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The Glove Boat

Feb. 10, 1992
Feb. 10, 1992

Table of Contents
Feb. 10, 1992

First Person
Sled Dog Racing
The Knicks
The Tyson Trial
Seattle Mariners
Elmore Spencer
Baseball Cruise
Interview
Point After

The Glove Boat

THE AUTHOR, A WANNABE BIG LEAGUER, NEVER WAS HALL OF FAME MATERIAL, BUT HE CAUGHT A FEW LEGENDS ON A CARIBBEAN BASEBALL CRUISE

By Roy Blount Jr.

"I think it's the ball," Maury Wills tells me, and I nod.

This is an article from the Feb. 10, 1992 issue

I still have a mental image of a ball I saw Wills hit in 1962, the year he revolutionized baserunning by stealing 104 bases. A single up the middle. I was a college student, my own playing career was down to intramural softball, and, I don't know, there was something about this single. Wills took a nasty high fastball and just sort of nudged it into something he could operate behind: a not-very-hard but clean and firm line drive directly over second base. He was like a small but scientific bouncer intercepting a big, obstreperous drunk and flipping him out the door, vwoop, without any scuffle.

And now he and I are on a liner, surrounded by nothing but sea and sky, and he is telling me about the ball, the baseball, itself. "You give a child something else and he says 'Naw,' but you give a child a ball and he grabs it. It's that perfect sphere. A basketball is too big, and a golf ball is too small. It's (he size of the ball."

Yes. I feel that we are getting somewhere now.

But. Someone else claims Wills's attention, and a woman who is wearing springy, wire bee-feelers with a little ball on the end of one of them and a little glove on the end of the other comes up to me. She is carrying a video camera and a still camera and a pen and a baseball. She eyes me closely and says, "So...you're not one of the legends. No." And goes away.

No.

My footing moves under me. The Caribbean is passing under it. Our ship, which is more like a floating mall—12 different color-coded decks—is the SS Norway. The longest passenger ship ever built, as long as two tape-measure home runs, nearly twice as big as the Titanic. So I am standing over lots of waves at once. They do to me what another of my shipmates, Ferguson Jenkins, used to do to hitters—they keep me just slightly off-balance all the time.

I wander to the Ibsen Library, on the International Deck. (We also have a casino and a couple of pools and a video room and a jogging track and a 6,000-square-foot Roman Spa and a theater featuring Broadway-type musicals and a dance club called A Club Called "Dazzles." And, you can be sure, lots and lots of shops.) None of my books is in the Ibsen Library. But none of my friends' are, either (nor any of Ibsen's), so that's some consolation.

And, anyway, I'm hanging with legends.

Dining with Ferguson Jenkins. He says it's great being in the Hall of Fame, which is "like a fraternity." There's a newsletter and everything. Of course the ring you get is kind of drab; for a stone it has a big metal baseball. He's not wearing his because he's having a diamond set in it. And when he flew into Albany, N.Y., on the way to Cooperstown to be immortalized last July, the airline lost his luggage.

A regular guy, Fergie. "I consider myself a Cub," Jenkins says, "but the Rangers were the most fun. Some of us went to a movie once, and I heard this noise. Fpuh...fpuh...fpuh.... And I looked over, and it was Jim Kern, the Emu [a Ranger relief pitcher]. He was blowing popcorn up in the air from his nose and catching it in his mouth. He'd get it way up in the air. Fpuh...fpuh.... Later he did it in the clubhouse."

Nine years ago I hooked up with this same Ferguson Jenkins in my greatest moment on a baseball field. And he doesn't remember it.

The popcorn-from-the-nose thing, that sticks in his mind.

My mind as well, true. But when I took the Norwegian Cruise Line Baseball Cruise in November, I was hoping to hear something more inspiring or consoling.

We were out for a week, sailing from Miami and back again by way of St. John, St. Thomas and San Juan with, as the brochures put it, The Legends: Bob Feller, Maury Wills, Manny Sanguillen and Jenkins. Whose significant other, Cindy Backherms, calls him the Fergmeister.

