The Last Time We saw Casey by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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The last time we saw Casey, he was trudging back to the dugout, shoulders slumped, a look of shock and disbelief on his once-mighty face. He had just struck out; long, dark winter months loomed ahead for Casey, his teammates, and all of Mudville.

Back in the locker room, Cooney, Barrows, Flynn, and Blake sat silent and stunned in front of their lockers. The latter two had done their part—Blake, standing on second was the tying run after all—and everyone else on the team and in the stands that day fully expected Casey to do his. But now the season was over and where once Flynn (that hoodoo) and Blake (that cake) had expected to score, now they both felt like Crusoes, stranded on their island bases with no hope of rescue.

No one looked at Casey; all eyes were on the cold concrete floor. The whole team—from manager to batboy—had believed in Casey and his mighty bat. They had placed all their hopes on his broad shoulders, the very same ones that now sagged like wet laundry. How could this have happened, their body language seemed to say. How could you let us down like this? Casey felt their disappointment deep in his exhausted bones. But right now, right at this moment, there was no gas in his tank, no air in his tires. He was lost and he didn’t even have a map.

The beauty of baseball is that hope springs—literally—eternal. “Wait ’til next year” has been the loser’s mantra ever since Abner Doubleday first yelled “Play ball!” in a New York cow pasture back in 1839. (That tidbit of history may or may not be true, but if it isn’t, you can blame the Mills Commission that published its report on the origins of the game in 1907. Doubleday, by the way, went on to considerable fame as a Union officer who played a pivotal role in the Battle of Gettysburg, turning point of the Civil War. But I digress…)

Casey was the last one to leave the locker room that day. Well, not quite the last. Rumor has it that Johnny Little, the Mudville Nine’s locker room boy—the one who picked up the dirty towels and the soiled uniforms and cleaned the dank red clay off the players’ spikes—was almost done with his chores when Casey finally heaved himself off the stool in front of his locker, stripped off his sanitary hose, and slowly headed for the shower. The hot water was long gone, but Casey didn’t seem to notice the icy needles that sluiced off his broad back. He seemed a million miles away, Johnny later told the news hounds, lost in the mist of what might have been that fateful day. But there was something else the boy saw in Casey’s eyes—a tiny gleam, a pin prick of light, like a midnight candle on the far shore of the lake. “What did it look like?” the news hounds wanted to know.

“Hope,” said Johnny.

Somewhere in this favored land, there is sunlight and band music and light hearts. But not here, not today. Casey is nowhere to be found. Some say he retired that day in Mudville, but Johnny doesn’t think so. “I thought I heard him out in Baxter’s barn last week, slamming baseballs into the hay stacks, getting ready for spring.”

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

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