No, it’s not the complete difference in ending, or the chills I get watching Big Papi single to center. Rather, the difference is the experience.
Reading Thayer’s “Casey and the Bat” and watching David Ortiz make Red Sox history are two completely different things because when you read about Mighty Casey’s backwards “K” it is just reading, but when you see Papi swing, you are experiencing real playoff baseball.
Good writers make you feel like you are there. They tell you the story and give you everything you need to understand what’s going on, yet you still need your own imagination to make it work. Without your own image of Mudville, Ernest Thayer’s words mean very little.
Playoff baseball is very, very different. The playoffs are the reality of a poem like Thayer’s, the real life incarnation of what he is trying to describe. Quite frankly, there is no contest between the two. “Casey at the Bat” will always end with the band playing elsewhere, but the playoffs give your team a chance to bring joy home every season, even in a place like Boston.
It is a rare joy, and only one team per year can have it. Still, October begins with eight teams hoping for it, eight teams getting ready to cue that band up come month’s end. You never can tell what will happen. I mean, hey, we had nine teams left to start October, and one of the most exciting one game playoffs in history.
What I do know is that today will be exciting. I’ll be flying home to catch Josh Beckett throw the first pitch in Fenway, thinking about what may be. Sure, I could just read about it later, but the joy of watching just can’t be beat. David Ortiz brought me that elusive joy in ’04, but once you get a taste of it you never want it to leave.