"You sound subdued."
"We had a tournament doubleheader across the mountains in Pine Bluff yesterday. We had to win both games, and we won them big, 13-4 and 24-8. When we finished, it was 8:20 and only one restaurant in town was open. Only one waitress was working there. By the time we all got fed, it was past 11. There's no team bus. We have no budget for that. We travel in station wagons and cars. I was driving the lead car, and coming back across the Ozarks, we hit fog. I got home, still in uniform, at 5 a.m."
The John Brown Golden Eagles have names like Chuck Gardner, Dale Hatcher, Dave Stockstill. They come from towns like Texarkana, Texas, Paducah, Ky. and Hurley, Mo. To a man, they played Little League ball and enjoyed it. To a man, they ache to play in the major leagues. "I'm not looking for a bonus," one of Moon's best players said. "If I had the money, I'd pay them to sign me."
Most of the players are on scholarship. They address Moon as "Coach," often in the deferential way a man in pain says "Doctor." Coach Moon imposes rules. No beanballs. Bench-jockeying is permitted, but within limits. Moon is a devout Methodist, and none of his players "may blaspheme the name of the Lord."
"As a coach, my strongest point is batting," Moon said. "I teach them to hold their heads still and keep their bats back. Strike zone? They're not ready for that yet, and I don't believe in teaching too many things at once. Just develop a quick, compact swing. If I have a weak point, or a point where I lack confidence, that would be pitching." He looked across a darkening field.
"You're still learning baseball, aren't you?"
"I'm still learning, and I'm 46. Man, this is a difficult sport to learn."
The next afternoon John Brown played a twilight game against the University of Tulsa, which has a student body of 6,000. The Siloam Springs ball park has been leveled in a glade, and as game time approached and the Franklin Electric plant and the Ace Plastics factory closed, pickup trucks and motorbikes and Chevrolets and Fords filled the lot behind center field. There is no admission charge to watch the Eagles. Minor league ball is gone forever from Siloam Springs. John Brown University is the town team.
The Eagles use aluminum bats, which Moon says saves $300 a year. They take batting practice without a cage. There is no budget for a batting cage either. The infield is dirt, not grass. "What's the name of this ball park?" I asked Moon.
"It has no name. We call it 'the field.' "