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Zeke Bonura, who gained equal measures of fame in the big leagues as one of baseball's best hitters and worst fielders, has discovered down on a Louisiana farm the fountain of youth for ballplayers—raising and training beagles. The revelation came too late to help old Zeke but, with a typical big-hearted Bonura gesture, he passes it along for future generations.
Those who watched him lumber around first base for the White Sox, Senators, Giants and Cubs in half a dozen pre-World War II seasons may have a little trouble reconciling their last impression of the tanklike slugger with his present occupation. Zeke and great Danes they could understand. But not beagles. Yet Bonura has been raising the little rabbit chasers, which look strangely like foxhounds lopped off at the first joint, since about 1952 down on his St. Rose, La. farm and he booms the work which goes into training them as the best leg conditioner in the world. The onetime New Orleans banana merchant, now 45 and 240 un-svelte pounds, has a firm conviction he could still be in the majors, at least as a pinch-hitter, if he had been a beagle man all his life.
"My eyes are as good as ever," he says, "and with that ball they're using these days all you have to do is meet it and it goes rocketing off into the stands. But my legs are gone."
Zeke has an idea his once-powerful underpinnings would have lasted much longer had he been out in the woods during those early years, trailing along for endless miles after his dogs. That's what he does now, following them four or five hours a day to train them and get them ready for field trials. "You're walking or jogging and you don't get tired because you've got your mind on those dogs," Zeke says. "You're watching to see how they react when they get on the trail of a rabbit, so you cover a lot of ground and never realize it. You build up your legs without knowing it."
A young beagle is trained by first letting it run with an older dog until a rabbit is jumped. Then the pup just does what comes naturally. It's only a question of time before a good beagle will recognize the scent of a rabbit and follow it as long as he is allowed to run.
Beagle raising has been both a pleasant and profitable venture for Bonura. He won his first field trial championship last January and has two young dogs which he says are certain champions of the future. Zeke sells beagles too, getting $75 to $100 for a puppy as a result of the boom which has swept the little hound into the nation's No. 1 spot in popularity figures of the American Kennel Club. He has also been offered as much as $1,500 for a blue-ribbon winner but doesn't like to sell his older dogs. "I get too attached to them," Zeke says.
It is this attitude which keeps him from going into the dog business as a full-time financial venture. That and his still-active interest in baseball. Bonura managed various minor league teams for several years after the war and still works quietly at scouting assignments. He's hopeful, furthermore, of getting back into baseball as a manager or coach. "Baseball is my business," he says. "This beagle thing is just a sport."
BOUNCE ON THE COAST
Pepsi Cola, a beverage which endeavors to supply "more bounce to the ounce," is dedicated to the proposition that life should be led with zest. A world full of people full of Pepsi Cola would presumably bound around like tennis balls. Baseball players, however, incline more toward the sudsier drinks, and, as the Pepsi Cola people have noted, the results show it. Ballplayers are sluggish and often go about their work as if they had nothing better to do. This has been especially true in the Pacific Coast League, where night games used to be a standard treatment for insomnia.
Sensibly refraining from trying to convert the Coast League athletes to their beverage overnight, the Pepsi people thought up a clever ruse. They decided to offer the players money to stimulate the Pepsi Cola tempo, which is sometimes referred to in baseball parlance as "hustle." This year at the suggestion of Claire Goodwin, the league's new president and a former Pepsi Cola man himself, the company put up $20,000 in prizes for Coast League players and managers and coaches and umpires who showed the most hustle—i.e. bounce per ounce.