toasting Casey as well. June 3, 1968. The day Mind Movies was seared into my brain. It was the anniversary of Casey's only game and the highlight of mine which would end within weeks as I graduated and left the game behind as well. But it was a beginning to the life of Casey and me and 50 years or so later--I wouldn't trade it for anything. *********************************** Steve Tarde is the inventor of Mind Movies, a life changing motivational tool he has shared with legends such as Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Jerry West and Pistol Pete Maravich and students, entrepreneurs and leaders worldwide.

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