My trips to Florida for spring training and trips to other events requiring air or train travel gave me a sense of independence because Pop was usually on site and I was joining him there. To say I was gaining a sense of independence is a sort of understatement. The correct way of putting my new gained status is to say my actions were writing a check my butt couldn’t cash.
A case in point was the trip to Tucson for the Cleveland Indians camp. The Indians had won the pennant with Larry Doby and Pop was instructed to cover this story. I was elated because when the Indians came to Washington to play the Senators, Doby stayed at our house. He was nice enough not to treat me like the pain in the butt I probably was, and I interpreted this as the gaining of a new friend.
In those days, you took an overnight train to Chicago (which was quite an adventure for a ten-year-old), and switched to another train for Tucson. On the overnight train I was allowed my freedom, because after all, where could I go?
Mickey Vernon was the first baseman for the Indians, and he adopted me on the train. When it came time for me to go to bed, I was missing and Pop was worried. The conductor told Pop I was in the club car with some of the players. When he arrived, I was sitting with my feet propped up on a table, sipping a Shirley Temple. Busted!
I spent the rest of that trip on lockdown. It was just as well, because my condition from all of that travel prompted Pop to introduce me to Pepto-Bismol to settle my stomach. When we disembarked in Tucson, I was dragging my suitcase and clutching my bottle of Pepto. I immediately arrived at the conclusion that Tucson must be the hottest place on the planet. I soon learned that Tucson’s weather was a mixed bag. It was around forty degrees in the morning, prompting chill bumps, but around 10 a.m. the temperature jumped up so fast I thought the thermometer might jump off of the wall.
Segregation was still around at the time, and we stayed in an approved home. It was Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, Pop and me. Mealtime proved to be quite a treat. Watching Minnie pile his plate high and mix everything together was something I had never seen before. It was probably the expression on my face that prompted Minnie to say, “It’s all going to the same place.”
When the team would take the field for a little fungo practice, I was always among them. The coach would hit grounders to players who would make the throw to first base. The first baseman would then throw the ball to me who was fielding for the coach. Trust me, you ain’t never had a fire in your hand to equal the heat received from a major league player throwing at you from 120 feet.
This was the chore I undertook every day, and through the pain I enjoyed every minute of it. After all, I was hanging with the big dogs.
Click for related articles: