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"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 him."
"How old is he?" Always that question.
"Twenty, 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 impressed.
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.
I immediately vowed not to chew gum again—and to stay clear of smart coaches like George Kissel.
When Marshall 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 blood.