- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.

The score stood four to two with but one inning left to play.

And then when Cooney died at first and Burrows did the same.

A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

Opening Day is special, even if many major leaguers pretend “it’s just one of 162 games.” And “Casey at the Bat,” baseball’s best literary effort ever, is another harbinger of spring.

More than 12 decades after Ernest Lawrence Thayer scribbled down his 13-stanza rhyme for the San Francisco Examiner in 1888, its evocative lines reflect a time when this most American of sports was inarguably our national pastime. One of Casey’s biggest fans was the late Joanne Marino, a journalism teacher at Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County.

Every year, Marino’s students got to hear about Casey’s famous flop. Some might not have been baseball fans, because so many young people have embraced other sports in recent years. But everyone can relate to failure, particularly when its ignominy seems eternal.

“I remember sitting in class and feeling astonished that dozens of 15-year-olds went silent when Mrs. M announced that it was her favorite day of the year and recited ‘Casey‘ for us,” said Kimberly Jeffries Banti, a student of Marino’s from 1998 to 2001. “She often used baseball metaphors to illustrate lessons in and out of the classroom, and I looked forward to her annual reading of the poem because of the way her face would light up.”

Marino, a District native, rooted first for the Yankees because she saw games in New York as a kid, then switched to the Senators and finally the Orioles. Surely she would have been delighted by the Nationals arriving in 2005 and looking like a potential contender as their eighth season starts Thursday in Chicago.

“Joanne always had a soft spot in her heart for the underdog and felt that everyone should root, root, root for the home team,” said her brother, Tony Lembo. “But after Calvin Griffith and Bob Short [moved two Washington franchises], she turned to the Orioles. Today, I just don’t know how she would have dealt with Peter Angelos.”

Of course, her husband, George Marino Jr., and three sons also loved baseball and still do. Recalls one of the sons, George III: “I collect used gear under the name Joanne L. Marino Casey At The Bat Foundation. Over the past 10-plus years, we have distributed hundreds of used gloves, bats, cleats, helmets, catchers’ gear, etc., to kids who could not afford to buy it. This year, we also will send several boxes of gear to Latin America.”

Joanne, who died of cancer in 2001, was one of us who believe it’s a case of baseball uber alles where sports is concerned. For us, Opening Day is indeed special. And nobody epitomizes the downside of this difficult game better than poor Casey, who hasn’t a hit in 124 years. Talk about slumps! It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye. Just listen …

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.

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