The fans sat in wooden bleachers and on grassy banks. "A kind of Greek theater," Bettye Moon says. Two major league scouts sat among the crowd. Both Fred Hawn of the Cardinals and Milt Boiling of the Boston Red Sox had come to see Moon's shortstop, Chuck Gardner, a junior who was batting .443.
The Eagles warmed up smartly with quick infield play. The outfielders, particularly Randy Rouse, showed strong young arms. Moon started Ron Rhodes, a junior lefthander who had won eight straight games, and his team jumped ahead when Gardner doubled home one run in the first inning and two more in the second. But Tulsa came back when Bruce Humphrey slammed a 380-foot home run over the cyclone fence in center field, and Tulsa kept coming.
These teams were good. Unlike college teams in the northern tier of states, they start working outdoors in February. Each club had already played 40 games. But they are collegians, and collegians make mistakes. By the last inning, Tulsa had drawn ahead, 6-5. Gardner led off with a single, a murderous drive that hurtled past the pitcher's left ear. A sacrifice moved him to second. He was the tying run. Then Rouse grounded to shortstop, and Gardner tried to go to third.
That never works. The rule is as old as baseball. A runner cannot advance from second to third on a ball hit to the left side of the infield. Gardner was out by 10 feet, and when Dave Stockstill blinked at a fastball, knee high on the outside corner, the Golden Eagles had been beaten.
Moon's lips were pressed together. He does not like to lose. "You can never advance on that play, Wally," I said.
He shook his head and spat, then looked less fierce. "But the kid wanted to score so damn bad."
Lightning interrupted the next day's workout, and a siren wailed steadily in downtown Siloam Springs. "That's a tornado alert," Moon said. "Don't worry till it warbles. A warbling siren means a funnel's been sighted." We repaired to the Quonset hut that is Moon's clubhouse, and he began to tell his 24 players about the previous day's game.
He had spoken privately with Gardner, and now he had more general things to talk about. "My analysis is that we got beat because they wanted to win more than we did," he said. "It wasn't a tournament game for us. We had a hard trip the other day. But that doesn't make any difference. No matter how you feel, when you walk through that gate and onto the field, you've got to kick yourself in the butt. Here or in the majors. I can tell you from personal experience that across a major league season your butt ends up pretty sore. But you've got to do it.
"Now, Ron," he said to Rhodes, "you remember when first base was open and I went out to the mound and told you to pitch around the hitter."
Rhodes nodded gravely.