SI Vault
 
Return of the Natives
Roy Blount Jr.
March 29, 1971
Down in east Carolina, where barn sides serve as backstops and baseball stirs the soul, the folk heroes are long, lean pitchers. Most stayed home, but the Perry boys of Farm Life have gone far
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 29, 1971

Return Of The Natives

Down in east Carolina, where barn sides serve as backstops and baseball stirs the soul, the folk heroes are long, lean pitchers. Most stayed home, but the Perry boys of Farm Life have gone far

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Gaylord, who matured into a harder thrower than Jim, had six years in and out of the minors. He had been established with the Giants for two years when Pitching Coach Larry Jansen said of him, "Now that he's found the right combination he simply isn't frustrated anymore." Jansen was referring to the addition of a "hard slider" to Gaylord's combination.

Ever since that pitch clicked into place Gaylord has been accused of throwing a spitter. Not, however, with spit. At least not lately.' 'He's using a special surgical lubricant," claimed one hitless batter last year. "It's odorless, colorless and dries before it gets to the plate." If that, in fact, is Gaylord's secret (at the banquet Dick Dietz said, in reference to the weather outside, "I should have known anything connected with Gaylord would be wet and slippery"), it seems a comedown from the days when Pee Wee Reese or Billy Cox would come up to Preacher Roe on the mound, as Roe once told it, and "drop the ball easy in my glove and say: 'There it is if you want it.' That meant he already had the ball wet for me."

Thanks to whatever substances, Gaylord is now a reliable winner of around 20 games, and he is into insurance, real estate and absentee gentleman farming. He has kept up business ties and a house in Williamston but has settled in San Francisco. Evan runs one of Gaylord's two spreads back in Farm Life for him, but Evan has been laid up lately following an operation for a back injury he suffered years ago falling off a moving tractor. Since the operation, Ruby has had to do most of the chores. Neighbors don't pitch in and take care of everything when a man is incapacitated the way they used to in Farm Life. But then the wolf is not at Evan's door anymore, even when he's hurt.

People around Williamston have things going for them that they didn't have in the past. And although fellow townsmen see Jim and Gaylord infrequently in the flesh, they manage to keep up with them by radio and TV. For some reason Williamston-area residents cannot get any Carolina AM radio stations to speak of at night—but they can, with dedicated tuning, get stations from as far away as St. Louis and Des Moines. As Evan Griffin pointed out at the banquet, when the bases are loaded, Gaylord is winding up and suddenly the game fades and gives way to "Bésame, bésame mucho," you know right away that all kinds of people—from an FBI agent in Rocky Mount who once "caught two crooks real early in the morning" so he could go to Atlanta to see Gaylord pitch in person to Booger Scales over in Greenville, N.C. to "that wonderful blind lady Mattie Coltrain"—are hanging over their radios, too, and the only trouble is that you can't call them up right then at midnight to find out whether they had been able to stay tuned, "because late-night calls shake people out of bed on the party line."

The next day everybody coming into the Shamrock Inn or Griffin's Quick Lunch will be asking about how Jim or Gaylord came out, and when either the Giants or the Twins are on network TV both staff and clientele at the Quick Lunch, where the Perry boys once washed dishes, are so preoccupied with the set over the counter that anyone who orders anything while Jim or Gaylord is trying to get out of an inning must be from a long way out of town. Archie Perry says that when Gaylord stops through town himself in the off season, "We know he's a celebrity and all, but he's still one of the boys," and the other boys can get on him about things.

Jim and Gaylord, who don't really represent Farm Life anymore, might be called community pitchers in absentia. Not that it would occur to people in Williamston to accuse the Perrys of betraying the heritage of Slim Gardner—at least not so long as they keep on behaving around Williamstonians in such a way that "you wouldn't know they had a dime." It would be hard to deny, after all, that the Perrys have amounted to what Slim Gardner himself would have given his eyeteeth, if he'd had them, to amount to.

The farm Evan runs for Gaylord has a nice frame house with a big front rocking porch and a square four-room tenant's dwelling like the place the boys grew up in. Gaylord has refurbished the latter with wall-to-wall carpeting, pine paneling and air conditioning to stay in when he wants to give his kids time in the country. On the day after the banquet, all the Perrys met at the farm, and they got to talking about the hog-killing they used to have in Farm Life.

There would be a good 30 hog-killings a year, each family in turn having 100 people over to do the family's butchering, and the host family would give away half the 5,000 pounds of meat produced and then take a share of the next family's when the next killing came around. Ruby would have 10 different kinds of cakes and assorted pies on the table, and everybody would eat dinner until he popped. "When Gaylord signed," says Evan, "all the scouts was at one table eating. Tim Murchison with the Giants, he was the biggest eater and he was the one got him."

"We don't have the hog-killings now we used to have," says Ruby. "The older people's died out and the younger people don't know how to do the work. They go to the grocery store."

Jim says it's probably cheaper to get the slaughtering done commercially in terms of a man's time. But country people used not to think about time in terms of money. "You don't have the fellowship with the neighbors that you had at hog-killings," says Ruby.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7