The people laugh, and Mudcat starts to sing. He describes his own voice as "somewhere between a baritone and a tenor, depending on the song." A Minnesota entertainment critic, reviewing his act just after the glorious '65 season, described Grant as "unquestionably the best singer in the area to have won two World Series games this year."
Mudcat does a lot of dance numbers, too. He and the Kittens have their own special choreographer now. Often he will break off the singing and the hoofing and go into more patter. "So I say, 'Now look, Sam, I know I haven't ever thrown a slider, and you know it, and Earl sure knows it, but we are forgetting that there is also the eleement of sooprise to contend with, and Mr. Mantle, standing there at the plate, does not know either that I have added a slider to my repeetoire.' " Just when he says "repeetoire" everybody at Steelman's Steak House in Cherokee, Iowa roars.
It was last November that Mudcat Grant came to Cherokee. He had never heard of the town before, but his agent said it was a good booking, so Mud took it and left for Sioux City, which is the jumping-off place for Cherokee. Mud was still mad. The Twins had not traded him yet, and the memories and the disappointments of the season just ended still hung heavily upon him. It was in that frame of mind that Mudcat discovered that there was not one single Negro living in Cherokee. "There were kids 6, 7, 8 years old who had never seen a Negro before in living color," Mud says. "I remember—it's funny the things they tell you when they don't know something—this one little boy was playing with me one day and climbing all over me and we were having just a great old time, and all of a sudden he just stopped and looked at me a minute, and then he told me my hands were dirty. Just my hands. He said my hands were dirty. That killed me. Then we went right back to wrestling together.
"Another time," Mudcat says, "I was in the drugstore and I looked down and saw this little girl staring at me. She literally didn't know what I was. So I just bent over and said 'boo' to her, and she 'bout died."
Pretty soon everybody in Cherokee was looking at Mudcat. And then they were talking to him and visiting with him. When he wasn't playing at Steelman's, Mudcat was all over town, at Larry French's house or with the Bob Stevensons or dropping by the hangouts or the schools. "I guess I visited just about every school in the area," he says, "elementary right on up. At first I would just sort of stand there and show them what a Negro was. Then I'd start talk-in', and pretty soon we'd all be talk-in'. We just talked and got to know each other. Don't get me off on kids. I can't resist kids. I just talked and they asked me questions about almost anything, from Vietnam to the riots to baseball. There was no mayhem. Cherokee was just the warmest little town.
"My ultimate goal in life is to get enough money to put together an apartment-type building in Lacoochee for my family. We're a close family, and this way, if we're all living together, it would be even easier to work out all our problems. We work together. Like I have already sent one of my nephews through college—I have about a thousand nephews and nieces in Lacoochee—but now when he gets the chance he has to work to pay that money back. Only the money won't go to me. It will go to pay for the education of the next one in the family. Do you see? It is a type of contract you enter into. You get your way paid, but then when you have the chance you have to pay for someone else.
"I live in Shaker Heights. That is my home now, but Lacoochee will always be my home, and now Cherokee is my second home. We started a program there, the high school principal and the music teacher and some of us, working to raise money for a boys' baseball field. Just before I had to go out to L.A. before spring training, I made another trip to Cherokee and made a lot of appearances there, trying to raise the funds for the field. And I wanted to see all my friends again anyway. Someone told me, 'Mud, if you ever came to live in Cherokee and ran for mayor, there wouldn't be no contest at all.' "