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There was snow in Chicago and rain in New York, but elsewhere the weather was clement enough to permit major league baseball its earliest start in history. The April games produced some June performances by old familiar names: Warren Spahn shut out Pittsburgh, and his colleague, Lew Burdette, beat them again the next day. Sam Jones, the sad one, defeated the sadder Cardinals, his teammates less than a month ago. Robin Roberts and Don Newcombe staged the season's first pitching duel, Roberts winning 2-1. Nellie Fox cracked off five hits on Opening Day, one of them a home run that won the game. There were good performances by younger, newer faces, too; Bob Anderson pitched the Cubs to victory over the Dodgers, Vada Pinson helped Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh on Opening Day, and George Anderson gave the Phils a win with a clutch single. These youngsters, and others, had won their jobs during the two-month training season which preceded Opening Day. Some of them were assured of jobs from the start. Others had to battle and hope. But none had the challenge, nor the opportunity, that faced a youthful outfielder named Gary Geiger of the Boston Red Sox. If he played well as the Red Sox barnstormed their way to an Opening Day rendezvous with the Yankees, Geiger would open the season in left field, substituting for the incomparable Ted Williams.
The Red Sox had spent the week before the opening of the season touring the steaming, dusty towns of Texas with the Chicago Cubs, making one-day stops in Dallas, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, Victoria and Houston. They traveled in blasting heat, by bus and plane, playing cards, swapping bad jokes, reading newspapers and sleeping. Mostly sleeping. It was a hectic, uncomfortable trip; up early, bus to a ball park, play a game on a field often bumpy and covered with flowers, shower in cold water, dress in cramped, sticky quarters, and travel on, in the heat, to the next town.
Despite Ted Williams' publicized absence, the ball parks were filled, shirt-sleeved crowds in cowboy hats, string ties and ornamented boots. In the endless stretches beyond the short outfield fences, little Texans waited impatiently for home runs. Each day, when the lineups were announced over the public-address system, the big cheers were reserved for the Texas boys: Jim Busby, Pete Runnels and Murray Wall.
The hopscotch aspect of the tour, the constant pick-up-and-go, made the memory of days just past a bit hazy. Yesterday's hotel room, coffee shop and desk clerk fused with those of the day before, and the day before that. After one game, when the team had gathered in the bus, Tom Dowd, Boston's doughty little traveling secretary, was giving thought to where the team should dine prior to continuing on to Houston for the night.
"Why don't we eat back at the Robert Driscoll?" asked Jerry Casale, a cigar-smoking young pitcher from Brooklyn.
"You mean drive 100 miles, all the way back to Corpus Christi?" one of the players replied.
Casale looked astonished. "Oh, yeah, that's right," he said. "We're in Victoria. I forgot."
For Elijah (Pumpsie) Green, the first Negro to be included on the Red Sox roster, it was a bitter trip. Since he was not permitted to live in the hotels where the team was staying he roomed with the Negroes on the Cubs and therefore traveled with the Chicago team. ("I'm the foreign correspondent with the Chicago Cubs," he said wryly.) He looked nervous and unsure in the field. At Fort Worth, he threw an easy ground ball high over first base, allowing two runs to score. The next day, at Corpus Christi, he fumbled a double-play ball, finally picked it up and threw it into right field. The day after that, at Victoria, he learned that he was no longer a member of the Red Sox, that he was back in the minors.
BETTER FOR GARY
Life in Texas was considerably more pleasant for Gary Geiger, a lean, quiet youth who was the team standout during spring training. Geiger came to the Red Sox via Cleveland, via St. Louis, via Sand Ridge, Ill. (pop.: 125). The Cardinals signed him as a pitcher, age 17, two days after he graduated from high school and bundled him off to the depths of their farm system. He pitched for three years and although he won 20 games in the Pony League in 1955 it became apparent that the youngster could swing a bat left-handed better than he could throw a ball right-handed. He was transferred to the outfield.