And active players: Greg Olson of the Braves, Juan Samuel and Mike Sharper-son of the Dodgers. Orlando Merced and Bob Patterson of the Pirates, Omar Olivares of the Cardinals, Jarvis Brown and Bob Kipper of the Twins, Jeff Montgomery of the Royals, Eric Show of the A's, Pat Tabler of the Blue Jays, Milt Cuyler of the Tigers, Pat Kelly of the Yankees, Kevin Morton of the Red Sox and Mark Williamson of the Orioles. (We were supposed to have Chuck Knoblauch and Gene Larkin of the Twins, but they became World Series heroes and canceled.)

And a distinguished ex-umpire: Satch Davidson. Who, when he gets to reminiscing about his minor league playing days, mentions in passing that he had a teammate named Old Jesus MacFarland. Whether there was a Young Jesus MacF., I don't know. I can't believe I was on board ship for a week with a man who used to play with an Old Jesus MacFarland and I never found out how Old Jesus got his name.

Hey, it was a cruise. The woman with the feelers was tuned into it. I had some problems.

•One, a legends problem. By this time, according to my boyhood calculations, I should myself be a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I am 50 now and have not yet played organized hardball at any level above high school. My prospects of enshrinement grow dimmer and dimmer. Meanwhile there were all these guys on the cruise who have already become big leaguers—guys young enough to be my sons, most of them making eight or 10 times the money I make, guys I have just barely heard of, frankly (it looks like I'm losing ground as a fan, even).

I didn't talk to any of those guys much. I just overheard them—one, for instance, telling a father who was seeking an autograph for his son, "If he wants to be a ballplayer, tell him to read this. No, it's not the date, it's Philippians 4:10-13." I'll bet Old Jesus MacFarland never mixed autographs with scripture.

There was also a kid on board named Eric, 10 or 11 years old, bright and eager, asking a lot of questions and declaring his intention to play in the big leagues. Wills asked him, "You going to leave me tickets?" Eric said he would. His whole life ahead of him. I didn't talk to him at all.

•Two, a cruise problem. I had never been on a cruise before, but I believe that most of the people around me (many of whom wore T-shirts that said things like I'VE GOT IT, BUT NOBODY WANTS TO SEE IT and SHUT UP AND SKI) had.

The Norway can accommodate more than 2,000 passengers, and on this cruise they all seemed to be present and looking for each other: "We haven't seen Steve and Laurie all day." Or talking about each other: "Every number that was called in Bingo, every new song the combo swung into, every time anybody ordered a drink, every time anything happened, he would sing out, 'Yes!' "

Many passengers had signed up without realizing that this was a baseball cruise, and to be sure, there were many, many nonbaseball-related activities scheduled at all times: Calypso Sail Away Music with Our Calypso Band, "Caribbean Melody"; Casino Opens for Live Gambling; Last Chance for Future Cruise Discounts with Our Cruise Consultant, Robin; Enjoy the Piano Sounds of Phil Conti While Sipping a Cocktail; Scarf-Tying and Ice-Carving Demonstrations; Renewal of Marriage Vows (Interdenominational); Grandparents Party, Bring Your Pictures and Brag!

Every day there was a different drink of the day—for instance, the Virgin Kiss (apricot brandy and Galliano). Never Old Jesus MacFarland's drink, I'll wager. Frequently there were announcements: "Due to high winds, trapshooting on the Olympic Deck is canceled." On Country and Western Night, country and western garb was required throughout the evening; I considered this nonbinding.

Everybody asks about the food. The food was up and down. Which is better, on a ship, than down and up.

In short, I was confirmed in my prejudice that cruises are for people who don't like to travel. However, the great majority of my fellow cruisers seemed to be having a fine time. And even when so many programmed things are going on, surprises can happen. For instance, Cameron McNeil, a toddler whose father was on board to demonstrate his company's pitching machine, toddled into one of the lounges once while exploring the ship with his mother, and an aerobics session was going on, and the instructor's suddenly outthrust foot caught Cameron and flipped him straight up in the air.

