He'll go to fists over this field, kid. Ain't naming names, but once he planted himself smack in front of a Cy Young winner who'd decided to warm up out here on the outfield grass instead of on a bullpen mound, and he dared Mr. Cy Young to fire a fastball through his forehead. Now you know why he has to pack himself away in his office when the annual company Softball games and picnics roll around. Who knows? Maybe a doctor finding a white spot on a lung doesn't get as nervous as your daddy finding a brown spot on his field. Maybe lawyers don't ever have to do as much dry swallowing as Rog did that time the brown spot turned out to be a little gift from a front-office pooch.
Maybe I shouldn't even tell you the last three secrets, kid. Maybe you can't use 'em in this day and age, now that there are unions and attorneys and reporters crawling over everything like maggots. Maybe you won't have cubes large enough to try 'em anyway, but just in case.... This outfield fence? I used to move mine, according to who we played. A good 15 feet back when the Yanks came to town—screw Lou Gehrig.
And see that scoreboard? We'd perch my boys Harold or Marshall in ours, sit them in a little opening wearing white pants that our hitters could've seen from Tucson. Bob Feller'd be up there alongside 'em, stealing the catcher's signals through the 60-power spotting scope he'd had on the 20-millimeter gun he'd used to shoot down Japanese bombers on the USS Alabama. He'd pass the word to Harold or Marshall, and they'd cross their legs for a breaking ball and uncross 'em for a fastball, or vice versa, can't recollect which. Gene, he tipped off Chicago hitters by flicking a scoreboard lightbulb on and off. Cripes, if your catcher's fool enough not to camouflage his signals, he deserves to have 'em swiped.
Besides, what we did wasn't half as outrageous as what Geno did here in '67—this is the last secret—when he stuck all the baseballs in a cinder-block room with a humidifier for a dozen days before almost every ball game. I'm telling you, the walls and balls were dripping when he was done, the cardboard boxes would fall apart in your hands, but just to be sure, Gene would take the balls to the upper deck the day before a home stand and drop 'em on the warning track. If they bounced higher than five feet, back they went for more sleeping juice, till they felt so cold and clammy that one night Boston hurler Jim Lonborg swore he got frostbite. Shaved a good 15, 20 feet off a fly ball, but since the White Sox that season couldn't reach the wall with a siege gun, didn't hurt them. Unethical? Excuse me, but my son Gene was an every-Sunday-when-the-Sox-weren't-at-home Catholic, a Little League president, a village trustee and commissioner of the South Holland Police Board, and what's more, the snoop that the American League sent to shadow him every day for two solid weeks never found a darn thing.
Must've been a real eye-opener for Rog, though. That was his first year out of high school, first year of working full time with his father. And funny, no matter how much tension there was between them at home—typical teenage curfew stuff—it vanished when they got to the ballpark and down in the dirt. They were buddies, to the very end. And you need to know about that part too.
Never saw it coming. Gene was 80 and still healthy as a horse, still keeping his lawn like a putting green, still checking up on Roger's fertilizers and fungicides a few times a week, still jiggling you on his knee, till that night just a few weeks before last Christmas when he woke up tingling on his left side. Couldn't move his arm or leg on one side after the stroke, couldn't get off his back, couldn't squeeze out a clear sentence. Couldn't work a lick, and I've come to believe that's what kills Bossards. Because back in '70, when I was still working at the age of 79, I wanted to keep living so bad I stood for two hours on a window ledge on the 11th floor of the Pioneer International in Tucson through one of the worst hotel fires in history, till firemen fought their way through the building, laid me on a stretcher and carried me out unconscious. Went right back to keeping ground for seven more years, then finally hung up my rake, and that was it. Two years later, at 88, just lost my will to live in that nursing home and let myself die.
Maybe that's what happened to Gene after the stroke, once he realized he'd never be able to kneel down in the dirt and the grass and play with water again. God knows, Rog tried to use groundskeeping to keep him alive. Kept visiting and calling Gene to tell him what was going on at the spring-training fields Rog was laying in Florida and Arizona, tried to keep talking sod and soil, but seven weeks after the stroke Gene let go and let the ground keep him. They buried him on his 81st birthday, last Feb. 1, and etched a White Sox logo on the lower right corner of his gravestone.
Now I've got to get you back to your father, because even he, sooner or later, is bound to pull his nose out of the grass and notice his little boy's drifted off. But one last thing, Brandon, on this notion of his that there's too much stress in this job. Yessir, it's pressure, never being able to disappoint the ghosts looking over your shoulder. It's stress, working a job where an oily black spot the size of a quarter can mushroom and devour an entire ballpark in 48 hours—thank god Rog caught that pythium that gobbled up parks and golf courses all over Chicago four years ago. But you don't have to take it to the extremes your daddy does. You don't have to consult for eight other major league teams, and you don't have to solve the grass riddle in every retractable-dome stadium, and you don't have to grow soccer fields for Saudi sheiks, and you don't have to get down in the trenches and do every damn little chore with your crew, and you don't have to field 20 phone calls a day from every panicked Podunk groundskeeper in the country. You can say no to some folks. Every once in a while you've got to crack a cold one and pull out the poker cards, like Gene and I used to do. Then again, Gene and I never ended up living on a golf course with a couple of Mercedes and a Porsche in the garage like your father, so I'll just button up and let you make your own—
Holy moly, would you look at that? While I'm filling your noodle with the secrets, look who's grabbing the hose to help Rog pull it around the infield, and look at your daddy's jaw drop! No! Could it be? Brittany Bossard, first female groundskeeper in the history of baseball! See ya, Brandon—you'll make it, just keep crawling for home plate.... Hey, Brittany! Pssssst! Over here! Brittany!