But Flook, the picture of a manager, handsome with his cap on and balding with it off, is frank to admit that the game is not what it once was. He has seen too much of the old kind for that. "I was the third of four boys and we played since we could pick up a glove," he says. "We were born on a farm near Olathe, Kans. and would milk 15 cows and play ball afterward. Our dad always had time to play with us. Back when Father played, it was all local ball. Just like a Sunday social, homemade ice cream and all. When I was coaching at Coldwater (Kans.) High School, I drove to Buffalo, Okla. to play on a town team, but mostly it was semi-pro, sometimes against men who made the big leagues. Now, the neighborhood I live in, there'll be sandlot games once a week. There are organized kids' leagues, but by the time a boy is 15 or 16, he's been drilling eight or nine years and he's bored. I try to keep our practices a relaxation period. We choose up teams and just play, or play Indian baseball.
"Funny, Jewell hired me as a gymnastics instructor. I knew of Liberty years before I went here, because they used to have mule sales and my grandparents would come over. It's near the original home of Jesse James, you know, and the site of his first bank holdup, in which a Jewell student was killed. I guess James still holds the local stealing record."
WESTPORT, KANS. From Cartwright's diary, April 24, 1849, Tuesday: "The weather being clear and warm and all nature smiling propitiously, at 7 o'clock a.m. we started under the guidance of Colonel Russell. The company consists of 32 waggons and 119 men. We were off for the 'Gold Diggins' of California.... A cover of luxuriant grass covers the Prairie, dotted here and there with clumps of gaudy wild-flowers.... At 3:30 o'clock we came to a frog-pond where we decided to make our first camp. We formed our waggons in a 'Corral' which did not present a very showy appearance, it being the 'maiden essay' of most of the Company.... We travelled 28 miles all of which I walked."
The first sign of baseball on the old trail in 1968 is at a grade school 1.1 miles west, where a little grass-lot diamond is singularly silent on a smiling June Sunday midafternoon, reflecting the decline of the pickup game everywhere. The only small boy in sight is too busy to play baseball; his older sister is teaching him how to ride a bike.
MISSION, KANS. Innumerable motorbikes, cycles, swimming pools and tennis courts later, a gaggle of little girls is found practicing at a church on Santa Fe Drive. Woman (throwing out the moppet equivalent of fungoes): "Play in right field, Tricia." Tricia: "I forgot where it is." Woman (undaunted): "All right, Trish. Catch this on the fly." The ball falls in front of Trish, who waits, immobilized by terror, for it to bounce toward her. The ball hits her calf. "Ow," she protests. She hops up and down in pain. End of a right fielder's career.
JOHNSON COUNTY, KANS. Baseball has come to resemble the lightning bug: dormant during the day, alive and lit up at night. As darkness falls, the game is marked by light standards towering above the horizon. The biggest such moth attractor in Kansas is the remarkable Johnson County 3 & 2 League facility, which looms up on the old trail itself. On eight fully equipped well-lighted diamonds, 18 boys' leagues, composed of 154 teams and some 2,800 players, run off a summer schedule of more than 1,400 games. Scores of cars crowd the parking lot and hundreds of paying spectators watch teams in five categories of talent or throng the carnival-like midway connecting the fields. Hundreds of players in all sizes and colors of uniforms clatter along the walks and warm up among the refreshment stands. The whole enterprise requires a 65-page bound book of rules, instructions and schedules.
"We think this is the biggest youth sports complex in the country," cheer-leads 3 & 2 Secretary Helen Hudson, a bright-eyed chatterbox of a baseball fan. "We have $240,000 invested in the grounds and an annual budget of $80,000. There are 360 more boys in the morning baseball school, too.
"Three boys from the program have been drafted by the new Royals. By the way, did you know Ewing Kauffman has a team out here? It's called 'The Sociables' after the breath tablets his company makes. He calls it his interim team."
DESOTO, KANS. In a tropically soft evening, the State Bank of Spring Hill is playing. Or rather, the teen-age proxies of State Bank pose and play before a full complement of those pretty Kansas girls on a field freshly limed with on-deck circles and coaches' boxes. Beyond the left-field fence couples gather on the tennis courts for square dancing—music playing, huge gallon pitchers of refreshments, the women in bright wide-skirted dresses and the men in string ties. Drifting sounds collide. "Hand over hand around the floor, promenade back—He's out—like you did before."
LAWRENCE, KANS. A few Kansas University grad students desultorily toss a ball around, but over at Haskell Institute (near where Cartwright saw his first "Indian signs") the ball field is dead. Here, Cartwright wrote, "it was decided to put out guards from now on as we are coming into the hunting grounds of the Indians."