working on me. "Damn it, Rich," he said, "you've come all this way.
You're right on the brink of pulling it off. I can't go to Walla Walla with
you. You've got to handle yourself, and that means keeping in control."
I had another
week or so to mull it over, which didn't make things easier. My head kept
spinning with fears that I wouldn't look young enough, or that they wouldn't
believe I was an Australian, or that someone was going to recognize me. Lister
kept building me up, saying, "You're taking these risks because you really
don't have any choice. You're doing it this way because they won't let you play
ball at 36 even though you've proved that you're good enough. Remember that,
Rich." He put me under hypnosis for the last time. "You're a helluva
ballplayer, Rich. Nothing else matters but that. You're going to be playing
ball, and what could be more fun than that? Think of that, Rich. Think of the
pleasures of playing ball."
The trouble with
being in Walla Walla was that playing was only a small part of being on the
club. I had to live with my teammates. I even had a roomie, a fellow named Bill
deLorimier. I had to hide all my face creams and powders. I had to shave three
times a day without being seen. I had to dress and shower in secret so no one
would see my body. I had to be on my toes every minute. And I still had to make
the ball club.
Right off, the
wig was a problem. It was 98� in Walla Walla, and my hair dye started running
beneath my batting helmet. What's more, I couldn't take the helmet off, even
when I went out to play the infield. It had two earflaps, because I hit from
both sides of the plate, and it fit so snugly that my wig was apt to move when
I took it off. "Always wore it in Australia, mate," I explained to the
skipper. "Can't play ball without it."
The Aussie ploy
continued to save me as an explanation for all my crazy behavior—like never
mixing with the others, staying clear of the front office, even when it was
time to pick up meal money. I had picked up a car which gave me mobility, and
I'd drive 20 miles to eat in private. Luckily, my roomie was a scared rookie
himself, and he didn't care if I locked myself in the bathroom for an hour or
more. He was that happy to be left alone.
But how many
times could I suit up in the locker room toilet before somebody started asking
nerve-racking weeks, I was still around on opening day. They had a big bonus
baby playing short, but I knew it was only because they'd spent so much dough
on him, that it was only a question of time before I'd be the main man. I'd
call Doc Lister and he'd build up my hopes. He wanted "no self-fulfilling
prophesy of failure" from me. "You're going to make it, Rich!" he
My chance came on
the first road game at Lewiston, Idaho. Unless it poured buckets or a bomb fell
on the ball park, I was finally going to play my first professional ball
Then I saw the
Lewiston skipper, a former big league second baseman named Bobby Hofman, and I
remembered running into him a dozen years before in St. Petersburg. Would he
remember me? I didn't look at him. I wasn't chewing gum. I kept my mouth
up!" the ump barked.