Spring training has arrived as pitchers and catchers are reporting for the annual boot camp of stretching and playing golf. Whether you have baseball fever or not, my eBook “Loonies in the Dugout” based on the true story of the 1911 New York Giants and Charlie Faust, a satire of fame and celebrity, as well as a not so coming of age story will be on sale for 99 cents through 8 AM Monday. Here is the start of chapter one:
I did not hear he died until years after the fact and when hearing the news I felt surprise because he wasn’t that old, late thirties maybe, though it was hard to tell; then a sadness came over me because I hadn’t kept in contact with him, having left town suddenly without saying goodbye and never came back; then I felt emptiness, but not the emptiness from the loss of a friend, but an emptiness from not really knowing him to begin with. None of us truly knew Charley, though we spent nearly every day with him for three months.
Charley and I stayed in the same hotel, dined together often, saw a couple of moving pictures together, walked the streets of eight major cities, did some shopping together, but I didn’t really know him. Oh, I knew his love for apple pie; I knew about Lulu; I knew a few things he told me about his life, but those things don’t tell you who a person is, or what a person is.
What I can tell is why he showed up when he did, though I must admit on that well recalled day, I thought he had to be joking, or he was crazy, or something else entirely. That is why you couldn’t know Charley; you just couldn’t figure him out, not one bit.
I was playing catch along the first base line with our captain and star second baseman Larry Doyle, or “Laughing Larry” as he is known to be called, though truth be told, he doesn’t laugh much. Since he is a heck of a ballplayer and one of the keys to our success, we don’t care if he ever smiles, let alone laugh.
Larry and I, along with our New York Giant teammates, were in St. Louis, which always seems like Hades this time of the year, the flames frequently flickering in the 90’s.
I hadn’t been a minute on Robison Field, had done nothing strenuous, yet my body inside my wool Giant uniform was soaked with sweat. It was a high sky, deep blue, with not a cloud to be seen; the air, unmoving and clammy, was suffocating my skin. This was one of the days I was glad not to be playing, not that there were many days when I was playing anyway.
I had only thrown the ball to Larry four or five times as we warmed up before our game against the home team Cardinals when I saw it. The sweat rolling from my forehead into my eyes inflicting a salty sting could not prevent me from seeing the dark vision enter the field from the grandstand next to our dugout. I was just about to return my throw to Laughing Larry when I stopped, dried my eyes with my shirt sleeve and looked to see if my eyes were deceiving me.
It first looked to be a black image shimmering in the hot sun coming towards me, but as my eyes adjusted and my brain caught up with my eyes, I realized it was a man. He was a sight. He was dressed in a threadbare black suit and derby hat. He walked with long, loping strides with a little hop caused by a limp and his neck was leaning back, his chin stiffly pointing to his chest which was puffed out a bit due to an arch in the middle of his back. Being from Minnesota, I am familiar with loons and that was what he reminded me of; a loon when he wants to scare off an intruder approaching the nest. If we had been on a pond I think he would have flapped the water with his wings to shoo me away.
He squinted at me and asked in what sounded like a German accent “Are you Mr. McGraw?” He was obviously not a baseball fan. Everyone knows John McGraw, manager of the great New York Giants baseball team. His nickname was “Muggsy,” but no one said it within earshot of Mac. Even if somebody quite innocently said Muggsy to his face, not knowing any better, there would be hell to pay.
Me, nobody knows. I am Chester Lee Koski from Storden, Minnesota. I was quite a ballplayer in the Midwest. They called me “stormin” because I was fast as lightning and had a thundering bat. Unlike Laughing Larry, my nickname reflected who I was. At least it did when I played in the minor leagues. But here in the great National League my bat doesn’t thunder too much as I sit on the bench, only playing when we are way ahead and Mr. McGraw wants to give a regular the rest of the game off.
I told him no, I was not McGraw and turned towards our dugout where Muggsy was standing next to the tall, slender, sports writer from the New York Globe, Sid Mercer. “Mr. McGraw,” I yelled, “this gentleman would like to talk with you.”
Muggsy, standing with mouth open, must have noticed this sight come onto the field, because he had a look on his face like a loon had just sprayed him with water. He nodded to Mercer and they walked over to where we were standing.
“My name is Charles Victor Faust, Mr. McGraw, and I am here because a fortune teller in Wichita, Kansas, a woman of uncommon insight into a mans destiny and whose integrity and honesty is beyond approach told me I was going to be a pitching star and help the New York Giants win the National League pennant. She was right sure about it. She was positive as the sun is hot. So better sign me up and give me a uniform for I am ready today if you need me.”
Faust, who must have been 6’ 3” or so, was squinting down at McGraw with a goofy looking, harmless smile which showed a gap between a couple of teeth and McGraw, who stood all of 5’7”, was looking up at Faust, but not with a smile. McGraw’s nickname should have been “Laughing Johnny.” The Devil was in his eyes.
There was stillness, a disarming quiet during the pause while they eyed each other that drowned out all noise.
In his high pitched, sharp and piercing Irish voice, McGraw asked “What do you mean she was beyond approach? Do you mean beyond reproach?”
“Huh.” The loon looked befuddled.
“You did approach her didn’t you?”
“I did not touch her at all. I was a perfect gentleman.”
“I am sure you were. Do you mean to say she was an honest woman?”
“Absolutely she was.”
“How much did she charge you for this great insight into your future?”
“Mr. McGraw, no price is too high when your future is laid open to you and you can follow your destiny.”
