He finally picked up another chance in the bottom of the third. This one was hit to Jody's side, but it was falling short. It would land in the stands. Just as it was coming down, and just as two ball chasers were beginning to walk nonchalantly up the stairs of the bleachers and just as the P.A. announcer was getting ready to make his announcement that the person in the stands who came up with the baseball could turn it in to the ball chaser and receive two free tickets to a future Dodger game, just at that moment I glanced and saw Bud slip down underneath the bleachers. The ball came down in the crowd but they all missed it, and after a short hop the people and the chasers looked around. The ball chasers stood there for a moment, turned and trotted back down the stairs and around the side of the bleachers. Just as they went underneath, I could see a stirring in the crowd where the ball had hit. Bud's head materialized first, then his body, and by the time he was walking back up toward Jody, both Jack and I were on our way toward them. Even when we sat down with them, you really had to look to see the bulge under his shirt which he held firmly with his right arm.
Six more weeks. Six more ball games. Six more new Spaldings. But the job got tougher as each week passed. There were still just the six ball chasers, three down each line, but on our eighth visit to Runyon we passed them on the way into the ball park and one nodded toward us as we did. When Bud took his spot down the first-base line, there was not one ball chaser but two posted near him. When he moved toward third, they both followed him. But he came up with a baseball that night despite the fact that they were double-teaming him. It was a brilliant move. A foul in the top of the fifth was hit right into the middle of the parking lot, bouncing off the bumper of a Plymouth. Bud was there just a few steps ahead of the chasers, and he grabbed the ball just as it slid under a pickup truck. Again, someone else might have just picked up the ball and tried to run for it. But Bud had somehow planned on every eventuality, and he just followed the baseball under the truck. The ball chasers were still looking around and at each other when he came up eight cars away. He came up running and was over the fence which surrounded the ball park in a fashion that would make Dick Fosbury proud. He had to go over the fence, because the man at the gate had been told to stop any young boy trying to sneak out of the ball park.
It must have been around the Fourth of July when we started talking in terms of 24 baseballs. From that point it was automatically understood that two dozen was the record that Bud would aim for. He even made preparation. He walked up to the little glass window of the general manager's office and said a few words none of us could hear to the lady inside. She motioned him over to the door and, in a minute, it opened and she handed him two empty boxes. Empty, but very special. They were the boxes that baseballs came in, one dozen to a box. Both were just empty boxes, but at home Bud had enough to fill one of them. By fall the other would be filled.
The Colorado State Fair comes to Pueblo in late August, and even two dozen baseballs couldn't deter any of us from the fun of sneaking into the rodeo that was the highlight of the fair. When you were 10, even if someone could have given you every single ticket for that rodeo you'd turn them all down and still go over the wall. But those rodeos came at a time which would cut Bud's shot at the ball-stealing record very thin.
Bud needed only three more balls to make his record. Three baseballs with five home games left when the rodeo ended. And three of those games were out because school was starting and they were on school nights. The Dodgers would wind up their first season on Friday and Saturday. So that meant three balls in only two games.
The first on Friday night was easy, almost too easy. Second inning. Ball into the stands. A crazy bounce and it landed in Bud's hands. He hadn't moved a step from his usual post. Two to go.
As was the custom, we gathered together after Bud got the easy one and debated for two innings as to whether he should try for another one that night. By the middle of the fifth he had made his decision and we were back in our regular spots. The second hitter up lofted one deep over my head, way back over the bleachers and into the railroad yard. Bud trotted out of the ball park halfheartedly with a couple of the ball chasers. They spent about five minutes poking around in the tall grass which grew around the freight cars which hadn't been moved for months, finally turning and coming back in. Inside the gate he motioned to each of us, and when we joined him he said simply, "It's hidden." No. 23.
We debated about the last one again, finally deciding Bud would leave the last ball for the last day. We were enjoying the ball game in the ninth inning when the P.A. announcer made the announcement which ruined the whole evening for us. The game the next day would be an afternoon game rather than a night game. Some said it was because it was already turning cold in Colorado that September. Others said it was because the Denver Bears had to travel all the way to Omaha for a Sunday game after meeting the Dodgers. We alone knew that they had pulled the whole thing so that Bud would have to go after No. 24 in broad daylight.
Saturday started out to be a miserable day, a steady drizzle falling throughout the morning, and each of us knew what we dreaded, though none would even talk about it. But paid admissions meant even more to the Dodger management than one baseball meant to us that day. Despite the weather the game started at 2 p.m. There weren't more than 200 people in the stands. Not enough cover to give Bud a shot at any ball hit into the stands.
And the ballplayers' moods seemed to match that of most of the spectators. By the start of the sixth inning there hadn't been a single ball hit out of the playing field. By then we were convinced that all the players were in league with the Dodger management in trying to deny Bud his record. We booed every single ball that was hit solidly into the outfield.