"My name is
Dick Kerns," I said, using a deep voice and my regular New England accent.
"I'm in the import-export business, just returned from Australia." I
explained that I'd been a minor league ballplayer some years before and knew
what I was talking about, so when I tipped them off, they listened. "I saw
an Australian kid, name of Rocky Perone. I'm telling you, he's amazing. Hit,
run, throw, wow. Small, a lot like Bobby Richardson. He's here in St. Pete.
Wants to go to school, he says, but you really ought to take a good look at
"How old is
he?" Always that question.
21," I said.
It worked. They
invited Perone for a tryout.
The next day I
arrived dressed like a real busher—torn pants, old sweat shirt, Aussie spikes
with white laces, even a Dutch Boy painter's hat. Everyone laughed at me. Let
them. Any distraction from the truth had to be a plus. Even my dumb Aussie
routine was a laugh. When I saw the metal doughnut used to weight the bat for
on-deck hitters, I asked, "What's that, mate?" Nor could I understand
some of the jargon. "You've got good range, Aussie," Danny Murtaugh
said. " 'Range,' mate?" I said. I showed them my good hands and teed
off on John Candelaria, who threw straight stuff to me. "Didn't know
Aussies played anything but cricket," Murtaugh said, obviously
I left quickly,
without taking a shower. Whenever possible, I stayed with this policy. The way
I saw it, I'd add 10 years to my appearance when I took off my uniform. They
gave me $50 for transportation and asked me to come back in a few days.
Then Dick Kerns
tried the Cardinals, speaking with Coach George Kissel, and again it worked.
But Kissel was too damn smart. After hitting me some grounders, he said
suspiciously, "You've been around, son. You've played a whole lot of
baseball." He even spotted my New England accent, despite all the Aussie
phrases. And that night, when Kerns called him to find out what he thought of
Perone, Kissel replied that Perone couldn't be 21 and that he doubted he was
Australian. "He even chews his gum right!" Kissel said.
vowed not to chew gum again—and to stay clear of smart coaches like George
The next day I
learned that Jim Marshall, a scout for the San Diego Padres, was in town,
though they trained in the West. Dick Kerns persuaded him to check out a young
infielder from Australia.
came to pick me up, I sensed there was going to be trouble. He had a woman in
his car and a kid in the back seat. I was afraid that the woman would see
through the phony age ploy, so I wanted to sit with the kid. But Marshall moved
her so he could talk directly to me as he drove. The kid kept grabbing at my
Dutch Boy cap, once coming close to knocking off my hairpiece. I was so nervous
by the time we got to the University of South Florida in Tampa, I was sweating