"A wonderful, timeless story that is entertaining while also addressing the problems of professional sports."--The Boston Sunday Globe
A classic quartet of baseball stories, repackaged for a new generation.
"A wonderful, timeless story that is entertaining while also addressing the problems of professional sports."--The Boston Sunday Globe
Janet L. Rose
Read an Excerpt
The Kid from Tomkinsville
By John R. Tunis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1968 Lucy R. Tunis
All rights reserved.
The train stood still. The train seemed attached to the station forever. The train refused to leave. So did his friends. They balanced first on one foot and then on the other along the platform below his window, the girls giggling, the boys grinning and shouting things it was impossible to hear. Embarrassed and unhappy, he slouched down in the seat. They were attracting attention and people ahead in the car turned to stare, looking at his one small suitcase with the bat strapped to it in the rack above. Their staring increased his loneliness and his fear of going away into the unknown, the fear of leaving home for the first time which suddenly took possession of him. If only the train would leave. But the train didn't move.
The door just behind him banged and a brakeman came through. The last words of the conductor standing beside the steps with his watch in hand filtered through the door before it shut.
"Yeah ... that kid from Tomkinsville ..." The brakeman turned and looked at him curiously as he passed down the aisle. Other passengers caught the words and turned to look also. Still the train refused to move. Then there was a jolt. It did move. Slowly, gently, but it moved. Instantly the group below became animated and started to wave. He straightened up and waved back. They followed the car along the platform; boys he had played and fought with, girls with whom he'd gone to school: Joe and Harry Cousins, the twins who played end on the football team; Harry Peters, whose father had also been killed in the war; Jess Moore and Tommy Watson, who had the night shift at MacKenzie's drugstore, and Jim Harrison, who was taking his place on the day shift, and... and lots of others, now disappearing. Only a minute before he had wished them all a million miles away. Now they were his last link with Grandma and Tomkinsville. He couldn't bear to see them vanish so he turned and waved. Then the train gathered speed and they were out of sight. He was alone....
The door opened brusquely and the conductor came in accompanied by a draft of cold air. "Tickets, please, Hartford tickets...." Reaching into his pocket, he noticed the conductor was smiling. That ticket ... where was it? His pocketbook, his inside pocket ... but he had it ... only half an hour before. A panic seized him. Lost? Ah, there it was. In a side pocket where he had stuffed it as he shook hands with them on the platform. He handed it to the conductor and as he did so a copy of Detective Stories, his reading material for twenty-four hours, fell to the floor. The conductor casually unfolded the long green strip, punched it several times, and handed it back. "Clearwater, hey ... going down to the training camps?" Then he went up the aisle. "Tickets ... Hartford tickets, please." Folks up ahead in the car turned and stared.
The knot of men round the train gate of the Pennsylvania Station suddenly came alive as the uniformed attendant dropped the chain and called out:
"Palmetto Limited; Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and the West Coast. Palmetto Limited." Beside him a tall man in a fawn-colored coat with a piece of paper in his hand was checking the men as they went through the gate. He called out each name. "Cars 456 and 7, boys. Townsend ... Loretti ... Spencer ... Brooks ... yeah, you're in 456 ... Henricks ... Stevens ... Smith ... Case, where's Case? ... there you are ... Scudder ... I got you, Scudder ... Hennessey ... Bareto ... Morgan ... Rice ... 456 and 7 ..."
While the crowd surged about the narrow entrance, a well-dressed man at one side stood watching and waiting for the gate to clear. Two porters behind him were surrounded by a mountain of luggage; expensive leather handbags, large suitcases, and an enormous bag crammed with several dozen clubs and bulging with golf paraphernalia. At his elbow was a short, chunky, red-faced fellow with his gray hat over his eyes and his hands in the pockets of his trousers. The older man was talking and shaking his head with decision.
"No ... of course I won't say that.... How can I? Haven't seen the other clubs yet." There was some annoyance in his voice. "Nope, I certainly won't say that, Casey. Don't know yet." He flipped away his cigarette with a derisive gesture. Then he turned to the porters, nodded, and followed by that mountain of baggage moved toward the train gate. The smaller man kept close beside him, and they passed through and descended the stairs to the waiting train. "What's that? ... Well, I dunno.... Maybe ... Maybe not ... How can I tell? ... Sure, you can say that. You can say we won't finish last like we did last summer. What's that? New men? Well ... coupla swell outfielders from the Pacific Coast League, and a fair shortstop who hit .320 for Elmira last season, and a boy named Stevens from Kansas City who won eighteen games for 'em, and... oh yes, there's a kid from Connecticut, they tell me he'll be a ballplayer in a few years. Car 517." The Pullman conductor at the foot of the stairs waved him up ahead. "My car's in front. C'mon up and have dinner. All I know is I have a hundred and fifty grand invested in that ballclub. I'll say this. We got problems. Plenty of problems. But if we can come up with two good pitchers we'll make any of 'em hustle." He turned abruptly and went forward. The two porters followed him into the blackness.
