Be the ball
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Mason, OH
Re: What inspired your RedsZone username? / What does your username mean?
My absolute favorite books as a kid were the John R. Tunis baseball books. Central to those books were Roy Tucker/the Kid from Tompkinsville books.
I always admired Roy in a schoolboy way but when I went back and read the books when I was older, I found they were darn fine books and well-written. Written in a 1940's/gee whiz style, they can be a bit corny. But they had quite a few central truths that I didn't realize when I was a kid reading them. But I think I absorbed a few of them. And actually, when Old Red Guard was around RZ, his writings reminded me a whole lot of Tunis. Do yourself a favor and go to Amazon and pick up a few. They are a great read.
I found this essay on Roy and baseball on the Internet a ways back. The web site has gone out of existence, but I saved a copy of it.
My love for the game combined following the greats of the day (Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle) with reading the books of sportswriter John R. Tunis. Tunis, who died in 1975, had the remarkable gift of meshing all the excitement and drama of the game with fundamental issues of racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, teamwork and character.
In the first of three extracts from the book, The Kid from Tomkinsville,¹ Brooklyn Dodgers rookie Roy Tucker is sitting in the dark of his hotel room, despondent and discouraged. Team manager Dave Leonard has entered the room. Though it isn’t welcome at first, Roy gradually understands Dave’s message.
Here he was, sitting in the dark, feeling sorry for himself and thinking about Grandma and the farm, when all the time he ought to be forgetting what had happened and getting ready for another day. Now he began to have an appreciation of the game, of what it was all about, of how players made themselves stars despite physical handicaps, some weakness in the field or at bat, despite drawbacks of various sorts….
“Listen, boy, I’ve been through all this the same as you. Sure I’ve been through it; I remember when I broke in there was never anyone to tell me these things, though. No one ever told me my faults. I sat alone in a hotel room in the dark one night and saw myself with Utica on my shirt, the same as you. I had plenty of stumbles and tumbles.
Only I kep’ on a-plugging. I didn’t quit, see; I didn’t stop fighting. Look here, has a kid got it; that’s all I wanna know. No scout can crack open a kid’s head and find out, has he got guts. If he could, baseball would be a cinch. Every team would be the Yanks. So buck up, son. Forget this afternoon. Tomorrow’s another day; get out there and play ball.
“Oh, yeah, I thought I was hot stuff, but they soon showed me I didn’t have an idea what it was all about. Just when I got convinced I was a flop and waiting for that pink slip in the mail box, this old fella took me aside in the lobby of the hotel one night. Old George Conners, I never forgot. So I pass it along to you and don’t you forget it either. ‘Courage,’ says this old-timer, ‘courage is all life. Courage is all baseball. And baseball is all life; that’s why it gets under your skin.’”
At another critical juncture, Dave is at it again. This time Roy had actually packed his bags.
“They got under your skin today, the fans out there, didn’t they? You can’t take it, hey? Trouble with you is, you’re use to being Mr. Big. Had some luck, you did; lotta luck considering you had just a pretty fair country assortment. But you aren’t used to the tough side. You were gonna whang that pineapple out of the park in the ninth, and what happened? You struck out. Then you go to pieces… Can’t take it…
He pointed round the room at the suitcases, at the piles of clothes, at the half-opened drawers. “Cut and run this way; why, you can’t take it. ‘Course it was okay when things were going well, when you were a flash and a star and in every headline and the boys were giving you interviews and write-ups, all this Kid-from-Tomkinsville stuff, it was fine back in June pitching shut-out ball. We were all fresh in June, yes, and good, too. Not now. You can’t take it. There’s a saying down my way, Roy; maybe you heard it. I come from a great fishing country, and this is how they put it down there: Only the game fish swim upstream. Remember that, Roy, when you get back home… Well” – he rose – “too bad you can’t take it.”
Now he was really mad. Now he was fighting mad. He was mad at old Dave for the first time. “Can’t I? Says who?”
“I do. Otherwise you’d stay right here and help out a losing ball club.”
The kid stayed. When an injury ended his pitching career, that did not stop him from becoming a hitter – and a darn good one at that. But then he hit a slump.
When he got there he found a worried Dave, and for the first time he noticed new lines over the manager’s forehead. The strain was telling on him like everyone else. “Roy, sit down, boy. I’m sorry about the slump; you’ve been choking up, but it won’t last forever.”
“I can’t figure it out, Dave. I’ve changed my stance and it didn’t do a bit of good. Tried everything, been out swinging every morning…”
“Maybe you tried too much. Let me tell you what I think your trouble is. You haven’t been playing for Brooklyn the last month.”
“Not playing for Brooklyn?”
“Nope. You were playing for Roy Tucker… I’ll explain what I mean. Those sixteen – seventeen – how many was it – those home runs you made were about the worst thing that ever happened to you. Point is, when you began to close in on old Masterson you saw yourself in a flash leading this-here League in homers. The Kid from Tomkinsville. Another Joe DiMag, hey? Thought you were anyhow. You got homers on the brain….
“You didn’t even know it, didn’t realize it maybe, but it’s true. You forgot that you were playing for Brooklyn and stared playing for Tucker. You became – now what was it the sportswriters called you… oh, yes, ‘Bad News Tucker!’ I saw you that afternoon last month at home when the cameramen all gathered round the plate as you came over with your sixteenth home run, and I saw those kids chasing you for your autograph after the game. Why, the answer’s easy. You just forgot the team, Roy. That’s why I had to bench you.”
“Oh, I know, I’ve had it happen to me, more than once. The pitcher you always thought you owned can make a monkey of you. Stop thinking about it; don’t let it get under your skin. Next, remember that in this-here game they pay off not on homers, not even on your batting average either, but on one thing: your ability to bat in runs. Baseball’s a team game and don’t ever forget it.
“Here’s something practical. About your hitting, I mean. Trouble is you’ve tightened up, and every time you step in there you’re as tight as a steel rod. Lemme give you a tip. When you walk to the plate start whistling. What? Oh, anything at all… whistle ‘Yankee Doodle’ and it will loosen you up. Then wade in and smack the first good one. Try it and see. Now, boy, go downstairs and have a couple of beers, and then get on up to bed and forget it. Good night.”
Life is a continuum of victory and defeat, of success and failure. When we are too high up to see our teammates or too low down to even care if they exist, we need someone to go head-to-head with us and open our eyes.
I hope there is a Dave Leonard in your life; I’ve needed plenty in mine, and I’ve not always made it easy for them. But that’s life. And life is all baseball. And baseball’s a team sport. Don’t ever forget it.
¹ Originally published in 1940 and reprinted in 1987 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. An author’s note reads: “All the characters in this book were drawn from real life.”
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