When we read "Casey at the Bat" for the first time, it's easy to assume that the hero is going to come through in the end. That's just what we're used to thanks, in part, to Hollywood giving almost every sports movie a happy ending. (Okay, Rocky lost in the first movie, but he won in the next, what… ten?) But if we look carefully, Thayer flew some pretty big red flags signaling the not-so-happy ending in store for our hero, Casey. There are some pretty ominous word choices that hint at bad things to come.
Line 1: Come on. Mudville? Did you really think anything good was going to happen in a town called Mudville? The name says it all in this case. That mud is like caked on loser dust. In hindsight, we should have known Casey was going to strike out.
Line 3: Baseball is starting to sound like a pretty dangerous game. Cooney and Barrows don't get thrown out, erased, picked off, or retired at first base. They die. That's a pretty dramatic way to describe an out in a baseball game. Here again, with all this doom and negativity looming, we feel like we should have seen it coming—Casey never had a chance.
Lines 17-20: These lines make us think, "Hey, maybe things are looking up in Mudville." Casey is coming to the plate and the crowd is going wild. We know that we're supposed to feel, along with those Mudville fans, full of hope and optimism at the prospect of Casey strolling up to the plate. So why do we feel a sense of foreboding and doom? It could have something to do with the word choices in these lines. Take a look: "rumbled," "rattled," "knocked," "recoiled." These are the words that describe the happy sound of the cheering crowd echoing across the land. They don't feel very positive to us. If we were going to play a word association game with this group, it would go something like this: Rumbled? Thunder. Earthquake. Explosion. Rattled? Chains. Ghosts. Broken. Knocked? Knocked out. Recoiled? To retreat in horror. It seems like our speaker might be foreshadowing the poem's unhappy ending. He might be talking about hope and optimism, but he sure isn't feeling it.