At dinner the last night of the voyage, when the waiters and busboys were supposed to get their tips for the week, they all lined up along the spiral staircase and sang We Are the World.

•Three, a couples problem. This cruise was pretty thoroughly a couples scene. Each baseball guy, in return for taking part in one of several question-and-answer sessions and signing free autographs, got a free cruise for two. Juan Samuel brought his agent, but generally it was wives or girlfriends. Don't get me wrong, I like couples. I enjoy observing couples—for instance, the elderly one I kept seeing: the woman steaming purposefully into some shop or another, muttering, "I'm going to tell them...," and the man following behind, crying, "Viv! Viv!"

Incidentally, I read something recently about what to say at awkward moments. When someone proudly shows you a picture of a grandchild, and the baby is ugly, you should focus on something else in the picture. For instance, if the picture is a beach scene, say, "Oh, what a nice sand bucket." I didn't go to the Grandparents Party, but I bet that old couple was there, and she was saying, "Aren't her eyes a little close?" and he was saying, "Viv! Viv!"

My cruise companion was Ivory Madison, who doesn't follow baseball. We had met at a writers' conference in New Orleans. When someone on the cruise asked who was for and against the DH, Ivory said, "I'm against D.H. Lawrence" and started explaining why.

I'm not saying she didn't make some good points. I'm just saying that when it's couples, it's hard to keep your concentration on baseball as such. An example:

Dinner with Satch and Lynn Davidson. She runs a pet-bereavement counseling service, which also involves sensitivity training for veterinarians. And she has raised her husband's consciousness with regard to chewing tobacco. "It's why one side of his face is bigger than the other," she says. He chewed it from the age of six, he says, until 1983, when he met Lynn and she insisted he quit. Right after that, he got the first cavity of his life. Sometimes Lynn reminds him to watch what he says around a writer.

Satch is telling umpiring stories. Once, in the minors, he sent both benches to the locker rooms, made the press vacate the press box and threw out the organist. "It was a riot situation. Nickel a Beer Night," he says. Satch stresses the importance of an umpire's not taking anything off of anybody. (Except when it's necessary: "One time I undressed Gaylord Perry for throwing an illegal pitch—made him go into the dressing room and take all the Vaseline off, from head to toe.") He says that in the minors, where professionalism could not be assumed, "I'd grab 'em by the shirt and pick 'em up and throw 'em against the wall. I broke every bone in a man's face once."

"Hmm. How many bones are there in a man's face?" asks Ivory in a low voice.

"He was pushing me," Satch goes on. "I hit him with my mask."

"This," Ivory whispers, "from a man with a manicure."

I guess Satch's nails are well cared for, but that isn't what interests me. I want to nail down this face-smashing story.

"What city was that in?" I ask Satch.

Lynn nudges him.

"I don't remember," he says.

Call what I am about to say sexist, but I can't hold it back:

Imagine you're a manager, and a man, and you run out onto the field to argue with an umpire, who is also a man. And his wife is with him. And yours runs out there with you. You are fuming and yelling, "Where the rats rats rats was your ratsing head on that ratsy-rats-rats play for ratsake, you..."

(I use this terminology because during one of the Q and A sessions on the cruise, Greg Olson was asked what players are saying when you see their lips moving angrily on television, and he said, "Mostly 'Rats!' ")

...and your wife is squeezing your arm and saying in your ear, "Dear, remember what happened the last time you called him a rat." And the umpire is steaming and getting ready to give you the big hard thumb, and his wife is studying your face and whispering to her husband, "Look at his eyes. There's hurt there. He's just upset because he's not getting a chance to play anymore. So you two have that in common."

I'm not denying that the wives would be right. I'm just saying that you and the umpire would feel less legendary.

