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I began visiting the library in White Plains to collect stories from the Chicago newspapers. Using a massive Xerox machine near the periodicals section, I made copies at five cents each. After his historic debut Joe kept on hitting: He set another record by getting hits in his first 15 big league at bats. The papers were packed with stories and photos, and it was obvious that Joe was enjoying the moment. Among many memorable quotes, he said such things as, "Well, if they keep me in the lineup, I'll probably hit .750 for the season."
And, "Oh, sure, we have 74 games left. One home run per game is not out of the question."
And, "The pennant? That's already in the bag, man. We're thinking about the World Series."
The Chicago baseball reporters, a notoriously tough bunch, were in awe and described him as "cocky but not the least bit arrogant" and "at times obviously overwhelmed by what he had done." His teammates were stunned but also realistic. One said, "He'll cool off, but let's hope it takes a few weeks."
The photos revealed a fresh-faced kid who looked all of 21 and was on top of the world. He was handsome, with deep-set blue eyes and curly, sandy hair, the kind of looks that would soon attract women everywhere he went. He was single and had no significant female in his life, according to one story.
Everyone was falling in love with Joe Castle.
MY FATHER was in a foul mood when he left the house, alone. I dropped a few hints about riding to the stadium with him, but he wasn't listening. The New York papers were relentlessly hyping that day's game, and one writer, my father's loudest critic, described the matchup as "a contrast between youth and age. Warren Tracey, age 34 and over the hill, versus Joe Castle, the brightest young star baseball has seen since the arrival of Mickey Mantle."
It was Aug. 24. Joe's big league career was a little more than a month old, and after 31 games he had 62 hits in 119 at bats, with 18 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He had struck out only six times. His batting average of .521 was easily the highest in the majors, though he had not had enough at bats to qualify for the official ranking. Ty Cobb, the greatest hitter of all time, had a career average of .367. Ted Williams: .344. Joe DiMaggio: .325. Joe Castle was not yet being compared to the great ones, but no rookie had ever hit .521 after 119 at bats.
My father had actually been pitching well lately. He beat the Braves in his last start, at Shea Stadium, to even his record at 7--7. When he ran out of gas and was pulled in the top of the seventh, he received an impressive ovation from the crowd. I was on my feet, eight rows up from the field near the Mets' dugout, clapping and yelling as loud as possible. He tipped his cap to me, and at that moment I realized how much I wanted to adore him.
Four days later, I cajoled my mother into taking an early train to the city. I wanted to watch batting practice and, more important, get my first live look at Joe Castle. We stepped off the subway at 4:30, two and a half hours before the first pitch, and the atmosphere outside Shea Stadium was electric. I was surprised at the number of Cubs fans, most of them wearing white jerseys with the number 15 across the back.