"What the hell do you think I was doing?" said Podres. "I sheared a pin in the engine, and I was making a sail trying to get back!"
Podres was one of many Dodger-townsmen who fished the river and the ocean, but the best fish story of all happened right at camp. In 1953 O'Malley stocked the heart-shaped pond 250 feet off third base at Holman Stadium with largemouth bass. In years of fishing the pond for a certain large bass Wills had hooked his prey more than once but always lost it. One afternoon, after playing the first few innings of an exhibition game, Wills fetched his pole from the clubhouse and returned to the pond. Behind him, the game went on.
He was casting with live perch as bait when the beast struck. Wills was in a fight. The bass broke water. One fan, seeing Wills battling the fish, left the stands and went to the pond to watch him. Soon other fans joined him along the shore. They urged Wills on with loud cries. "Give him a little line!" one cried.
"Keep the rod up, Maury!" yelled another.
"Don't rush him!" someone called. "Keep the line tight!"
Minutes later, to rousing cheers, Wills banked an eight-pound largemouth. "I felt like the Old Man and the Sea," says Wills.
"The camaraderie we had was an awful lot of fun," Drysdale says. "You got to know everybody's little mannerisms. When I first went there, they made me feel like I'd been around for 10 years. The way they helped me, I felt I belonged."
As Rickey intended it, Dodgertown became a baseball camp in which the players mixed and fed each other baseball, where the minor-leaguers could see how the big-leaguers played, acted, lived, behaved. A young player could develop by osmosis.
Much has changed at Dodgertown during the last 10 years, since they tore down both sets of barracks and more big-leaguers began to move off base. But even today's young players sense, as Drysdale once did, a feeling of togetherness in the camp. "That's the first thing I noticed," says Outfielder Mike Marshall, 23. "They try to make you feel a part. When I first came here I was 19 years old, in A ball, and I felt like I was a Dodger. You get with these guys and it makes you think, 'I don't want to be anywhere else but the major leagues.' "
This is yet more residue from the original design. "The best ballplayer is the hungry ballplayer," Rickey used to say. No one knows better than Wills how keen that hunger can be. Of the original two barracks, one was for Dodgers and high minor-leaguers, generally two to a room; the other was for the rest of the players in the organization, who lived three or four to a room. During Wills's 8½ years in the minors, he was never more than Pitcher Joe Black's visitor in the big league quarters. "I used to go over and sit on his bed while he wrote letters," Wills recalls. "Just looking around—feeling the aura of being in those barracks—was a thrill. It gave me something to shoot for."