On Saturday morning of this week, not long after breakfast and about the time that all the good baseball fans back in Milwaukee finish shoveling the snow off their sidewalks for the day, Fred Haney will step out into the Florida sun, clatter down the spike-scarred steps of the low, rambling clubhouse in Bradenton and onto the field where the Braves prepare for their summertime heroics each spring.
The clubhouse is located just outside the deep left-field foul line, and so it is that Haney's course toward the center of the diamond will be along a path knee-deep in nostalgia. The Florida training camp may be some thousand miles removed from Yankee Stadium and almost twice that from County Stadium in Milwaukee, but such geographic niceties are of small importance to a man with memories. It is still a ball park.
Here, for example, is the same relative spot where Wes Covington stretched forth an unbelievably long arm to snare Bobby Shantz's line drive and save the second game of the 1957 World Series. Here, as Haney crosses just inside third base, is the hallowed ground where Eddie Mathews made his desperate backhand stop of a sizzling ground ball off Bill Skowron's bat in the seventh game and then stepped on the bag to end she Series. And here, approaching the mound, is where Lew Burdette toiled 50 dramatically through three long afternoons to earn baseball immortality, not to mention $20,000 in endorsements and appearance fees.
There is every reason in the world why this should be a touching moment. Touching because it is a reminder of the first pennant for the Braves since 1948 and the first world championship since 1914. Touching because a ball club representing Milwaukee had never before won either. And touching because only a year before, Haney's first as Milwaukee manager, the Braves blew the pennant in the last two days of the season and heard the bitter word choke-up ring in their ears through a long and sometimes bitter year.
But Fred Haney probably won't be thinking of last fall at all. He will be thinking ahead. This is partly because he is a brusque little Irishman who lives in the present, carries a chip on his shoulder for the future and has a tendency to sneer at the past. But primarily it is because Haney does not have to live on nostalgia at all. Ahead of the Braves there seems today to be only sweetness and light and a vista of pennants stretching into the years ahead.
No one connected with the ball club is so foolish as to put himself on the spot flatly predicting another pennant even in 1958, but it would take much better acting than is available in this organization to keep the optimism from bubbling through. For the sight which greets Haney when he finally does reach the mound this Saturday morning would probably send a long, melonlike crack across the face of the Sphinx.
Right there waiting to greet him will be the regulars, the famous names who beat the Yankees last year. There may still be a few holdouts, since this will be the first official full-squad day of spring training, and the reluctant signing of contracts is the sort of welcome unpleasantness a pennant winner can expect each spring. But Haney knows who the old faces are and where they belong.
Haney will also see more. Young Casey Wise at second and Joe Morgan at short. Al Spangler and Ray Shearer in the outfield. Carlton Willey and Vic Rehm, Joey Jay and Don Kaiser among the pitchers. And behind these there will be still others, some who have missed in previous tries but could make it this year, some too young and inexperienced to be of help right now, but future major leaguers in the seasons ahead: Gerry Nelson, Antonio Diaz, Don Nottebart, Ken MacKenzie, Humberto Robinson, Ray Rippelmeyer, Phil Paine, Bob Roselli, Mike Roarke, Earl Hersh, Ed Charles, Bob Taylor, John DeMerit. And even behind these are the shadowy figures down in Class B and C and D who are without names except in the neat files of the front office where it is happily noted how well so many can run and field and hit and throw.
What Fred Haney will be looking at is baseball's newest great dynasty.
Frank Lane, then general manager of the Cards, was honest enough last fall to express the fears of the entire National League. "We may have missed our last chance," he said, "to beat them for years."