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When I went to bat I got a standing ovation. I lifted my cap and bowed half a dozen times, making a complete circle so I wouldn't miss anybody. Then I hit into a double play.
Lopat didn't say a word to me, but the next morning he sent me to Tampa with the B team to play the Reds' B club. We all headed for the back of the bus—ballplayers always head for the back of the bus to get as far away from the manager as possible—but I didn't stay there long. Mel McGaha was acting manager of the B team, and tough. He made me go up and sit with him.
"Hawk, I suppose you thought you were pretty funny yesterday," he said.
I hemmed and hawed, and McGaha said, "Well, I didn't think you were funny. If I had been managing that club, I'd have hauled you out of there the first time you cracked a smile. You better not pull anything like that today."
He ate me out all the way to Tampa and when I got on the field he put me on first base and started drilling balls at me. He ran me ragged, hitting line drives, pop flies, ground balls, to my right, to my left, right at me, everywhere. He made me run toward the plate to field bunts and then throw to first, and he made me field grounders, throw them to second, then get back to first in time to complete imaginary double plays.
Just before letting me go he said, "You want to be a ballplayer, maybe you'll make this club. You want to be a clown, go get a job in the circus."
Although I liked to have fun even in ball games, I realized then there was a time and place for everything and I had picked the wrong time at the wrong place. From then on I worked hard and had a great spring training. But obviously somebody up there didn't think I was ready, and when the season began I was in Portland in the Pacific Coast League, where I was red-hot for the first 37 ball games and then went into a terrible slump. If the Athletics wouldn't call me up when I was murdering the ball, I thought, how could I expect them to send for me when I was everybody's patsy?
But that is the way in baseball. Just when I was at my worst I was called up. I got my first chance to start in Minnesota against the Twins. Jim Kaat was pitching, and Lopat put me in at first base. I got my first big-league hit, a single, my first time up. Later we piled up a pretty good lead. I went out three times and, when I came up in the ninth. Bill Pleis was pitching for the Twins.
Before I moved to the on-deck circle, Lopat said, "Don't hit anything but a slider. He'll throw a lot of fastballs, but if you wait long enough you'll see the slider, and his is lousy. Just wait for it."
I waited while Pleis threw five straight fastballs, two for strikes. Now the count was 3 and 2, and I knew I'd have to swing at the next pitch, no matter what it was, if it came into the strike zone. Sure enough, it was a slider, and I belted it into the left-center-field seats. That gave me 2 for 5, including a home run, in my first complete major league ball game. I knew I was on my way.