My father ducked his chin and became the small, shy boy Williams had known: " 'Nothing,' I said meekly to the waitress. She urged me twice more to order something while I shook my head, trying to be polite. Finally, Williams growled, 'Oh, come on, Melon Head! Whaddya want, one egg or two?' 'One, please,' I said. 'I've already had one breakfast this morning.' "
After breakfast my father and Williams would go out to Fenway Park and play a little catch before batting practice. At game time Donald would take his seat and watch his friend play ball.
My mother returned, batless, from her search. "I think I remember Jonathan borrowing them for the company softball game, don't you, Don?" she said. Barry shut his eyes, envisioning my brother and his workmates hurling Williams's bats about on a dusty local field. "We can look when we're at Jon's tomorrow," I said in what I hoped were soothing tones. "I'm sure he's got them carefully stored."
"Oh yeah," said Jon the next day as Barry jumped from the car asking about the bats. "Where did I put those things?" Williams's bats were nowhere in the jumble of old furniture and junk on the front porch, nor were they hidden in a nether corner of the house, and they were definitely not suspended over the mantelpiece. We followed Jon out of the house as he walked to the toolshed. Barry's eyes, as if triggered by a homing device for baseball paraphernalia, zeroed in on a far corner of the shed. In one bound, he leapt over a Rototiller, a lawn mower and a tool bench and landed beside the bats.
The next thing we knew, Barry was standing on the lawn, swinging his way into some lifelong fantasy. "His hands must have been huge!" said Barry. He held out one of the bats as evidence. It was a bat from my childhood days—worn brown ash, chipped at the handle and signed by Williams along the shaft.
Buoyed by the success of our Maine trip, Barry and I decided to go on to spring training in Florida. So in March 1986 we found ourselves in Winter Haven, hoping to meet Williams, who was with the team as a hitting instructor. Each day we checked with the parking lot attendant, and each day he told us that Williams's car was not there. Finally, on our last day, he told us that Williams had arrived and pointed to a complex of fields where the minor leaguers were working out. We walked along a muddy road to the lower fields, debating what we were going to say and how we were going to say it. We wandered from field to field, finding plenty of ballplayers but no sign of baseball history. At last we found a sign that read TED WILLIAMS FIELD.
"This is as close as we're going to get," I said with some relief, and I asked Barry to pose for a photograph under the sign. Just as my finger came down on the shutter button, a golf cart rolled by, and Barry's index finger shot out toward it. "That's him!" he said.
A large man climbed out of the cart and strode through the open gate of a fenced-in field. Barry watched, incredulous, as I walked very slowly toward the field. "Hurry," he said.
Already a horde of fathers and their young sons were gathered at the gate, pointing and gawking, grasping yet-unsigned balls and waiting for a chance to speak to the two men who were now engaged in conversation by the batting cage: Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.
Williams turned and walked briskly back toward the gate. He seemed to see nothing through his dark glasses, and his expression was impassive. I stepped in front of the mob of fathers and sons just as he reached the gate. " Mr. Williams?" I said.