Thursday, March 29, 2007

Casey Back at Bat

Ever wonder what happened to poor old Casey after he struck out, leaving Mudville joyless?

Apparently, so did Dan Gutman, who has a picture book out with a sequel, called Casey Back at Bat, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher:

It reads like a love-letter to baseball, and knowing Gutman's work and sports mania, I'm sure it's at least partly that. But it's also a major fantasy story, and as such constitutes a dramatic departure from the original poem.

In this version, Mudville makes it to the final game of the series. Three men on. Two men out. And Mighty Casey is coming up to bat. He swings and misses, swings and misses, then miraculously hits the third pitch hard. Very hard. So hard that it flies out of the park, around the world, back through time somehow (knocking the tower at Pisa into a tilt, taking the nose off the Sphinx, causing dinosaurs to go extinct), and out into space where two astronauts see it before streaking, pretty much on fire, back into the park and into the glove of a player from the opposing team.

Is there comedy? Yes.

Drama? A little -- but not at the level of the original which, when read correctly, can literally have you at the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens when Casey takes the final swing.

Excellent rhyme? Not so much. It's a bit herky-jerky here and there, and Gutman, a writer working in the 21st century, doesn't capture the same "feel" as Thayer did in the original.

Still, the story shows true affection for the original poem and for the sport of baseball. And the illustrations make it an engaging and likeable book. I particularly loved the ones inside the baseball stadium, where all the people (and many surfaces) seemed to include old newsprint as part of their appearance, and everything looked like it had been covered in a bit of shoe polish to give it an aged quality. Here -- have a look at Casey and I think you'll see what I'm saying:

And here he is in action:

All in all, I enjoyed the book. The sense of real affection for the original poem and the enthusiasm for (and joy in) the sport of baseball carried it for me, even if I thought the story got a little carried away as the ball traveled around the globe. And the pictures. Well, you can see for yourself.

1 comment:

Camille said...

I always used to read Casey at Bat and showed Who's on First to my students the first week of baseball season. I love Dan Gutman. I will be looking for this book.