It was even better where Russ was, watching the ball he had hit get tossed into the White Sox dugout for safekeeping. The ball he hit his next time up became a keepsake, too. It was a home run off O'Neal that touched down in the leftfield stands. "As it was leaving," Russ recalls, "I was thinking, Oh, please don't go in the upper deck. If you hit it in the upper deck, the fans are going to expect that every time." He got his lower-deck wish—and in the same inning, he pounded another base hit.
Loretta heard it all on the Blazer's radio. Then she caught a break of her own on this perfect afternoon as I-90 turned into Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway, and the Dan Ryan led her straight through the South Side to Comiskey. She rushed into the ballpark in the seventh inning, just in time to see Russ fly out in his last at bat. But nobody in the crowd seemed to care. "I got a standing ovation," he says, and he sounds as amazed and thrilled by it today as he was back then.
The surprises didn't end there, though. In the clubhouse afterward a media mob was waiting to anoint Russell Lee Morman as a hero for a day. "I'd never seen more than one reporter at a time in the minors," he says, "and now I had eight or 10 guys around my locker." They came bearing the news that he had claimed a piece of history: He was the first player since the Yankees' Billy Martin in 1950 to get two hits in one inning in his first big league game. "And I'm standing there going, 'Huh? Are you sure?' "
There was so much to tell Loretta, and no time to do it. She and Russ had barely embraced before he had to board a bus to the airport with the rest of the White Sox. As she watched baseball carry him off for the second time in less than 12 hours, all she could think was, Wow, I guess this is what it's like.
When Russ got to his hotel room in Boston that night, the message light was blinking: Al Michaels wanted to interview him before the Monday Night Baseball telecast. Tomorrow he would be facing Roger Clemens. Sleep hardly seemed necessary. He was already in a dream.
The merciless future began unfolding in 1988. Three times that year the White Sox called Russ up from Vancouver, and twice they sent him back down. Loretta felt as if she spent the whole summer driving through Montana, usually by herself, because her husband had to fly to a game at whatever his next stop was. The one time they got brave in Chicago, the one time they told themselves he couldn't possibly get shipped out again, they rented an apartment near some of the other Sox instead of playing it safe in a hotel. After they spent their first night there, the big club lowered the boom again.
It's a wonder that Russ and Loretta ever got out to a movie. But they did, on an off day in Chicago, and what they saw was Bull Durham, which is both a love letter to baseball, the minors in particular, and a reminder that God doesn't always give with both hands. Costner's Crash Davis loves the game with a passion it doesn't come close to returning, and Tim Robbins's Nuke LaLoosh treats the great gift of his right arm as if he found it in a box of Cracker Jack. "I remember walking out of the theater feeling sorry for Kevin Costner," Loretta says. "It was like, gosh, he never really got a chance." All Russ knew was that he would buy Bull Durham as soon as it came out on video. He wanted to see it again because whoever did it got it right, the laughter and the raunchiness, the toughness and the vulnerability and, yes, the anger too.
There was a reason for that. Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the movie, had lived the life, working his way up through the Baltimore Orioles' farm system for five seasons, getting as high as Rochester in the International League, playing second base alongside a shortstop named Bobby Grich. But when it was Grich who got the call to take over at second in Baltimore, Shelton knew that baseball was hustling him toward the exit
He went reluctantly, and even now, 26 years removed from the game and firmly dug in at the plate in Hollywood, he makes no bones about which of his two callings has the greater claim on his soul. "Someday I may win an Academy Award," he says, "but it will never mean as much to me as some of the things I did in baseball." One night in Reno—this would have been '68, the California League—a pitcher who was too dumb to slide barreled into second standing up and broke Shelton's hand. "But I wasn't coming out until I got to hit against that son of a bitch," he says. "And when I did, I almost undressed him with a line drive."
That was how he had been taught to approach the game, and that is how Crash approaches it in the movie as he bounces from one whistle-stop to another with his bat, his catcher's gear and his memories of his 21 days in the Show. "No matter how the game dumped on him," Shelton says, "he remained devoted to it and to the joy of playing it right."