“Give me the ball and your glove Koski,” barked McGraw. He gave Faust my glove, handed him the ball and told him to go the pitching box and get ready to throw. Muggsy went behind home plate and took the catchers glove from our star catcher, Chief Meyers, squatted down, and yelled out to Faust to throw a hard one.
So Mr. Charles Victor Faust, a man of about thirty or thirty-three by my estimate, dressed in his scruffy dark suit and still wearing his derby, stood in the pitchers box and leaned back with his right foot on the rubber, the right knee bent at an angle, his left leg straight, and his arms tight across his chest. Bringing both arms up over his head, his right arm went into a whirlwind motion, going round and round, his left arm pointing straight up to the heavens. His right arm continued whirling and whirling, faster and faster, then he finally brings both arms together while still over his head, leaned forward and with great thoughtfulness stepped stiffly forward with his left foot-I tell you the look on his face reminded me of a hunting dog who just got the scent-and threw the ball straight overhand. Weirdest motion I ever did see.
The ball took as long to get to McGraw as the train does from New York to St. Louis. It bounced in front of the plate, about a foot or so to the left, skipping by McGraw.
“Again!” yelled Muggsy. Meyers picked up the ball which had rolled slowly towards the stands and threw it to Faust. Amazingly, to everyone I am sure, Charley caught the ball.
Well, Charley goes into his loon whirlwind motion and once again let’s loose a pitch so slow you could count the stitches on the ball. He must have thrown about a dozen pitches and to his credit, some of the throws were actually getting close to the plate.
McGraw stood up and yelled at Charley to grab a bat as he wanted so see how he hit. As Faust loped towards home plate, McGraw went to the pitching rubber and called over Laughing Larry, Buck Herzog, our third baseman, Art Fletcher, our short stop, and Fred Merkle our first baseman. I had a feeling something was afoot.
McGraw asked if Charley was ready. He was standing to the right of home plate, the bat on his shoulder. He announced he was ready for action. So McGraw laid one in belt high and down the middle of the plate; a pitch any professional hitter, who standing in the box, would have swatted to the far reaches of the outfield. Charley swung at the ball, his body all twisted like a rung out mop. But he hit the damn ball. It did not reach the outfield though, as the bat just caught a slight piece of the ball and it bounced a couple of times towards McGraw who came in to pick it up.
The bugs-that was what we call baseball enthusiasts who come to the games- always showed up early, sometimes as much as two, three hours, and now they were getting into the fun, yelling for the loon to run and run he did. McGraw waited for Charley to get close to first, then threw the ball past Merkle, who chased it down as Charley slid awkwardly into first, if slide is the correct word. Everybody was yelling for him to run to second, so he got up and started to run. Merkle threw to Doyle who was perched on second. As the disheveled loon came towards the bag, Laughing Larry yelled, “Slide! Slide! Slide!” And Charley did. Well as any loon could slide. He lumbered in and sort of fell sideways rolling over and over, his head tucked into his chest, as he crossed the bag. The ball sailed past Doyle, who yelled, “Run! Run!”
Charley got up and headed towards third as Fletcher got the ball and threw to Herzog. Charley went into his rolling slide, nearly knocking over Buck, who missed the ball. After getting up Charley ran with a loping gait towards the plate, yelling “Yippity, yippity, yip, yap… yuppity, yuppity, yippity” and this time did not roll into home plate, but dove feet first as Meyers jumped out of the way. Charley bounced once, then skidded more than slid, ending up in a sitting position, his legs pinned underneath him like a pretzel. He was short of home plate by three feet.
The bugs were whooping and hollering. When Charley got up, his Sunday suit was not fit for service. The trousers had large holes in both knees, there was a big split through the crotch and his jacket was torn at the seams below both armpits. Merkle brought Charley’s derby, which had flown off in his attempted slide at first. Somehow there was a big dent in the top of the derby which gave Merkle a great laugh.
McGraw and the boys had their fun, the bugs were entertained and Charley was still smiling. It was a nice diversion before we had to play the Cardinals. We needed one. Last month when we were here, Al Bridwell, who was traded to Boston last week for Herzog, got Malaria, and Bugs Raymond, a terrific pitcher when sober, fell off the wagon again. He fell hard enough, that McGraw finally let the wagon continue without Bugs. St. Louis is just not a good town for us.
Standing straight with his chest proudly puffed out, smiling from ear to ear, his face red, his breathing labored, the sweat poring from his face, Charley said, “I know your boys tried hard… to get me out… but my great speed forced them …to hurry their throws… and I would have been safe… but my slide needs some work… but as you can see… from my pitching and my running… I can be used to help win the pennant.”
As Merkle handed Charley his hat, McGraw said, “Not today Mr. Faust.”
“But I have to pitch… the Giants to the pennant. I can do it. It will happen. I know it…. The fortune teller told me. Sign me up. I got to pitch.”
“I got no time to talk business. We have a game to play.”
Charley was silent. He stood in front of McGraw for a moment with a blank look in his eyes. Still smiling, he turned around and walked back towards the stands where he entered the field.
Following Charley on his return to the grandstand was Mercer. Must have thought he was onto a story, although what I could not imagine. But Mercer, with his creative and imaginative mind, can see the hook of a developing story, real or imagined.
As Charley got into the seating area, bugs were shaking his hand, patting him on the back and making quite a fuss over him. I heard later they took up a collection to get him a new suit. I bet Mercer was behind it.
Here is the link to my amazon page for the book: http://www.amazon.com/Loonies-Dugout-Terry-Nelson-ebook/dp/B00EEN7YNA/ref=la_B00EEVHN38_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392151914&sr=1-3