Spring in Cincinnati
In what might be his period of maximum exposure for the day, Mr. Sam Danderton shagged pre-game flies at Cincinnati's Crosley Field. While the other pitchers merely waved at balls inconveniently distant from them, Sam chased every fly with abandon, sometimes banging off the wall in order to make the catch. He loved being out in the sunshine and being a major leaguer.
It bothered him little that he played only a minor role on a team whose overall performance varied from the barely adequate to the putrid. Indeed, the Philadelphia Phillies, overshadowed by the A's in their home town, had never won a pennant.
Everyone agreed that Sam, a big left-hander, had a good fast ball. In his rookie season, he had even pitched a two- hit shutout. That, however, turned out to be a fluke. He didn't have much beyond the fast ball, and he was at least as likely to walk a batter, or hit him, as any pitcher in the league.
People like Sam were often sent down to the minor leagues for more "seasoning," but the Phillies did their own seasoning. They often got far behind in the early innings, and then needed a mop-up pitcher just to get the game over with. Sam was willing to pitch any time any day, and thus got a fair amount of work. Now in his fourth season, it was doubtful whether he would ever develop enough control to be a consistently good pitcher, but, as one manager put it,
"In a tight spot, you can always bring Sam in to scare the shit out of a left-hand hitter."
Sam was more likely to strike the batter out than bean him, and that was all the Phillies could ask. In addition to these virtues, he was a good pinch hitter and runner, almost good enough to be a major league outfielder. The best teams had better hitters on their benches, but, since the poorer teams didn't, it seemed that there would always be a place for Sam on some major league roster.
Despite this versatility, Sam was now on his third team. His first manager had said that he seemed interested in everything except improving himself as a pitcher. All his managers had wondered if he really cared whether the team won or lost. One, in particular, had been upset when Sam, having wild-pitched the winning run in from third base, sauntered back to the dugout with a pleasant smile on his face.
It was true that Sam didn't have much ambition. He didn't aspire to be president, or even a starting pitcher for the Phillies. The one job could be left to Mr. Franklin Roosevelt and the other to various gentlemen who made odd snorting noises and spat tocacco. He, free of their worries, could soak up the joy of the mounting excitement in the quaint old park. It was also good to know that the fans in Cincinnati, sitting right above the bullpen, didn't heckle visiting players unduly or pour beer on them.
When it was time for the outfielders to make their practice throws to the bases, the extra pitchers trotted off to the bull-pen along the left field line. The starting pitcher, the Phillies ace, then trudged out to start his warm-up. A side-arming right-hander with a red face and a nice snapping delivery, he threw a half dozen pitches and said to the men on the bench,
"I feel like shit! Some of you fuckers'll be pitching today."
Since Ryan always said that, no one took it seriously. The general assumption was that they could count on at least five or six innings of inactivity.
The bright sunshine had brought out a big enthusiastic crowd for a week-day afternoon in April. A beer vendor was happily yelling, 'Reel and roll with Hudepohl,' alternated with, 'Get moody with Hudy,' and there seemed to be a lot of people anxious to follow his advice. The starting line-ups were then announced by a man who said 'Cincinnata' instead of 'Cincinnati.' When they got to Ryan's name in the visitors' line-up, there was scattered polite applause from the crowd behind them and a few humorous bronx cheers from the bullpen bench. The Phillies weren't known for keeping up the kind of bench chatter that managers and coaches seemed to like.
Cincinnata was one of relatively few cities which played the national anthem before each game. Its musical shortcomings, fortunately somewhat obscured by the raspy public-address system, always made Sam uneasy. However, it was soon over, and he eased his jock-strap as he regained his seat on the bench.
Once the game started, things settled down nicely. While Sam, true to the suspicions of the manager, didn't care whether they won, he liked it that other people cared. The result was an engaging, if not quite electric, atmosphere which contrasted pleasantly with his years in school and college.
Graduating from Harvard in the depression year of 1932 with a major in mathematics, Sam quickly found that there were few opportunities, academic or otherwise. While his considerable fluency in foreign languages, combined with his technical and scientific ability, would surely have opened a few doors in any ordinary year, not much business was being done in an economically prostrate country. Indeed, something approaching a million men had run from their families, and were roaming the country as hoboes on the railroads.
Baseball, however, was hardly affected. As a former college player, Sam had done well enough in a brief stint in the minors to be called up. The minimum major league salary was much more than he could have gotten anywhere else.
The other players took Sam to be a bizarre eccentric, but also a useful source of information on all subjects. One question came from Tillis, a right-hander,
"Hey Sam, what's the Schneider Cup?"
"A race for seaplanes. The Supermarine Company's entry usually wins it."
Tillis, two down on the bench, grunted with satisfaction. Sam was a little surprised at the next question,
"Hey Sam, who's Adolf Hitler?"
He would have thought that everyone, by this time, would have known that. However, most of the players hadn't finished high school, and there were many who didn't read well enough to digest the contents of a decent newspaper. Still, he yelled back enthusiastically,
"A German politician who thought the country ought to be run from the beer halls."
That caused some amusement, and also some murmurs of approval. Sam added,
"He's in charge now, but he's changed his mind and had some of his old beer-hall pals shot."
The bullpen didn't like to hear things like that, and the subject was changed by Brannan, another right-hander, who shouted from the end of the bench,
"Hey Sam, what's the record for fucking the most different women in a twenty four hour period?"
"Thirteen. At least, that's the most supported by any kind of evidence."
"Who the fuck fucked thirteen?"
"Angus MacLeod of Glasgow, Scotland on the seventh of June, 1909. He took along his sister as witness."
"Did he fuck her last?"
"No. He was a very religious man. He wouldn't have fucked his sister."
Soon, the whole bullpen was in an uproar. They only noticed that Ryan had two on with none out in the third when a line shot, landing just foul, sent them ducking. When the coach looked in to the dugout, he saw that the manager was waving his arms. Indeed, he looked as if he might have been waving them for some time. The coach jumped up, waved in return, and said,
"Shit-fuck, the place could burn down without you guys noticing. Cassidy, get up."
Ryan got himself out of the jam, and nothing else happened for a while. In the sixth, one of the Phillies hit a high fly just in front of the bullpen, but in fair territory. As the Reds outfielder camped under it, the bullpen catcher asked him if the sun was in his eyes. Someone else called out,
"Look out for the mound!"
The outfielder caught the ball and replied genially,
"Fuck you too!"
The game went eleven innings with Brannan relieving Ryan in the eighth. In the top of the eleventh, Sam was brought in to hit for the shortstop against a veteran Reds right-hander with a man on second and one out. The first pitch was a fast ball. Sam was so happy to get fast balls that he swung at most of them, even ones that were off the plate. This ball was slightly high and outside, but he got good contact and drove it deep to left-center. Unfortunately, the Reds' center fielder cut back and across to make a pretty running catch. Sam was actually quite pleased to have hit the ball so well, but he worked hard at looking disgusted as he trotted back to the dugout. The manager, evidently not fooled, gave him a black look.
Sam watched the bottom of the inning from the dugout. The first man singled up the middle. He then tried to steal second, and, even though he got a good jump on the pitch, the catcher, Smoky Hargreaves, threw him out. With two out and no one on, the Reds' first baseman came up, a big man with a stupid expression. There had undoubtedly been a discussion of him during the pre-game meeting of pitchers and catchers, but Sam usually day-dreamed during those meetings. Anyhow, Brannan was a big right-hander with a fast ball that often moved away from a right-handed batter such as this one. The batter was also deep in the box and away from the plate. Sam wasn't surprised when Hargreaves set up his target low and outside. It would be almost impossible for such a batter to get out in front of such a pitch. He didn't.
The batter instead stepped toward the plate and swung from a closed stance. There was a thwuck as he got under the ball and hit it deep to right. The right-fielder ran half way back to the wall, and then watched. With an amazing amount of crowd noise, the ball landed in the seats.
The immediate post-game atmosphere was a little tricky. Bad teams like the Phillies were likely to be in the middle of the pack in April, and, before the day's game, they had won three and lost two. Any winning record, no matter how brief, would always raise the hopes of some people, particularly managers. This manager was waiting on the top step of the dugout with an unpleasant look, and Brannan was hesitating on the mound as the Reds' first baseman crossed home plate. Sam, glad that he hadn't been pitching, entered the tunnel to the locker room.
Unlike the other players, Sam dressed as a successful young businessman might. A white shirt, probably the cleanest shirt in the whole room, was complemented by a regimental tie (of some mythical regiment), and was followed by a tailor- made navy blue pin-striped suit. Sam's black shoes were well polished, but he didn't wear spats, thinking them a little too flashy. It was much too warm for an overcoat, but a gentleman had to have a hat that could be tipped to ladies. Sam's was a derby with a conservative brim and a little red feather in the band. As the rest of the team went off to drink and eat, he took advantage of the fact that the colleges were still in session.