The little man went into his car. As the train started he unhitched a portable typewriter, set it up, inserted a piece of paper and began to write. Then he hesitated. He took the paper out and threw it away in a crumpled ball. He put in another sheet and after a few words repeated the process. All this time the train was rocking across the meadows of Newark. Once again he tried it, once more he was dissatisfied, took the paper out and tossed it aside. As they slowed up at the station in Newark he lit a cigarette, leaned back and smoked. Finally he put in a fresh sheet and wrote at the top of the page:
"BY JIM CASEY
"Unless it's an old man selling apples at the corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, on a cold winter day, I can't think of anything more pathetic than setting out with the Brooklyn Dodgers for another season." His cigarette was out so he lit another and continued. The words came faster. "Who've they got this year? For pitchers, Jake Kennedy, Frenchie De Voe, Harry Norman, Rats Doyle, Sam Henderson, 'Fat Stuff' Foster, and Razzle Nugent. Except for Nugent, Foster is the best of a bad lot. He had the best record last summer when he lost twenty games and won ten. That means the Dodgers are exactly half a game behind every time he takes the mound. They have a rookie from Elmira trying for shortstop, two new outfielders from the Pacific Coast, and a kid from somewhere up in Connecticut without any big-league experience who's supposed to pitch them into the Series. Maybe."
Now words rippled from his machine. His face grew redder, for he was thinking of the effect of those sentences on the man in the car up front. After all, what of it? True, every word. He read what he had written and as the spires of Princeton whizzed past in the distance he inserted a final sheet and ended his story.
"If you think all this is hard on our Dodgers, just do one thing. Clip this and call me on it next September. Then if the Dodgers aren't in last place, sue me. No, don't sue me. Choke me, because I have no business being a sportswriter."
He shook his head as he shoved the third suitcase into the back of the car. "Nope. You drive." She got in behind the wheel and he opened the other door and sat down. Anything to postpone the time when responsibility for the family would be on his shoulders.
She took the wheel, backed out of the driveway and drove down the familiar street. The children waved to him from the front window and he waved back. A flurry of snow beat against the glass, and he leaned over to turn on the car heater. At the corner a commuter coming home from work with his head lowered against the storm seemed weary and beaten. The man in the car watched the snow fall. The same sort of storm as the day he had started for the training camps the first time, a boy fresh from college going into the big leagues. He remembered the bitter cold, the driving snow, and then the warmth and sunshine of Florida the next day. Those were the days when roughnecks ruled the training camps, when you could turn in at night and be sure of finding a dead shark in your bed. Things were different now, and easier. If only he was breaking in nowadays.
They turned into Wayne Avenue, past the A & P, and then by Johnson's drugstore where the boys always listened to the out-of-town games on the air—or said they did. The car swung into Germantown as she stopped for a red light. "I'm sure things won't be as bad as you imagine, Dave. Look how well you feel. You haven't had a cold this winter. You're young still...."
"I know I'm young. You know I'm young. I feel young all right. But does he know it? You can't fool the record book. After all, there it is. Started in 1923 with the Chicago White Sox. Laugh that one off. The oldest catcher in the big leagues. That's what the papers always say. Notice, not the smartest catcher, or the best catcher, but the oldest catcher. The veteran ..."
"Dave Leonard! Stop! You are the smartest catcher. Casey said so. With all your experience you have something to offer them, especially a young club that must be built up from the bottom." He shook his head. She was encouraging him or at least she was trying to encourage him, to help, but he knew she was merely repeating words. They helped yet they hurt.
"Casey! What's he know about baseball? Well, anyway ... there's one sure thing. They don't pay twelve-five for nothing these days. I know I'm not as young as Stansworth. Stansworth can catch a hundred and fifty games ... I ... can catch a hundred, though ... easily." There was a tone of eagerness in his voice. "Stansworth's young. But they don't pay him twelve-five. Yet, anyhow."
Ah, if he was only twenty-seven and breaking into the League again with all the things he knew. With the things you get only through experience, through watching carefully and studying each man and each style of play, through making mistakes, errors that cost games, that cost a lead, that cost a team the pennant, that cost twenty-five players their share in the World Series gate. That's when you learn. He'd learned.
But he was thirty-eight. Dave Leonard the veteran, you know, fella used to catch for the White Sox. Oldest catcher in the game now. Her hand came over his as she read his thoughts. Then she reached for the gear because a red light showed ahead.
Twelve-five. They don't pay salaries like that to rookie catchers at any rate. Nor to veterans either, for long. The house back on Elliott Avenue, and those kids at the window, the three people who depended on that twelve-five, what would they do when his contract wasn't renewed? Thirty-eight. In baseball it was speed that counted, and at thirty-eight your speed was gone. At thirty-eight the average business man is just getting into the money. In baseball a chap is just leaving it. Twelve-five, yep, sounds like lots of money. But he needed three years before some of his insurance came due and the load lightened.
