Posthole digging is a sweaty chore, even in the sticky red clay of Oklahoma. Ferguson Jenkins is going at it hard—digging holes, mixing concrete, placing posts, shoveling concrete, on down the line. Twelve posts yesterday, 11 today, and he's nearly halfway done, at least on the front stretch of pasture. There are easier ways to put in fence, with metal posts that slip into the ground like pins. But Jenkins has a vision of a field ringed by wooden fence poles painted brown with white tips (to match the color of his house and the window trim) and, inside the fence, a herd of Appaloosas. "I just need to take my time," he says. And he stomps down the clay with his boots and moves 10 feet farther down the line, taking his time, a giant in overalls, with arms that stretch out like wings and a somber, fatherly face that goes warm and wrinkly whenever he smiles.
Jenkins's Lakeview Ranch is roughly 160 acres of rolling clay bordered on three sides by gravel roads and on the west, along the far ridge, by a high-tension power line. It was his wife, Mary Anne, who picked out the place in 1989. They rode the eight miles from Guthrie one day with the real estate agent, and as soon as they turned the corner and topped the ridge, she saw the big house and the flowery meadows and said, "I want it," and Fergie went along. Back then he was the pitching coach of the 89ers, the Rangers' Triple A team, in Oklahoma City—a one-hour drive from the ranch—but he went along. It was what she wanted.
They bought the ranch from the Guthrie Savings and Loan, which had reclaimed it from an oilman who had gradually gone bust (he's now a fishing guide down on Lake Texoma). The main house is modest—three bedrooms, a living room, a good-sized kitchen—but the addition is stupendous, 5,000 square feet on two levels, with a wraparound deck, a second-floor porch, a swimming pool, the works. When Fergie and Mary Anne and Raymond (Mary Anne's son, now 11, from her first marriage) moved in, the addition was just a shell. But Fergie took his time (he had a lot more of it after he was let go by the 89ers at the end of the '89 season), going to work on the walls and the ceilings and the windows and the trim, doing everything except the plumbing and wiring with his own two hands. The master bedroom is bigger than a hotel kitchen. The walls are painted a reddish orange, the color of the clay outside, with pink trim (Mary Anne's choice). The tall windows overlook the blue lake and the green pastures and the frame of the horse barn that Fergie is putting up. There are matching walk-in closets, a separate "water room"—sinks, shower, sauna, even a hot tub that the oilman left behind, still in the box—and his-and-her bathrooms.
On rainy days, Fergie works inside. He thinks he can finish the upstairs by the end of the summer; then he'll get started on the downstairs. All the details, all the decisions, were settled long ago by Mary Anne. Fergie's just carrying them out, taking his time, everything the way she would have wanted.
There are plenty of sad stories to tell about old ballplayers, but not about Ferguson Jenkins. It's true he missed the era of the really big bucks, never had a million-dollar contract, but he's far from broke. He held on to his money, and what with weekend card shows and projected income from the ranch, he's not worried. He's not a drunk, not a drug addict. He was almost indestructible when he played—never once hurt his arm, never even felt the need to ice it down after starts—and at 47 he's strong, eager to work, happy to play catch and go bow hunting with Raymond, no visible scars.
And no invisible scars, either, no regrets for what might have been. He pitched for 19 years in the big leagues, from 1965 to '83, for the Phillies, Cubs, Rangers and Red Sox. He won 20 games seven times (six years in a row), was named to three All-Star teams and won the Cy Young Award in '71. Pitching was easy for him, he says, once he found the key. He used to tease the hitters, throwing inside and outside, up and down. His dominance was a matter of control (no one else ever combined more than 3,000 career strikeouts with fewer than 1,000 walks). There were days, he remembers, when pitching was like shaking hands with his catcher ("He'd put the target there and boom, I'd throw it to the target," Jenkins says); days when he felt as if he controlled everything—the batter, the game, even the crowd. It thrilled him to learn he could quell 50,000 hostile fans just by throwing strike after strike after strike. "I'd go like this, this and this," he says, dabbing at the corners of an imaginary plate like a priest making a blessing. "I used to set people up and play with them. It was uncanny."
Oh, he never played for a championship team; he's sorry about that. And he fell short of 300 career wins, but not by much; he won 284. When the Cubs released him in '84 (the year they finally won something, it turned out), other teams asked about him. He might have hung on long enough to win 16 more games or maybe pitch in a World Series. But by then he was satisfied with his accomplishments, and he didn't need the money. So he went home to Canada, back to the farm outside Chatham, Ont., the town where he had grown up, back to the land, back to life.
Luckily for Jenkins he never was fooled. That's probably what saved him later on. He never let himself imagine that the mastery he had achieved in baseball could somehow be carried over to the rest of his life. In life, he had learned, you never know what can happen. Life is beyond control.
The roads around Lakeview Ranch follow the contours of the land, up and down like a roller coaster, through sweeping fields of wheat and sorghum and alfalfa, past staring cows. If you're not careful on the unpaved roads, you'll slip right off the shoulder and into the sucking clay, and then you'll probably need a tractor to pull you out. The paved roads are more treacherous still, if only because people tend to drive them twice as fast. Up and down, up and down, over blind humps and, every so often, a 90-degree turn around somebody's property line. When it rains, the clay washes over the road like grease.
Mary Anne and Fergie moved to Oklahoma from Blenheim, Ont., at the end of 1987, after Jenkins's divorce from his first wife, Kathy Williams. Mary Anne and Fergie were married in Las Vegas in 1988, and right away she got pregnant. Jenkins already had three daughters, two of whom are now in college, the last in high school. He had long assumed that that part of his life was over, had even gotten himself snipped. But Mary Anne was only 29, and she wanted kids. So Jenkins went along, had the second operation, and everything worked out. Samantha was born in August '89. After Fergie got fired by the 89ers and Samantha stopped nursing, it was Fergie who stayed home and looked after the farm and the baby while Mary Anne went to work.