In the Arizona
Stands a giant of earth and stone,
Mighty Superstition Mountain,
With its mystery and its gold.
A miner out prospect in'
Found his fortune and his fame,
Found the gold of Superstition—
Just plain Dutchman was his name.
In the worn,
gingerbread ball yards in the South and the West, where big league baseball
comes once a year, spring training is an uncorrupted ritual. And part of that
ritual has always been the playing of our national anthem.
But not at
Geronimo Park in Apache Junction, Ariz. Here the day's battle is joined by the
scratchy voice of Walter Brennan, reciting the folk ballad, Dutchman's Gold. No
disrespect is really intended to one's country or to baseball. But long before
Apache Junction became the springtime home of the Houston Colt .45s, it was the
home of Superstition Mountain and the Lost Dutchman's gold mine, supposedly
hidden in those mysterious hills.
The residents of
Apache Junction cling to their legends and raw western traditions, partly
because there is little else. But now this barren, rustic Arizona resort town
is at once baseball's new, and perhaps last, frontier. Immortalized in song and
story, Superstition rises above it, in the distance beyond center field in
Geronimo Park. Since 1900 at least 50 persons have died violently there—in the
mountains, that is, not center field, although the Colts had one or two close
calls last spring. The 50 died seeking the lost treasure of Jacob Walz, the man
described in the ballad above as just plain Dutchman.
sophomore team is training in circumstances unlike any of its fellows. No other
big league players rough it quite so much as the Colt .45s, who train in the
desert, under a sky so high that all outfielders curse it. They are far removed
from the simple pleasures of life, such as a motion picture theater (18 miles
away) and a dog track (35 miles away). More than 2,000 miles from Florida's
white, sandy beaches, spring training has returned to Sparta.
In other years
and other places, spring training had seemed almost a reward to the players for
signing their contracts. Most teams congregated along the Florida seashore,
where the players' wives could relax on the beach, and newsmen could protect
their tender skins under the sheltering palms. The public expected its heroes
to train in such exotic settings, just as it expected movie stars to dress well
and marry often.
Junction defies all the popular notions of spring training. The very name rolls
angrily off the tongue. Compare, if you can, the softness, the cooling sounds
of Palm Beach, of Sarasota, of Clearwater. Time drags its heels through the
sand in Apache. To the west, Mesa is 20 minutes away, Phoenix almost an hour.
It is a 45-minute drive to the statue of Tom Mix on the highway to Tucson.
There is hardly
any fishing, no lolling on the beach, no watching bronzed beauties wiggle by in
bikinis. Last year when Owner Roy Hofheinz first took the Colts to Apache
Junction, what the players did mostly was complain. The fielders couldn't
follow the ball because of the high sky, a sort of optical illusion caused by
the lack of a proper background—no trees or buildings, just flat desert land.
Once the ball is above the fence, it's all sky, blue and cloudless.
because, in the dry Arizona air, they can't break a sweat and the ball carries.
So do their voices. The players must tend to their language, which is a
nuisance, because every indelicate word can be heard in the stands.
One of the few
Colts to find Apache Junction attractive a year ago was Clint (Scrap
Iron)Courtney, who in his catching days with the Browns and the Senators was a
leader of lost causes. Courtney is now a player-coach in Houston's minor league
chain. In the off season he farms and ranches at Hall Summit, La., where the
folks put heavy store by one's ability to suffer and sacrifice.