"Grab some wood and get goin'!" Casey's voice was filled with impatience. I wound up with a telegraph pole, but by choking up three inches I felt I could still take a good cut. I dug in at the plate, and the pitcher poured a fast ball past me, then another, and another. I succeeded in fouling only one pitch.
As we changed to street clothes a little later, Comerford approached, handed me an unsealed envelope, slapped my shoulder in a friendly manner and wordlessly went about the clubhouse handing envelopes to several other youngsters.
In my hotel room I opened the envelope. It came as no great shock to me, after my batting fiasco, to read an introductory letter to Bill McCorry, manager of the Albany International League team. I was to report to Hawkins Stadium for a trial. A ray of hope.
The stadium was on the outskirts of town. The Albany team consisted of ball players just passing through. There was Del Bissonette, who had starred with the Dodgers; Jake Powell, later with the Yanks; Fred Sington, the All-America football star; Hal Finney, Bill Brubaker, Gus Dugas. After playing in two exhibition games for Albany, I thought I was doing pretty well, but early in June my baseball career came to an abrupt halt. A telegram from home. My father was seriously ill.
I walked into the house the next day and found the entire family—my parents and three brothers—occupying one room that reeked of smoke. Two days earlier the apartment had caught fire. There were no injuries, but everything was ruined. Forget baseball. A job was paramount now, and jobs were hard to find, but my brother Sid and I managed to keep the family going.
Then in September, the hopes that had been dormant since June were awakened by a column that appeared in the morning papers. The Dodgers were to hold a tryout session at Ebbets Field at 9 a.m. that Saturday. So there I was on the infield of Ebbets Field, picking up grounders and tossing to first. I recognized many of the boys working out because I'd played against them. The fielders who showed the most were singled out for a turn at bat. I was among them. And here came Casey Stengel, striding out to the back of the batting cage. As each batter took his swings, Casey encouraged him with, "Take a good one." "Don't bite at the bad ones." "Look 'em over."
Finally, my turn came.
"Make 'em good," Casey chanted.
The first pitch—chin high. I let it go. The second—outside by a foot. The third—ankle high. I looked sideways at Casey. Several more pitches were high.
"Let's see you swing at a ball." said Casey.