"Oh," Powles continued, "Curtis was always a fine ballplayer. On our Legion teams we won state titles, and he always led the clubs in hitting. He always was around .400. In 1955 he was captain, and I remember one day we were playing a Utah team in a regional game at Lodi, Calif. That little guy—he was about 5'6" then—he hit two homers over the fence, one with two men on, and then he hit a single with the bases loaded. I think he had nine runs batted in that day."
Powles and his wife often had Flood to their home, and they began to notice his flair for painting. His obvious interest in art was further encouraged by the teachers at Oakland Tech where he transferred from McClymonds. Today Flood is a successful artist who does portraits from photographs. He has an ample list of commissions. "I do it because it helps me to relax," he says. "I have had a few shows, but I want them to be special. I've had one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles and a couple in St. Louis. I also do still life, but the hardest thing I ever had to do was a portrait of a 17-year-old girl who died of leukemia."
One of the first people Flood painted was Owner Gussie Busch, and at spring training in 1967 Flood presented the oil to Busch. He was amazed by it. "Curt," said Busch in his deep voice, "it's magnificent. I'm going to put it on the new boat. And I want you to do my family." Within minutes Gussie Busch was walking around, showing the painting proudly to anyone in sight. "The best damned centerfielder in baseball, and he paints, too," Busch kept saying.
Not surprisingly, Flood believes that the current Cardinal club is the best one he has been on. "Of course, we did have a fine team in 1964 with Ken Boyer, Dick Groat and Bill White," he says. "Groat and I would go out to the ball park for long periods of time, and he would help me to learn how to hit to right field. That Groat, he could hit .300 with a strand of barbed wire.
"You must help one another on the Cardinals, because it is the team's winning that matters—not what the batting average is. There is something about being a Cardinal. The sense of the team's history is one thing, and the number of great players is another. Right now there is a feeling of unity all the way through the organization. You get the feeling when you are playing that everyone in the organization senses your problems and tries to help you.
"In 1965 we went from World Champions to seventh place, and that feeling was not there. Bob Howsam was the general manager, and the salary squabbles before the season started had a lot to do with it. I hit .311 in 1964 with 211 hits, and Bob Gibson won 19 games during the season and two in the World Series. Howsam sent us both contracts offering us a $1,500 raise. I must say that he believed in a lot of things that weren't too bad, but some of the things were. He wanted everything one way—his way. There would be interoffice memos flying around and stuff like that. [Three of the more famous were: "Sit up straight in the bullpen. Don't run on the grass when you leave the plate. All socks cut the same way."] Hell, we are individuals, and we want to dress like individuals and be treated like individuals should be."
After the Cardinals fell to seventh in 1965, Howsam traded off Groat, White and Boyer. Two years later Howsam left the Cards himself to become general manager at Cincinnati, but he had brought Cepeda and Maris to St. Louis, and life was coming back into the team.
"When we got to spring training in '67," says Flood, "I took one look around the room and was amazed at the talent we had. Eddie Bressoud was with the team then, and I said to him on that first day, 'You better find a place to spend $10,000, because we are going to win the pennant and the World Series.' The feeling was there again. Most of us have been together a long time for ballplayers, and we truly like one another. We can say things to each other that only true friends dare say."
Because of his size Flood cannot pace himself as larger athletes do. He must give everything virtually all the time to make up for his physical shortcomings, but he has some interesting routines to assist him. Once or twice a week he and Dave Ricketts, the third-string catcher, will go out to the park before anyone else is there—just as Groat and Flood used to—and Ricketts will pitch to Flood until Curt is certain that his swing is grooved perfectly. When he is in the on-deck circle Flood stands and leans with every pitch and swings just as if he were the hitter at the plate. Although most players have been taught to do this since high school, few actually do.
This year attendance is down in many cities in the National League, but in St. Louis it is climbing steadily toward 2,000,000 for the second straight season. The records that Bob Gibson is breaking are so absolute that when he is told about them he merely shrugs his shoulders. The great 1967 experiment involving Mike Shannon at third base is now passed: he can really play there now. Lou Brock is running again after several injuries, so everything had better be lashed down. Those who thought that Nelson Kelley Briles, the well-organized young pitcher who dresses like a riverboat gambler, would have difficulty winning 14 games this year can forget it: he's got them already. Once the bad streak of May had passed, the red-and-white infield ball again began bringing luck.