Willie Wilson, the Royals centerfielder, played for Scripture at Jacksonville in 1976. "He had the most impact of all the coaches and managers I've had," Wilson says. "He was a wild man, but he never did anything to show off. He did it to teach you."
Wilson tells this story on himself. In August that year, Wilson was on the verge of quitting baseball. An injury had put him on crutches for two weeks, and now that he was back. Scripture wasn't playing him. After sitting out the first game of a doubleheader, Wilson had had enough. "I yanked my uniform off and drove home, listening to the game on the radio." Realizing that he had acted rashly, Wilson changed his mind and drove back to the ballpark, only to find that Scripture had put his uniform in the washing machine.
"He made me put my uniform on wet," Wilson recalls. "I sat on one end of the bench while he sat on the other end with this funny smile on his face. And then after the game he took me down the leftfield line for a talk."
During the talk Wilson learned why he wasn't playing: Scripture was keeping him healthy because the Royals were about to call him up for a September trial. "I still look up to Billy," Wilson says. "I never really had a father, but if I had a father, I'd want him to be like Billy Scripture."
Scripture hasn't forgotten that long-ago conversation. He says he remembers everything about it—the exact spot where they stood, the wind, the lights, the temperature, everything. "I remember looking Willie right in the eye and saying, 'Will, if you'll stay, you'll make a million dollars someday.' He was in Double A, strugglin' his ass off, but I had a lot of faith in Willie as a person."
Scripture shakes his head. "I loved my players. That bull—you can't get close to the players? Hey, I argued for 'em, I fought for 'em. Your successful manager always has a way of letting the players know, 'Hey, I'm for you. I'm here to help you.' "
This last is spoken back in the gun club shellhouse, late Saturday night. The shooters are asleep in hotel rooms or watching TVs in campers behind the clubhouse. Scripture sits on a case of shells and lights up another thin cigar. "I'll tell you what it would take to get me back in baseball," he says, tossing the match out the door. "It would take a struggling organization that wanted to turn around its minor league system. I'd just like a hell of a good challenge. I'd like to take a can of worms and piece it together." The distant look in his eye suggests that it will never happen.
"It's a horsebleep statement to say you're the last of a dying breed, but I played like there was no tomorrow. I ran into walls, fell into dugouts. It didn't matter when I played, where I played, how hot or how cold. I played baseball for the sheer effing love of playing. I always felt like if I'd had some ability, I would have been a hell of a ballplayer."
Scripture gets to his feet. "That kind of talk—it's just running away from getting old."
Outside in the dark, he takes a deep breath and looks up at the stars. "I enjoy the hell out of what I'm doing now," he says. "I love it." He crosses the grass to a light tower and pulls a switch. Light floods a narrow patch of skeet field—the spokes and wheel of sidewalk, brown grass littered with target fragments, the squat shape of the trap house. The paint on the sidewalls is green, like ballpark paint. The light is ballpark light.