Ferguson Jenkins and I, as I believe I mentioned, have a little history together. Back in 1983, on assignment from this magazine, I took part in the first fantasy baseball camp—middle-aged guys playing with the '69 Cubs. In the final game of that camp, I hit the longest ball of anybody, including the old big leaguers. This was also the longest ball I had ever hit in my life, which made me feel that in some sense I might still be developing. Three hundred fifty feet. Caught. By a great pitcher who happened to be playing left-field. Fella named Jenkins.

Who revealed to me on this cruise that he doesn't remember it—at all. He didn't even say, "Oh, hmmm, yesss..." unconvincingly, or express any hint of remorse, or make any effort to rack his brain. You might think he would at least recollect getting a shot to play leftfield, and making good on it, by gosh, when a camper's blast actually forced him to go back, back, reaching over his shoulder....

No.

Whereas the popcorn from the eccentric reliever's nose is etched vividly. "Get it way up in the air," would he?

I'll bet I could have been quite an eccentric reliever myself, if I'd had the chance. I can't do anything funny with my nose, but sometimes in a movie theater I go "YAH!" suddenly at a tense moment, and everybody around me jumps.

But who wants to hear about the legend I might have been? I happened to mention to Jenkins that I played a little Latin ball myself in Venezuela some years ago with a team of American sportswriters against a Venezuelan press team. "The fans," I said, "threw limes at us."

"In Nicaragua," Jenkins says, "they threw iguanas. They'd bring them to the park in big bags and lake them out and throw them at the visiting team, and the groundskeepers were afraid of them, didn't want to pick them up. So we'd have to shoo them off the field, and they were so slow...."

That's one way you can tell a legend: heavier ammunition. Another way is, he doesn't give in to your pretensions readily. I remember once when Manny Sanguillen, maybe the nicest ballplayer I ever met, was still with the Pirates. The Venezuelan broadcaster Juan Venè and I tried to convince Sanguillen that Venè and I had played ball against each other, and people had actually paid to watch us, and I was just about to tell about the limes when Sanguillen said, "Softball?"

No, we said, baseball.

"You guyyyyys," said Sanguillen.

Sanguillen, the free-swinging, exuberant Panamanian catcher, was one of my favorite players back in the '70s. I remember him telling me, "I shouldn't swing at the firs' pitch all the time. People tell me, don't always swing at the firs' pitch. Because they always going to throw me a bad pitch, I know I shouldn't do it. But I swing at the firs' pitch all the time."

"Well," I said, "why do you?"

His face lit up, and he held his hands up as if to heaven. "Because it make me feel good!" he cried.

On the cruise, Sanguillen and Orlando Merced and their wives and Ivory and I played volleyball one afternoon. It was nice. We didn't keep score. Which is probably just as well, because legends don't compete lightly.

Fergie and Cindy and Maury Wills and his friend Jane Morris and Ivory and I hit St. Thomas one day and San Juan another, and though the schedule didn't allow us enough time ashore, the time we did have was relaxed and pleasant.

"Two very nice couples," said Ivory.

Well, yes. But the guys could play. And look at them—if you were casting a canny, loose-limbed mound mainstay and a peppy, edgy leadoff man, they would be just right. These guys are touchstones.

After Maury gave a bunting demonstration on the deck of the Norway, I got into bat handling with him. "You said you have to put bottomspin on the ball, to make it back up, but you also said to bunt the top of the ball, to keep it down," I said. "How can you put bottomspin on the top of the ball?"

And do you know what Maury Wills said to me? He said, "I've taught hundreds of major leaguers how to bunt, and you're the first person to ask me that question."

Here's the answer: "The bottomspin is in the timing, the give of the bat."

But what I'm wondering is, Is that why I'm not a legend? Because I ask the wrong questions?

Anyway, in St. Thomas we three couples tried to look up Maury's old teammate Al McBean, but there was nobody in the Hall of Records. In San Juan we saw a trolley car called El Trolley Diet Pepsi and a sign that said USE NUESTRO LAY-AWAY PLAN. Jenkins, by the way, is now a rancher in Guthrie, Okla., and Wills lives in Redondo Beach, Calif., and docs public relations for several companies. And I wasn't in an interviewing mood. The locals in San Juan could tell that Fergie was somebody, and T-shirt vendors cried, "Maury Wills—the Dodgers. Don Drysdale. Sandy Koufax. You the little guy!" And Maury, who never made $100,000 except one year in Canadian money, picked up a USA Today and spent a good deal of time reading the salaries: "The Cubs have a guy named Assenmacher who is making a million dollars," he would say.

But basically we were cruising, shopping, not competing.

Except in recollection. Maury remembered being in a Superstars competition a few years after he retired as a player and losing in the finals to Ben Davidson, the old Oakland Raider. "I was crying," Maury said. "On television. Tears running and my face all ugly."

He also said, "I never got a hit off Fergie that I can remember." And the expression on Jenkins's face, as he nodded slowly in agreement, was the same no-kidding look your father gets when he talks about money or a dog gets when he sees his food, ft was funny, just for a moment there, watching Maury talking about not hitting Fergie, and Fergie eyeing him. It was almost as if Fergie thought Maury might try something, suddenly turn on him and claim some wily little single, and Fergie had the ball behind his back, ready to come up with a pitch that would throw his challenger off balance.

And maybe Maury would bunt it. Put a little bottomspin on the top of it. You've got to watch those pesky guys.

You want to know whom the legends admire? In San Juan, Sanguillen (who is a Latin-relations man for Tom Reich, the Los Angeles and Pittsburgh-based agent) and Merced visited the house of Sanguillen's old teammate Roberto Clemente. Both of them are friends of the family—Merced played catch in the Clementes' trophy room when he was a kid, and Sanguillen walked the beaches after Clemente's plane crash in 1972, hoping that some trace would wash up.

But Jenkins said that of all the great players he had played against, the only one he regarded as a superstar was Clemente. ("The only thing I ever saw Sandy Koufax do was pitch a no-hitter against the Phillies," Jenkins said. "The Cubs used to hammer him.") Wills said Clemente was much better than Willie Mays. And Sanguillen said, "When I came to Pittsburgh, I met the late Roberto Clemente. I remember after my first year when I play Class A and hit .235. In spring training Roberto Clemente stay after the practice game and work with the hitters. He didn't have to. He move my weight, he shift my feet. That year I hit .328, and next year I went to the big leagues. And I thank God I had the chance to play alongside the great Roberto Clemente."

But Bob Feller, now. Bob Feller was my first boyhood idol. And there I was on a ship with him. (And incidentally, the water was really impressive, there was so much of it, and every now and then we would go past something and it would be, for instance, Cuba.) Bob Feller's Strikeout Story was the first sports book I ever read. There was something intrinsically friendly about the name Bob Feller—and he played in the big leagues before he finished high school! So why couldn't I? I mused when I was nine, 10, 11. True, I hadn't built up my sinews as an Iowa farmboy carrying heavy pails of milk. That's what Feller had done, and he had such an arm that in 1946, after nearly four years of wartime Navy service, he came back and pitched 36 complete games.

But I did yardwork, didn't I? And I lived and died with Bob Feller in the sports pages the last four or five years of his career. A scant 37 years later, this cruise put me in the same boat with him. But I felt at sea. I have prodded many a superstar for information over the years, but when it comes to a superstar who was one when I was a kid, my natural reaction is to look down at my feet and scuff my toe in the dirt (or on the deck). Because if I'm old enough to be asking Bob Feller man-to-man questions, and he's 73, chances are that my own shot at a playing career has passed.

I did question Bob. That's what I called him, although it felt like calling Lincoln Abe to his face. I told him I was writing up the cruise for SI, and he said, "Your paper hasn't said anything about me in four years." I apologized.

