They say that the
mirror doesn't lie, but when I got through working on my face, I wasn't so sure
about that. Thirty-six? No, sir, I looked young. I mean, the guy named Rocky
Perone looked so young, he could almost fool Richard Pohle's sister.
Finally it was
January and time to take the test. Because too many baseball people knew me in
California, my best shot would be in Florida, where most of the training camps
were located. We had gotten a copy of the Baseball Blue Book that contains the
names of all the scouts. Lister had the idea that some of the scouts would be
more approachable than others. With a good pair of binoculars, he showed me how
to check out a scout, to get to know something about him, to see how he was
feeling, to determine if he was in the mood to pay attention that day.
"Stay away from the guys who look stupid or bored," he'd say, "but
most of all, stay away from the really smart ones."
depended on the scout. He was the man I had to fool and impress. And as we came
close to the showdown, I became doubly worried about how to make my mark. The
problem was, how do I get a guy hot for me even before he sees me?
kid knows the problem: You get invited to a camp, but you're only one of 500
players. They put a number on your back, and somebody raps a few grounders to
you. You get half a dozen cuts at pitches thrown by a machine. Then, even if
you're a vacuum cleaner with those ground balls, even if you show you've got a
rifle for an arm, and even if you jerk three balls out of the park, chances are
all they'll do is to put a check by your number and then forget about it.
I wanted no more
of that. It wasn't going to be enough just to be 21. I could scout those scouts
for a dozen years, but even if I caught the right one and impressed him with my
new youth and old talent, he'd be sure to ask me where I was from, where I
played high school ball, how come there was no book on me. And if I made up
something, he would do a little telephoning just to check me out. He would have
to be suspicious as hell. So the guy named Rocky Perone had to be a complete
unknown. There needed to be a good reason why no scout had ever heard of
Doc agreed that
no matter what scout I approached, smart or dumb, I had to have an explanation.
Then the old light bulb went on in my head. It was so perfect I burst out
Rocky Perone was
from Australia. He was 21, a phenom from Sydney, where, though most Americans
don't know it, they play some fairly good ball. Because I'd spent several years
down there, the territory was familiar. I began practicing my accent. Best of
all, there would be no way for anyone to check me out. Right, mate?
Lister insisted I
go to St. Petersburg by bus, the better to make my adjustment slowly. Besides,
I'd be staying in character. A poor kid doesn't take a plane or drive a car. I
could practice meeting strangers, get the feel of acting like an Aussie.
So I was back in
St. Pete again, and right off there were painful memories of earlier failures.
I was hardly out of the bus station when I thought of my first trip South at
18, toting my glove, spikes and an old uniform with WORUMBO INDIANS across the
shirt. I had a few dollars for survival, but a wealth of high hopes. I lived on
Baby Ruth bars, slept on the beach and tried to talk my way into the Yankee and
Cardinal training camps to show them my stuff. Then one night a storm blew in
off the Gulf, and my only shelter was under a kids' slide in the playground.
The next thing I knew, a cop had me booked for vagrancy—my second night in
jail. When I got out, I picked up my gear at the beach, only to find it soaked.
The shoes, glove and uniform were all ruined. What's more, at the ball park I
was told that insurance regulations prevented me from working out. Only
contract ballplayers were permitted on the field.
Well, 18 years
and a thousand games later, here I was again. I checked into a hotel and opened
the Baseball Blue Book Lister and I had studied so carefully. Having just heard
that the Pirates were looking for infielders, I called their office in