Abandoned Baseball Diamond

September 9, 1958

I wasn’t even sure which pickle was worse: escaping Chicago without Brewster and You-Know-Who on my tail, or picking the correct road to get me out of Pittsburgh. Eventually, I found myself crossing Pennsylvania in a cheap rented Fairlane, en route to the northern regions of the Empire State—and Liz.

On the plane, I had told Bill Rigney about Liz’s brother, and why I had to be with her for both emotional support and Peanut Killer investigation reasons. “Don’t sweat it,” Rigney said. “This good luck charm business is all a bunch of hooey, anyway. A pitcher will blame a bad outing on sunspots if he can.”

* * *

The middle of Pennsylvania looked like the Deep South minus cotton and tobacco fields. I veered north around Scranton and crossed into New York State. Blue-black clouds gathered over the looming Adirondacks, and a hellish thunderstorm hit as I neared Loon Lake.

My mind began to drift. I was suddenly my dad, buzzing from too many coffees and cigarettes, young Milton sitting beside me in the Hudson and pounding his ever-ready mitt. “High and fast and middle-up,” I blurted robotically, the words burning into his little brain.

The dark green turnoff sign for the Adirondack Youth Baseball League appeared through the driving rain. I slowed the car. The swish-thump of the windshield wipers, the peeling sign were lulling me, but not into sleep. Into a dark, rot-filled cavity of my mind…

CRACK! A thunderclap exploded overhead, woke me the hell up. Shaken, I spun the Ford’s tires in the mud, turned up the baseball camp road.

The place was already closed for the season, the kids being back in school. I was early, and pulled into the small, empty lot. Waited for the rain to subside a bit and climbed out.

The air smelled fresh and earthy. I spotted a few ball fields in the distance, seemingly in prime condition. Didn’t remember ever playing on those. A small office was about fifty yards away, and beyond, a series of bunkhouses flanked both sides of a wooded path.

“Hey…”

I spun around. Liz stood there, her blonde hair dripping wet. Wearing a deeply forlorn expression.

“I parked on the other side—”

And took her in my arms. Hugged her like I’ve never hugged any dame.

“I’m the one to be sorry,” I said, “Billy never should’ve been there. He was only trying to help me out—”
“I know, I know. It’s alright. I loved him…and I’ll miss him…But he was just too much of a wild one.”

A shiny green Studebaker rolled into the lot at that moment, and Randall Nathan the camp director climbed out in a yellow rain slicker. He was in his 60s, and blowing his nose into a hankie. Wouldn’t let us shake his hand but managed a creaky smile.

“Second day out of my pneumonia bed and look at the weather I get!”
“We really appreciate you meeting us,” said Liz.
“You better. Let’s do this in my office.”

His office was small. Cluttered. With a big activities chalkboard for the entire summer behind his desk that looked like Patton’s plans to invade Germany.

“So you were the kid that hit this other kid?”
“Right. I kind of had no memory of the beaning after it happened. My father’s passed away since and my mother wasn’t much help. Wondered if you could tell us who I actually hit.”

He blew his nose again. Poured himself a a glass of seltzer from a stash in his bottom drawer.

“Kids get hit all the time here, y’know. And you’re talking what, twenty years ago?”
“Twenty-three, actually,” added Liz.
“Said your name’s Drake, right? Hmm…I kind of remember a bad one around then. It was a late afternoon or early evening game. Technically we don’t start games after 5, but technicians aren’t usually around by then, if you know what I mean…Let’s see. The ambulance showed up late, that I remember…And the father was a day or two late getting here to take you home…”
“That sounds possible.”
He swallowed some seltzer, let a belch out. “Actually it’s coming back now…The kid’s dad was some rich pain-in-the-ass from Westhampton.”
“Great. What was his name?”
“C’mon, you have any idea how many rich pain-in the-asses from New York enroll their kids here? You’d have better luck tracking down Soapy. Your coach!”

The name lit a fuse in my head. “Soapy…Phil Todd mentioned a Soapy last month when he saw me in the hospital…And I think my mother called him ‘Soupy’…
“Phil Todd? He still scouting?”
“Wasn’t Phil the guy you saw in Sacramento?” asked Liz.
“Yeah, and up in Spokane. He still scouts for PCL Indians.” I looked at Nathan. “You know him?”
Know him? We both went to Rutgers! Different classes, of course. Who the hell you think got you back in the PCL this year?”
“Phil Todd did.”
“Congratulations. Except he wouldn’t have signed your jockstrap if it wasn’t for you gettin’ recommended by Stan ‘Soapy’ Szopa.”

Liz’s eyes bugged out. “Stan Szopa? From Pittsburgh.”
“You bet, beautiful. One of the best coaches I ever had. The guy was a Pied Piper. Kids followed him everywhere. Damn shame he gave it up and went back to his steel plant. You like working with him, Drake?”
“Guess I did…” I uttered, trying to form a picture of him. Liz was poking my leg.
“Think hard, Snap. Because this could mean something.”
“His name definitely rings a bell.”
“It sure as hell should.”