The station loomed ahead, and she turned and swung inside. The car bumped as they went up the drive.
"Needs new springs," she said, half apologetically.
"Needs a new car," he answered bitterly. She stopped and a porter opened the door.
"Yeah ... those three small bags. Palmetto Limited." She got out and went into the station with him. Someone going past reached for his arm. "Hi, there, Dave old boy, going South? Good luck to you." He smiled, shook hands, and hurried on.
"Who was that, Dave?"
"Dunno. Some man, some fan I guess. Maybe the guy who threw the bottle at me when I struck out in that game last fall." Whoever the man was he had a job, a real job, not just a job for the summer. Not a veteran ballplayer, finished and ready to be shoved off at thirty- eight. Thirty-eight, and then who knows; perhaps his last year in the League. After that what? Kansas City, or Beaumont, or Nashville, tank towns with half salary for a few years, and then back for a job on the coaching lines like old Gallagher who'd once caught Alexander and now hardly made enough to keep through the winter.
"Now ... now ... what's that you're saying?" Yes, he must be getting old, muttering to himself. They went along the platform hand in hand, he holding her and reluctant to let her go. "Remember, dear, this isn't your last season. I know it isn't. With your experience you won't be just a bullpen catcher. How do you know, maybe you'll get a job as manager. Just you wait and see.
He shook his head. Managers' jobs didn't come just for the asking. Then a loudspeaker bellowed a warning. "Stand back, please. Palmetto Limited; Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Pete, Sarasota and the West Coast." Still pressing her close he walked ahead as the train with a roar from behind rumbled past, slithered down to a hissing stop. He glanced up at the lighted cars and saw a face he knew. Another, and another. Red Allen, the first baseman. Casey, the sportswriter, his hands in his pockets as usual, standing on the platform with a cigarette in his mouth. And someone ... someone who waved at him he didn't recognize. Those familiar faces cheered him.
"Yo' car up ahead, boss. 456. Up ahead." They went up hand in hand. Those faces helped, friends who liked him and would be in there fighting in the dead heat of St. Louis and Cincinnati in July, fellows who knew what it was to stick through a losing game with a losing team. Easy enough to have pepper when you were in second place. But when you were last; that's when it was hard to fight.
Car 456. Here it was. "Tampa, Clearwater, St. Pete, Sarasota next car."
"Good-by. Don't worry. Things will work out; you'll see. Take care of yourself at first. Don't overdo."
He climbed up, turned and waved to her, and went inside. The bright lights of the interior dazzled him momentarily, but the sound of familiar voices calling his name greeted his ears.
"There he is now...."
"Hey, Dave, old boy...."
"How's the old kid, Dave, how arya?..."
"What's the sign say?"
"Sez Tampa, 22 miles."
"Suits me. This driving gets tiresome. Never driven down before and I won't drive down again." The big Cadillac was leaping down a straight road bordered on one side by the railroad track and on the other by pine groves. It was a brand-new car glistening in the afternoon sunshine, driven with sureness and touch by the blond man at the wheel. He must have driven expensive cars all his life, for there was an air of authority in his grasp of the wheel which seemed to go with cars like Cadillacs.
"Saw Murphy last night in the lobby."
"Bill Murphy? Giants' manager?"
"What's he doing up there?"
"On a scouting trip."
"What's he say?"
"Says the Yanks are hot this year. Says he seen you with your arms round MacManus's neck in a picture. Guesses that'll be the last time it'll be there unless you grab off a pennant."
"Wait till Mac hears that one. It'll burn him up. Funny about those two guys, they sure get in each other's hair, don't they? Mac's been okay with me. He's tough, so is a good ballplayer."
"Yeah ... well, I ain't noticed you were very easy pickings. You always looked out for yourself pretty good."
"Who else? No one ever helped me into the big leagues. I fought my own way up, ever since I was a kid I fought, ever since I was a kid with no money to buy shoes in Montpelier, Vermont."
"Yeah. You're a scrapper all right. That Gas House Gang, they're all scrappers. They sure weren't a bunch of sissies. Great gang, those boys."
"Scrapping wins pennants. I'd like this team to be scrappers. To be a hustling ballclub, no lead in their tails. We got too many nice boys. Too much dead wood. Old Caswell and Jennison and Dave Leonard. Been in the League almost twenty years, he has. I want youngsters. Like this-here-now Kid from Tomkinsville. They tell me he'll be a ballplayer one of these days ... maybe...." He added the last word as an afterthought. When you've been up and around a few years in baseball and seen a few of them come and go, when you've watched kids with big reputations in the minors go to pieces for no reason at all with a big-league club, well, you get sort of cautious.
Excerpted from The Kid from Tomkinsville by John R. Tunis. Copyright © 1968 Lucy R. Tunis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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