Feller got out on the deck and gave a pitching demonstration. He showed us the old pump-handle windup, reaching way back and way up with both arms and kicking way up with his left leg, and even though he dismissed that windup as wasted motion and deservedly obsolete, it gave me a period thrill, like seeing Ring Lardner bang out a few sentences on an old typewriter. There on deck sunbathers in little bikinis basked all around, but nobody paid them any attention as Feller said that pitchers today are overcoached and overanalyzed: "They second-guess themselves, they don't take charge. If you aren't born with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball, there's nothing anybody can do for you, including God."

He also said, "I got a funny thumb, folds way back, makes it easier to throw the curveball. I got that from my mother. I also got my dimple from her."

He talked about umpires: "I had a way of judging umpires. If you don't know what he's going to call it, he's not a good umpire, because he's not consistent. I'd say to them, 'If you don't miss more than 12 pitches, we'll both have a good day.' "

He talked about his old manager with the Indians, Lou Boudreau: "Boudreau said he was going to call the pitches. I said, 'No, you're not.' "

He talked about the Indians' old owner Bill Veeck: "Veeck made a lot of mistakes. That midget."

And he said that during the war in the Pacific, "I'd play catch on the fantail of the USS Alabama almost every evening. I threw more balls into the Pacific Ocean than we threw bullets. When they renovated the Alabama, they found a lot of balls in the scuppers."

I asked him to sign his recent autobiography for a friend of mine. (I couldn't find my old copy of Strikeout Story—I'm slipping as a collector, even.) He had no way of knowing what an honor this was for him. The only other ballplayer I had ever asked, as an adult, for an autograph was Satchel Paige. But Feller complied readily, and he said, "You won't find a single four-letter word in there. I don't go for that bullshit."

So I'm going to quote Bob Feller as saying that? I guess I am. Cheap shot? Hey, I got a job to do.

No four-letter words, he said, "and no stories about your friends that they wouldn't want to read. We could all tell stories, but if you do that, you're worse than a prostitute, because at least a prostitute admits what she's doing."

If the cruise had been a writers' conference, Feller and Wills might have appeared together in a spirited panel addressing the topic, The Baseball Memoir: Where to Draw the Line. The first sentence in Wills's recent On the Run (with Mike Celizic) is "This isn't a kiss-and-tell book." The first chapter is about how Maury caught his son Bump in flagrante delicto (to put the matter much more delicately than the book does) with the woman he, Maury, was living with at the time.

I hadn't read the book (generally, when I read ballplayers' books, I think, "You guyyyyys"), just heard about it, and I wasn't going to bring it up. Maury did. He is in recovery from drugs and alcohol, and constant "housecleaning" is an important part of the process, he said. He showed the first chapter to his son beforehand, and Bump begged him not to publish it, but Maury did, and Bump stopped talking to him. "It's a good book," Maury said, but "I've lost my son over it."

Hey, I'm a writer, and I don't think a book is worth the loss of a son. But I read On the Run after the cruise, and unless you like your legends strong and silent, I recommend it. "I have sworn to a rigorous honesty," Maury said over lunch in San Juan, and that may be recovery jargon, but in this book it is no lie. There aren't many people who are staunch enough to have been a National League MVP and also crazy enough to tell the frequently childish and awful truth about themselves. There's something disturbing but also touching about the Maury legend, whether he's wetting the bed at the age of 33 or spiking people whenever he can.

That is one of the jobs of a writer, surely: to reveal usefully embarrassing things about himself. When I compared the things like that in Maury's book with the things like that in my books, I felt as if I had been hit by an iguana.

The book bears out, however, what Maury, housecleaning, told me: "A ballplayer's life is not a real life."

Which leads us back to couples.

Of the several question-and-answer sessions that the cruise featured (all of them deftly moderated by Jon Miller, the voice of the Orioles), the most striking to me was the wives'.

Ballplayers' wives appeal to me. They tend to be lithely good-looking, down-to-earth and also the brains in the family. Lisa Olson, wife of Greg, is a good example. The two of them looked and seemed to feel good together. He was a funny, bouncy, take-charge figure in the Q and A and autograph sessions. In one, at Miller's request, he recreated the Oct. 28 SI cover picture from the World Series—Olson standing on his head, holding the ball, after one of those now legendary home plate collisions. When someone asked him, "How do you feel when you're waiting there with the ball, and the runner is bearing down on you, and you know you're going to get nailed?"

Olson said, "Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb."

When someone attending the wives' Q and A asked Lisa what Greg was like at home, Lisa said, "You've seen him here. That's the way he is all the time." And from the back of the room he gave us a long, drawn-out "Yo!"

But when someone asked Lisa if she would like for her son to be a ballplayer, she said, "I'd rather he be something else. And if we have a daughter, I'll tell her to keep away from those athletes. I got involved with Greg before I had a clue what he did, and by the time I did, I was already in love with him. I'd rather my son and his wife have a life together."

And Lori Williamson said, "After a game, Mark thinks over every pitch he threw. He says he doesn't, but he does. You can see him doing it."

I would do that. In fact I sometimes do that late at night, even though I'm not a pitcher. Imagine not being able to stop yourself, and your wife saying, "You're doing it again," and you saying, "No, I'm not, I swear it," and she knows better....

And Joy Cuyler, Milt's wife, said, "When he first got up to the Tigers, I said, 'Why are you so tense and nervous? You know how to play ball, I guess.' I don't know about baseball. I can't tell him how to hold a bat. But when he's nervous and tense, I can tell him that."

Didn't sound too comforting to me. But they're young, Milt can hit, they'll work it out. Whereas I was left wondering—what do I take away from this cruise?

In my heart I had hoped that Bob Feller, with whom I go back so far, would tell me something inspirational. But he got off the ship at San Juan, had to go appear somewhere else as a legend.

Fortunately, his wife of many years remained on board. Quietly warm and elegant, with just a bit of a whaddya-gonna-do smile, Ann Feller liked it, I think, when I told her what I couldn't tell Bob: that he was my earliest living hero. And as if she knew what I needed, she started to talk about him.

"If you tell him I said this, I'll deny it, but he's kind of a klutz. Two years ago he broke his leg, and he knocked over everything in the house with his crutches."

"How did he break his leg?" I asked.

"He was doing the Lord's work—he was putting up the Christmas star on the roof, and then he came down and said it was just a little bit crooked. It wasn't really crooked, and nobody but us sees it anyway, but he went back up and fixed it and came back down, and it had gotten dark and there was some ice on the driveway.... And I heard washing noises in the garage.

"I called out and said, 'What are you doing?'

"And he said, 'I think I broke my leg, and I'm washing the cars before it swells up.'

"One of the young pitchers said he was thinking of taking a few months off and doing nothing, but Bob said, 'No, don't do that, your muscles will atrophy.'

"Bob has planks nailed to a tree in the yard, and he throws against that—for when people ask him to throw out the first ball. You know, sometimes guys can hardly throw it anymore, and he wants to be able to get it out there. Bob always has a ball in his pocket, so whenever he goes by the tree with the planks, he can throw against them for a while."

That was it, something to live by. You never know. Always keep a ball in your pocket.

Of course I may never be asked to throw out a first ball. Maybe I can find a good strong bag and an iguana.

ILLUSTRATIONDAVID SHELDONILLUSTRATIONDAVID SHELDONIn Nicaragua, Jenkins says, they throw iguanas at the visiting team.ILLUSTRATIONDAVID SHELDONThe popcorn-from-the-nose thing, that tends to stick in one's mind.ILLUSTRATIONDAVID SHELDONImagine you're a manager yelling at an ump, and both wives are there.ILLUSTRATIONDAVID SHELDONI'll bet Old Jesus MacFarland never mixed autographs with scripture.