She popped up from her chair, excitement flooding her eyes. “Stan Szopa was the retired steelworker they found dead in the Forbes Field grandstand last June.”

THE SKINNYS

S.F. 000 100 000 – 1 9 0
PIT 000 100 001 – 2 8 1
W-Porterfield L-Worthington GWRBI-Virdon
The Bucs have been tough for weeks, and nothing changes here. Bob Porterfield is an escape artist, inducing two key DP balls and stranding 13 Giants on base. Worthington also goes all the way, but Bill Hall walks, Virdon plugs the gap with a game-winning double, and the cheers can be heard from Wisconsin.

CIN 000 000 000 – 0 1 0
MIL 000 100 00x – 1 4 0
W-Jay L-Lawrence GWRBI-Crandall
And it’s a good thing the Braves can pitch, because lots of days they just can’t hit. A run-scoring Crandall double in the 4th holds up because after Johnny Temple singles to lead off the game, Joey Jay throws a no-hitter. Milwaukee re-ties the Giants in the loss column.

CHI 013 000 200 – 6 10 0
STL 000 004 17x – 12 10 0
W-Paine L-Elston HRS: Marshall-2, Long, Neeman, Moryn, B.G. Smith, Blasingame, Boyer GWRBI-Cunningham
One of those games where the baseball plays the men.
A fair bit of excitement at a packed, deafening Busch Stadium. With Dale Long catching and Jim Marshall plugged in at first, Long homers once and Marshall homers twice off Sad Sam to stake the Cubbies to a 4-0 lead. Dick Drott is tossing a two-hit shutout into the 6th, when Cunningham doubles, and Boyer and Musial walk to tire him. Relief ace #1 Don Elston comes on to face Bobby Gene Smith, who whacks a GRAND SLAM to tie the game! Lefty Chuck Stobbs is in for the Cards, and Cal Neeman bats for Marshall in the 7th. And homers. And lefty Walt Moryn homers. 6-4 Chicago. Don Blasingame hits a sac fly bottom of the 7th to cut it to 6-5. Then Elston loses it in the 8th: Stan the Man singles, Noren and Kasko walk. Curt Flood bats for Paine and ties the game with a single. Relief ace #2 Bill Henry comes in to face lefty Joe Cunningham. Cunny puts St. Louis ahead with another single. Lefty Blasingame then pops one deep to right and it knocks off the foul pole for a second Cardinal GRAND SLAM!! (3-roll on a 1-5 20-sider chance for those Strat-scoring at home). Just to rub it in, Ken Boyer follows with a homer. Seven runs cross the plate as the Cards score all of their dirty dozen in the last three innings. There were no doubles or triples, but 13 total walks and eight dingers. And it’s Moe vs. Vinegar Bend tomorrow.

L.A. 010 000 020 – 3 9 1
PHL 201 002 00x – 5 8 1
W-Roberts L-Erskine HR: Jones GWRBI-Hemus
Zimmer gets moved up to the six-hole and goes 2-for-4, but it doesn’t help Carl Erskine and Sandy Koufax pitch any better. The Phillie tragic number remains at three, but they’ve been thorns in most National League sides all year.

NYY 201 802 000 – 13 13 0
CLE 003 000 302 – 8 11 1
W-Ford L-Score HRS: Carey, Colavito-2, Jackson GWRBI-Mantle
A hopeful start to the Bombers’ big road trip. Whitey Ford somehow wins his 22nd despite being downright awful. Guess it helps when your team scores eight times off Herb Score in the 4th to help build a 13-3 lead.

BOS 001 003 000 – 4 4 1
CHX 403 100 00x – 8 15 1
W-Latman L-Sullivan HRS: Renna, Torgeson, Phillips GWRBI-Torgeson
They just won’t stop winning. Two homers and two doubles in the 1st off Sullivan put the Bosox in an early grave. Chicago has 13 hits on the scoreboard before Boston gets even one, and stay three and a half back with blistering Billy Pierce on the hill tomorrow.

WAS 000 001 000 – 1 8 1
DET 000 100 04x – 5 7 0
W-Lary L-Romonosky HR: Yost GWRBI-Kaline
Not much to say.

BAL 010 000 100 000 – 2 9 0
K.C. 010 010 000 001 – 3 10 1
W-Gorman L-Harshman HRS: Triandos, Ward, Tuttle GWRBI-Tuttle
The Birds blow a number of late scoring chances, deservedly lose when Bill Tuttle trots the A’s off with a 12th inning blast.

National League through Tuesday, September 9

San Francisco 78 62 .557
Milwaukee 77 62 .554 0.5
Chicago 76 64 .543 2
Cincinnati 72 71 .503 7.5
St. Louis 69 69 .500 8.5
Philadelphia 64 74 .464 13
Pittsburgh 65 76 .461 13.5
Los Angeles 58 81 .417 19.5

American League through Tuesday, September 9

New York 87 52 .626
Chicago 83 55 .601 3.5
Boston 73 65 .529 13.5
Baltimore 72 65 .526 14
Cleveland 73 67 .521 14.5
Detroit 68 69 .496 18
Kansas City 52 86 .377 34.5
Washington 45 94 .324 42
Advertisements