Now, in a striped turtleneck and some sort of snappy white zippered jumper, Mudcat cases the players' lounge at the Vero Beach training camp. He is drawing on a wooden-tipped cigar, in which he occasionally indulges himself, and examining the various games available on the premises. Mudcat is working at becoming a member of the Dodgers, and keeping up. "Hmmm," he reckons as another page is announced, "that's three calls for Lefebvre tonight. Somebody is after him." He moseyes over to the checkers table. Mudcat will play most any game. At checkers, he prefers the pool variety, an outlaw version in which the pieces can be jumped all over the board. He also likes Giveaway, where the idea is to lose your men first.
"Here's Mud," someone says.
"Game, Mud?" asks Mr. Newton, an older gentleman in a straw hat. Mr. Newton comes from the Washington area, but he visits Vero each spring to relax and watch the Dodgers and play them checkers. Mr. Newton has never lost a game of checkers to a Dodger. The closest was one time when Roy Hartsfield, the manager of the Spokane farm club, was ahead but ended up being able only to tie Mr. Newton.
"Regular checkers?" asks Mud.
"Regular," says Mr. Newton.
"He's tough," a kibitzer says.
"I know," Mud replies. "He's about the best." Mr. Newton is not to be taken lightly, that is for certain. As he explains, he has considerable strategy, featuring trying to keep his men in a triangle formation and trying to keep them on the vital "power spots." He takes an early lead.' 'I could play him some pool," Mud declares wistfully.
But wait. Suddenly Mud comes back and jumps two of Mr. Newton's men in one move and, not only that, now he is zipping right down past the power triangle and is only one jump away from getting the first king. "Go ahead, Mud," he cries, banging his fist on the table and almost clanging his diamond-cluster ring. Mr. Newton is shaken. "I'm infiltrating his system," Grant says. But, alas, experience tells. Mud loses the edge, and they are left, one king apiece, facing each other down. "A draw," says Mr. Newton, relieved. Mud agrees.
"That's as close as anyone on the Dodgers ever came to beating me," says Mr. Newton, a good sport. "You play a real good game. You should have beat me, Mud. You had me."
"Maybe I'll get you in some pool next time."