Nothing Minor About These Birds

Minor League Logo for Baltimore Orioles

Minor League Logo for Baltimore Orioles

You can’t live in Baltimore, Maryland, and not be an Orioles fan, right? My protagonist, John Welles, and his two best friends, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, certainly didn’t think so. Of course, in 1928, the Baltimore Orioles were in the International League, one of the top minor leagues of the time, but that fact didn’t deter John, Sam, and Claude from cheering on their favorite players.

Researching the Baltimore Orioles for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, proved to be interesting for a woman who never followed baseball in her life. I admit I took the easy road out when I chose a team located in the same city where my boys lived. The Orioles had been on my mind ever since I decided to set my story in Maryland, but I wasn’t sure how to work them in. The solution presented itself after writing a scene where the three friends had a major falling out.

During the first year of medical school, the situation between Claude and his father, J.D., truly began to unravel. Two years of pre-med bonded the boys, but their friendship was pushed to the limits by the stress at school as well as Claude’s unwillingness to admit what was happening at home. John and Sam were helpless as they watched Claude drift away.

While neither John nor Sam was aware of the truth, Sam assumed John knew more than he was letting on. The accusation was born of Sam’s frustration at not knowing how to help Claude. Strong words turned into a shoving match and then a full blown fist fight.

Without giving away the interesting details, I will tell you that the three friends eventually worked out their differences. Taking in an Orioles game was their first post-fight activity. Unfortunately, it was a small patch on a bigger problem that had yet to be resolved.

Thank you to Mr. Bill Stetka, Director, Orioles Alumni, for providing the names of players for my characters to follow. Mr. Stetka’s information led me to shortstop, Joe Boley, who became John’s favorite player. Sam followed the career of third baseman, Frederic ‘Fritz’ Maisel, and Claude’s favorite player was pitcher George Earnshaw. In addition to player information, Mr. Stetka supplied a brief but interesting history on the Orioles.

Thank you, also, to Bruce Markusen, senior researcher of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, for supplying information on the Orioles compiled from author James H. Bready’s book, The Home Team, as well as research conducted by the Orioles Public Relations Department.

Diamond in the Rough

Diamond in the RoughHe stared at them through thick lenses distorting the size of his eyes. West Texas heat shimmered up from the ground, obscuring the face of every kid standing on the far side of the baseball diamond spray painted on the dirt. The white lines zigzagged in places where the finger depressing the nozzle of the paint can had grown tired.

As he sized up the other players, he noticed there were several girls among them. One of them had her ball cap pulled so low she had to tip her head back to see out from underneath the brim. She blew a large pink bubble. Particles from a plume of dust kicked up by a sudden breeze stuck to the gum. She sucked it back into her mouth to resume chewing, crunching dirt and all.

The boy looked too big for a twelve year-old. He knew how he appeared in the short, striped tee shirt revealing his soft brown belly and the glasses meant for a senior citizen. He figured it’s what kept them from motioning him to come over. But he didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. Most of them had seen what he could do with a ball and bat in gym class.

Besides, none of them owned cleats let alone a real uniform with sponsorship from some local pizza shop emblazoned on the back of a bright orange or green shirt. There were no freshly pressed baseball pants among this crowd of imitators smacking their dented aluminum bats against the bottom of their Goodwill Nikes. Their gear consisted of worn out relics discarded from the Y. In this respect, they were all equal with the exception of one detail.

He owned his own bat. It was the best part of him, an extension of his true self. With care he swabbed an alcohol-soaked cotton ball across the wood to remove excess dirt before massaging it with linseed oil. The treatment was stringent but soothing, not unlike his own personality. Every night he stored the bat handle side up in the cool, dry closet of his concrete block home.

With confidence as solid as the maple bat he held in both hands, the boy walked over to where the bottom of a blue plastic milk crate marked home plate. He informed them in a voice as deep as a grown man’s that he would captain one team and didn’t care who led the other. Braced for their rejection, his shoulders relaxed when they nodded their reluctant agreement.

Every kid stood taller, straighter, to ensure they were not chosen last. With nods and waves as subtle as those at an auction house, players were selected until they stood in a ragged group behind their respective captain. Each silently swore allegiance to their leader simply because no one wanted to be on the losing side. They would expend every ounce of energy to secure a victory regardless of who led them.

Someone’s lucky Mercury head dime flashed in the air, tails was called, and the boy said his team would take the field. A few skeptical glances were cast in his direction, but he reassured them that if they were down in the ninth inning they would want to be last at bat. Not that he planned on being behind.

With a touch of swagger, he left his precious bat in the care of the only girl in a dress as she sat on the swaybacked, wooden bleachers. Then he selected a glove and ball from the pile. He took the mound with authority, made eye contact with his first, second, and third basemen, nodded to the catcher, and caught the first batter off guard with his best four-seam fastball.

When several members of the other team cheered as their own captain struck out, the boy knew he had made friends and enemies. He also knew he would be invited back if only for the sake of a rematch. That pleased him; bruised egos made for good opponents. He wished he had the money for a round of Slush Puppies. It would probably help to ease the sting of defeat. Since it wasn’t an option, he focused instead on earning their respect rather than buying it.

%d bloggers like this: