He says you're looking for him."
Then she hung up the phone and looked at me, again without expression. I
imagined her saying, "You jerk! Clear out!" Instead she said,
"O.K., sign the clipboard and follow the usher over there."
out of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the locked door clicked and opened
wide. We hurried through it behind the usher. Dignitaries and club officials
rushing about with clipboards and shouting orders to gofers ignored us as we
made our way to the stairs leading downward to the Cardinal locker room. Kenny
mumbled in my ear, "I can't believe this!"
I," I said. "Stay close and keep the boys near you." Through a
hallway we hustled, but our usher escort disappeared in the tangle of humanity.
At the bottom of the stairs we turned left. I looked for the familiar face of
Silent George. Sure enough, there he was, with a huge smile, buttoning his
famous long-legged, double-knit pants.
fellas!" he said softly. "Stick close and we'll walk out to the dugout,
and after batting practice, we'll come back to the locker room and chat
From that point,
the details melt together like a technicolor dream. Passing Tom Seaver and Tony
Kubek in the tunnel, we walked with Hendrick to the dugout and looked out at
the AstroTurf field. Was that Whitey Herzog? Who was that NBC guy? Hundreds of
media people. Crack of bat on ball. Cameras clicking. Busch Stadium empty like
a vast cavern reaching upward. And, above, the ubiquitous Goodyear blimp, now
benevolently droning into the wind.
Only 12 brief
hours after leaving their warm beds in Oklahoma, Little Leaguers Jason and
Jared sat in the dugout of the St. Louis Cardinals. Tommy Herr walked by, Ozzie
Smith sat only a few feet away. Ted Simmons, Dick Enberg, Bob Costas, Jack Buck
showed up. Then it was back to the locker room with Hendrick. Players, coaches
and visitors walked in and out of the busy clubhouse, some chatting with
reporters, others sitting on stools in front of their lockers patiently
awaiting one of the most important events of their lives. Jim Kaat, 43 years
old and in his 24th season, stood only a few feet away talking quietly with
John Stuper, the 25-year-old starting pitcher. A small sandbox cum spittoon sat
in the middle of the floor; it seemed out of place until I remembered that
modern ball players are still men of great expectorations.
Hendrick sat the
two boys down on his locker stool and wiped the perspiration from his face.
Keith Hernandez walked hurriedly to the adjoining locker and asked George for a
pen so that he could autograph some pictures. "Keith, meet Jason and Jared
from Oklahoma," said Hendrick.
shook hands with the speechless boys and their daddy. Hendrick, with the game
only an hour or so away, sat down and pulled two bright red World Series duffel
bags from his locker. The bags were filled with all kinds of souvenirs that
would go back to Oklahoma and be pawed over by the boys' school friends. A new
baseball was casually tossed into each bag, which held note pads with Cardinal
emblems, wristbands and batting gloves. Then, without a word, the Silent One
walked into the equipment room and reappeared carrying two Louisville Sluggers,
George Hendrick-autographed bats. They were the real thing. The number
25—Hendrick's—was neatly inscribed on the knobs, and three single strips of
tape about one inch apart were wrapped around the handles. The bats were ready
for World Series action. "Here you go, fellas, something to take home from
the Series," said Hendrick. The boys were stunned. Kenny smiled and
muttered many thank-you's.
all around, the delirious quartet left the confines of the future world
champions' locker room...still without tickets. I didn't have the heart to ask
Hendrick for player passes, although I was sorely tempted. I felt that he had
done enough. I said, "Hit a home run for us, George."