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An Old Hand with a Prospect
Pat Jordan
June 14, 1971
Men play out their time—those who are too young and those who have become too old—in the minor leagues. And there, in failure, a man sometimes finds success
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June 14, 1971

An Old Hand With A Prospect

Men play out their time—those who are too young and those who have become too old—in the minor leagues. And there, in failure, a man sometimes finds success

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"It is part of my job to be nice to fans," says Huyke. "If they like you, they come to see you play. When I was young like Bruce I was too embarrassed to talk to them, but as an organization man I had to learn otherwise. I had to learn a lot of new things.

"When I was young I never understood the things that happened to me, but now I know where I am and where I am going and what I have to do to get there. I have no concerns. The only complaint I have in this league is that some of the parks are bad; take Pawtucket, R.I., there they have terrible lights. You can get damaged for life under bad lights. When you are young, who worries about playing conditions? And if you get hurt, the organization takes care of you. If you are older and you get hurt and can't play, maybe you don't have a job anymore."

Kison retires the side in the fifth, but in the sixth he gives up two singles with one out. He gets the fourth batter to pop out to third base and then he fires two quick strikes past the potential third out. Huyke crouches behind the right-handed batter and sticks two fingers beneath his glove. Kison flicks his glove fingers. Huyke responds with one finger and Kison nods slightly. Woody then hunches over the outside corner, but before he can set himself Kison flicks his glove again. Huyke shifts to the inside corner and places his glove at a level with the batter's knees. Again Kison flicks his glove. The catcher raises his target until it rests inches from the batter's chin. Kison goes into his motion and fires a fastball directly at the spot where the batter's head would have been if he had not fallen to the dirt. The count is now 1 and 2.

"Woody does not like to call for knockdowns," says Kison. "He knows a lot of these guys and he is afraid I might hurt someone. That doesn't bother me. I hit seven guys in one game, and we won it. I can't afford to feel like him or I will never get anywhere. I always thought the older guys would be tougher but they are more conscious of injuries than anyone. How can they ever expect to get anywhere unless they take chances? But I guess they have to protect themselves because they don't have anything else. There are three or four directions my life can take outside of baseball. I can play it a little looser as long as I keep those possibilities open."

With the bases loaded and the count 1 and 2 Kison throws, and again the batter, who has hunched slightly forward in expectation of a curveball, hits the dirt. This time he does not get up so quickly. He looks back at Huyke and then out to the mound, as if some rule has just been broken and he had not been informed.

With the count 2 and 2 Kison goes into his motion. The ball is headed for the batter's body, waist high, and he jerks his hips away from the plate just as the ball breaks sharply over the outside corner for a called third strike. The batter stands flat-footed as Huyke rolls the ball out to the mound which has just been vacated by Kison. Huyke shakes his head and says, "Man, that Bruce is too tough for me. But I like him. He battles. He only gets bad when a few guys hit him. I told him he can't pitch a perfect game all the time. He says he knows it, but then, two hits and he wants to throw at everybody. He has never seen a guy's career ruined by a beanball. I have. It is a terrible thing. But he is learning to control himself, and now when he throws at someone it isn't to get even, it is because he has an idea. That's what makes him different from most guys. He is smarter."

"I get along good with all the older players," says Kison, "although I don't let myself get too close because you never know when you will have to push one of them for a job. I respect Woody most of all. He has helped me a lot. But I still cannot understand what he is doing here when he could be a doctor. I don't have much to say to his wife or the others, either. I mean, what am I supposed to say? I can't understand why they are here. And the fans! They are something else, I don't bother with them at all. Guys like Woody are nice because they want some friends if they ever have to come back. I don't plan on ever coming back to Waterbury...."

In the top of the seventh, in a still scoreless game, Huyke steps into the batter's box with the bases loaded. He chokes up on his thick-handled bat and hunches over the plate. His feet are close together and his swing is nothing more than a little push emanating from his chest outward. Twelve years ago at Hastings he stood spread-legged, his heavy bat cocked far back from his right shoulder.

Woody works the pitcher to a 3-2 count and then fouls off three straight pitches. He is thinking that if only he can foul off enough balls the pitcher will walk him and force in the winning run. But the pitcher throws another strike, and Woody hits a high foul ball to the catcher. Without even waiting to see if it is caught, he walks back to the dugout and begins buckling on his shin guards. The ball is caught and the side is retired.

"Man, one of these days I'm gonna kill a cloud," he says. "I don't understand it. I read some of Ted Williams' book, and he said swing up. I swing up, but nothing." He is smiling as he grabs his mask. "Maybe it is because I am not Ted Williams, eh? You think that could be it?"

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