While Rocky waits for the next call, which now may never come, he manages to do all right. As Dixie says, they know him now in Toronto and they like what they know. He is perhaps the most popular athlete in the city's history, and on the ball club he is the leader, the man they all look up to. Beneath that pleasant, rather homely face and its open mouth there beats a heart of gold.
"He will do anything for you," says the Toronto trainer, Bill Smith. "He's everybody's friend and he treats you right. He's just a wonderful guy."
What the Maple Leafs have come to realize, as do all who know him well, is that all of the noise is more of a cover-up than anything else, that he is perfectly harmless and through all his troubles has managed to retain a rather remarkable sense of humor. Once, when he slid magnificently into third base, it was pointed out by the umpire that a teammate already occupied the spot. "O.K.," Nelson shrugged in the face of a withering glare from the manager. "Why do you think they call me Rocky?"
PRIDE AND AMBITION
He has a lovely wife, a warm and gracious girl who was also raised in Portsmouth, Ohio, married Rocky one night at home plate in Lynchburg, Va. and has spent the 11 ensuing years in travel. The Nelsons have no children but they are high on the waiting list of two adoption agencies. Around his pleasant suburban home Rocky is considered a good neighbor, a pillar of the church and a respected member of the community.
He is making more money than a lot of ballplayers in the majors, for Jack Kent Cooke, the wealthy Toronto publisher who owns the Maple Leafs, and Rudie Schaffer, his general manager, appreciate Nelson's considerable value both on the field and at the gate. "Rocky's salary," says Schaffer, "is in five figures." Although these are perhaps not the same five figures that are on Mickey Mantle's contract, at least they keep Rocky in big, expensive cigars.
"Baseball has been good to me," he says, "and I don't want to complain. They treat me great here, the fans are wonderful and we have a lot of friends."
Yet the fact remains that Toronto is still in the minor leagues—and Rocky still burns to get out. It isn't the holes in the screen or the small and dingy dressing rooms or the hard infields or the bad lights or even the long waits for planes and trains and buses. It is not even a matter of fame or money. It is the idea that this is the minor leagues and Rocky knows that he is a big league hitter.
"The whole thing," he says, "is that if you're any good, you want to excel."
"He doesn't brood about it," says Alberta Nelson. "He never has. There are times when he is awfully disappointed but he always comes back down and plays just as hard as he can. And we still feel that some day he's going to get another chance.