Alighting from a taxi, he found that the University of Cincinnati was tucked in behind a little business district. Neither looked very distinguished. Indeed, there was something a little pathetic about a city that was so obviously poor trying to run a college at all. But, of course, there were still some people with money, and there had to be colleges for those of their sons who weren't smart enough to go to good colleges. On the other hand, the small percentage of women who went to college constituted an intellectual elite anywhere, even if the men at that same college bordered on the idiot.
Sam shaped his course for the bicycle rack in front of the main women's dormitory, an old dirty red-brick building with tall pointed windows. When a girl dismounted and went inside, he saw that she didn't lock her bike. Noting its color and position in the rack, he explored one of the paths leading from the dormitory on foot.
After a few minutes, Sam hurried back to the bike rack and got on the bike he had previously marked. Heading down the curving path leading from the dormitory, he rapidly passed a young woman who was walking briskly along. He then missed the next turn of the path and crashed into some bushes at speed.
Bushes were Sam's favorite. Unlike trees and poles, they bent under impact. He always protected his eyes, and otherwise went limp. The spectacle was a very considerable one, and the girl came running. Sam's heavy suit protected him pretty well from the small branches, and his felt hat largely protected his head. Hardly scratched, he tried to give the impression that he was injured in the groin area, but was too gentlemanly to clutch himself in the presence of the lovely lady who was giving him succor.
College girls seldom knew much about first aid in general, and still less about the treatment of injuries in the genital area. However, it wasn't long before he staggered to his feet and took a few steps with the young lady's aid. Dismissing her suggestion that they seek out a doctor, he expressed great gratitude and insisted on taking her to dinner. She looked a little sceptical, but it was obvious that he couldn't manage without her assistance.
Sam had a good eye for attractive young ladies who held themselves with a certain dignity. They weren't silly and didn't squeal or giggle. This one turned out to be a graduate student in physics. Sam had taken a number of physics courses at Harvard, and, in order to avoid having to give an explanation of his appearance on the bicycle, he started right in on Niels Bohr's atomic theory. They had a good discussion along those lines, but, when they were seated at the nearby restaurant she had recommended, she said,
"You still haven't explained how you popped up here."
Sam explained that he was a baseball player, and added,
"I was hoping to meet someone like you."
He then told her the whole story. When he got to the bike crash, she said,
"I rather suspected something of the sort. But, then, I couldn't imagine that anyone would be crazy enough to do it."
"I've done it before. You're the fourth young lady I've met through bicycle accidents."
"What happened with the others?"
"A couple of them are good friends. I see them when we get to their towns."
"So you have girls, not in every port, but in every road stop?"
"Not in all. Also, unlike the sailors, I don't have sex with them. In fact, I haven't had all-the-way sex with anyone."
"I'm not sure I believe that."
"You'll see. I do like a certain intimacy, but I'm mostly interested in just understanding what people are like."
"Is this an entirely intellectual process?"
"No. I try to share feelings, partly for its own sake, and partly in order to understand."
"Once you've understood, can you predict what the other person will do?"
"Theoretically. But I've never gotten that far. What are you trying to do with your life?"
"I don't think we've exchanged names yet. I'm Anne Morris, and you're .....?"
"Sam Danderton. Why are you at this university?"
"I'm from Cincinnati, and I went away to Wellesley. I enjoyed my time there, but they don't have a graduate school. They have some good physicists here, so I came back."
"If you went to Wellesley, your family is probably wealthy and influential."
"I guess reasonably so."
"Can I meet your parents?"
Anne began to laugh and replied,
"The last thing most boys have wanted was to meet my parents."
"Rich powerful people are interesting. If you understand them, and see what they want to do, you understand a great deal else."
"The trouble is that my parents want me to marry the right sort of man as soon as possible. If I brought someone home, they'd think I was serious enough to be considering marriage to him."
"Would they want you to marry me?"
"They might. You're well educated and handsome. Of course, it'd depend on what you said to them. But I imagine you'd know how to say the right things."
"They wouldn't like my being a ballplayer, would they?"
"If they thought it was just temporary, it'd be okay. My father might want to find you a job."
"Do you think you might want to marry me?"
"God no! You're much too strange and eccentric. I doubt that you could be successfully married to anyone."
"That's pretty much the general opinion. One young lady told me that I was deeply weird, and I'm inclined to agree."
"But I do like you. I hope I'm not being insulting."
"No, that's okay. But that's where the sex thing comes in. I wouldn't have intercourse with anyone I didn't like, but, if I had it with someone I did like, wouldn't that amount to a sort of de facto proposal of marriage?"
"Most men wouldn't think so, but I see what you mean. I suppose I agree. The general idea is that girls like me aren't supposed to have sex outside marriage. I can imagine myself doing it, but I might have a hard time refusing the man if he then wanted to marry me."
The food came just then. They both ate hungrily and Sam said,
"I love eating, probably more than anything."
"Are you feeling all right now?"
"Yes. Fine, thanks."
"Your lower parts seemed to be giving you some trouble before."
"I exaggerated. I take advantage of the fact that it's so easy to imagine that a man in a bicycle accident has pranged his privates on the handle-bars or something."
"You will, sooner or later."
"I may not do this much longer. I make visits to my friends in the off season, and, now that you're signed up, I've got about all I can handle."
"Am I signed up?"
"I hope so. You're very nice. Also good-looking and accomplished."
"Did I come rushing up with a sufficient amount of solicitude when you went into the bushes?"
"Yes, more than most. I like dignified young ladies who don't scream, but I do like to see some concern."
"It makes you think of Florence Nightingale?"
Sam laughed and Anne said,
"You like to be teased, don't you?"
"I guess so."
"That's good. I like to tease."
The more Sam talked about the inadvisability of carnal commerce, the more interested he became in exactly that sort of commerce. At the moment, he would have liked to remove Ann's dress in order to see what she looked like without it. On impulse, he shared these thoughts with her. She replied,
"If my dress were taken off, I'd be sitting here in my slip. Would you be curious what I'd look like without that, too?"
"I think so, yes. Even more curious, perhaps."
"I dare say you would be. I'd then be left with only one layer. Would it be advisable, so as not to tax your curiosity too seriously, to remove that as well?"
"I wonder what would happen then. I hope you wouldn't be tempted to re-think your position on sexual intercourse and swing into action with your only moderately damaged privates."
"Of course, your being naked here in the restaurant would occasion some slight comment. It might be impracticable to proceed in the direction you indicate."
"Quite likely, but that's not really the point. It seems that your curiosity might take you in a direction contrary to some of your more general principles. Hasn't that ever happened?"
"No. I suppose it's because ladies haven't reacted to this sort of question by taking off their dresses. I don't suppose you will either."
"No, but I can see that I've teased you well and truly. You're also still bleeding a little here and there. A warm bath and some iodine might be a good idea."
The next day, just before the beginning of the game, Sam was sitting on the bullpen bench when he suddenly felt a cascade of cold liquid on his neck. As he jumped up, he realized that a whole beer had been poured on him. Looking up with mayhem in mind, he saw Anne Morris smiling down on him with an empty cup in her hand. She said,
"You said that didn't happen in Cincinnati, so I had to prove you wrong."
Next to Anne was the most embarrassed looking woman Sam had ever seen. Apologizing profusely, she concluded,
"I had no idea Anne was going to do that."
Sam realized that the lady was Anne's mother. He was laughing by this time, and the other players were delighted. Sam had never seen them so happy as they called congratulations to Anne and her mother. It didn't hurt that Anne was looking very animated and pretty, and that her mother's deep flush interfered not at all with her elegance. Unfortunately, an usher and a policeman then arrived, both very angry, to evict the ladies. Brannan, not noticeably depressed by the previous day's loss, yelled up,
"Leave em there. When we get hot they can pour beer on us, too. We can even open our mouths and get some inside."
The entreaties failed, but, as Anne and her mother were being marched away, Sam yelled for them to meet him in the hotel lounge after the game. Mrs. Morris called back,
"If we aren't taken to jail."
When they were behind twelve to three, Sam was called in to pitch the bottom of the seventh. His back still wet, he did well, getting two pop-ups and a grounder hit gently back to him. In the bottom of the eighth, he walked the first two men. No one seemed to much care, only the shortstop calling in,
"Let em hit it so we can get the fuck out of here."
Sam didn't take the advice and struck out the next batter on four pitches. The next man hit one of Sam's occasional curves hard on the ground to the first baseman's right. The motivation to get the game over seeming to be stronger than the desire to win, the first baseman dove and grabbed the ball. Sam, racing to the bag, got the toss in plenty of time. Then, with runners on second and third, he got the last man on a towering foul pop-up to the catcher.
In the top of the ninth, Sam came up with two out and no one on. The home plate umpire burst out,
"You smell like a brewery! Have you been drunk since last night?"
As strike one was called, Sam explained and got only an unbelieving grunt in return. He was sure that his team mates, believing that pitchers' batting averages didn't matter, wanted him to strike out on three pitches. But, of course, he liked to hit. On one and one, he hit the top of a fastball and bounced it past the pitcher and into center field. It was always fun to be on base, and Sam crouched off the bag as if he were preparing to steal.
The others cared too much about their averages to strike out intentionally, and, down nine runs, they eventually put together a two run rally. It was amusing to see how disgusted the bench became with each additional hit and agonizingly slow base on balls. But, finally, there was a pop-up and a great sigh of relief. Sam was pleased that he had done well, but, as far as he could see, no one had noticed.
It turned out that Anne and her mother had noticed. Although warned and admonished for bad behavior, they were allowed to remain and watch the game. Shortly after Sam arrived at the lounge, they entered, Anne with an air of triumph. The only trouble was that the whole bullpen had heard Sam propose the meeting place, and its members were scattered around the curved chrome-edged seats. If they had been out on the street, they would have whistled at Anne with her shoulder-length soft brown hair and her slim erect posture. They might also have whistled at her mother, expensively dressed with jewelry and perfume, but with almost the same figure.
Brannan, perhaps as a result of a bet, came up to be introduced. After flirting in a surprisingly sophisticated way with both Anne and her mother, he decently withdrew. Mrs. Morris remarked,
"Mr. Brannan seems an interesting young man. Are most of the others like him?"
"No. His father seems to be a fairly successful man. Mike's being a bit of a black sheep, but he knows he can always go back to the family business. Most of the others are country boys who'd be out in the fields picking cotton but for their baseball ability."
"Is that how they'll end up when they're through playing?"
"I'm afraid so. A few try to save enough money to buy a bar or diner, but most spend everything they get."
Mrs. Morris seemed to have a good deal of easily aroused sympathy, much more than Anne, and she glanced over at the players now clustered around Brannan.
The lounge, glassed in with wide doors opening on to an eighth floor terrace, was supposed to be a glamorous place. Everything was new and modern, and, in addition to scurrying waiters, a cocktail hostess curveted around in high heels. The players leered openly at her, and made themselves very comfortable. Even if some of them were headed for destitution, perhaps of an alcoholic sort, they were, after all, celebrities. Indeed, a couple of teen-aged boys came up with scraps of paper to be autographed, and they were signed with a good-humored and casual panache.
Unfortunately, the players had hardly settled down when the Phillies' manager appeared and wondered loudly why no one but himself seemed to be upset at their disgraceful performance that afternoon. He said nothing to Sam or his female companions, but his look suggested that he had forgotten Sam's two shoutout innings and hit. In any case, he evicted the other players from the lounge, figuratively sweeping them in front of him with his arms.
Mrs. Morris almost managed to make Sam feel that baseball was glamorous. He suspected that no one in her family cared, except perhaps in a vague civic way, who won the pennant. Nor did she seem to realize that she was with the mop-up pitcher of the Philadelphia Phillies, one of the worst teams in the league. She instead displayed a certain admiration for the young men who were so athletic, and who were so idolized by so many. After a renewed apology for her daughter's beer pouring, Sam repeated the umpire's comment. She replied,
"I didn't know players and umpires could talk with one another in ways like that."
"In one-sided games we play automatically and carry on all kinds of conversations. Most are about hunting and fishing."
"You'd never know that, sitting in the stands. I thought it was all terribly serious and intense."
Anne obviously thought spectator sports silly, but she seemed a little amused at her mother's interest. Mrs. Morris then stood and said something about summoning the waiter for more iced tea. Sam stood up too, ready to intercede with the waiter. They were standing behind Anne, Mrs. Morris with her water glass in hand, when she smiled quickly at Sam and dumped the glass, filled with water and ice, on Anne's left shoulder and neck. Anne let out a peculiar noise and almost upset the table. Her mother went into a series of apologies, almost equal to those at the ball park, ending with,
"Oh dear, I'm so sorry."
Anne, using her napkin, said to Sam,
"I didn't scream, did I?"
"No. It was an unusual sound that didn't constitute a word in English. But it wasn't unduly loud, and didn't attract attention in an un-ladylike way."
The waiter couldn't do much without touching Anne's left upper erogenous zone, and he just mopped some excess water off her skirt. In that Anne's blouse and underclothes were made largely transparent, some of Sam's curiosity of the previous day was satisfied.