Episode 48 — Chapter 54
“You gave me a pretty good lickin’ yesterday.”
Still seeing only red, Cobb was caught off guard by the friendly words, and his demeanor softened. “That’s some fastball you have.” It seemed remarkable to Cobb that a pitcher without a particularly large stature could throw so hard.
“You’re pretty young to be the ace of the pitching staff.”
“Yeah, but it’s a whole new season. Still lickin’ my wounds from the home opener. I had pretty good stuff out there, but the ball kept risin’ on me…”
“I’m no pitcher, son, but I think you’ll find if you back off a bit—instead of trying to throw the ball through a barn door—that you’ll have an easier time keeping it down. Then, when you want to come high with a hard one, you’ll catch ‘em off guard and have ‘em swattin’ air.”
“I’ve been told that before, but it’s hard to hold back when all those fans get you pumped up.” Picking up a ball nearby, Fournier motioned to Cobb, “Come on, I’ll warm you up.”
The stadium was already more than a quarter full as fans clamored to catch a glimpse of the mysterious man who claimed to be Ty Cobb incarnate. The Reds completed their batting practice and the Braves’ starters began stepping to the plate. Once the regulars finished, it was the reserves’ turn. The sequence hadn’t changed in a hundred years, Cobb thought to himself. Cobb remembered how Detroit veterans had continually attempted to bump him from batting practice his first year in the majors. He would make damn sure that didn’t happen again. Cobb grabbed one of the heavier bats from the rack and he waltzed over to the batting cage.
“Get yer filthy mitts off that!” an angry bass voice cried. Cobb turned and recognized one of the players who had accosted him earlier in the locker room. Cobb flung the bat at the feet of the shorter, but much stockier teammate. Max Karras dropped his first baseman’s glove as he side-stepped the thirty-eight ounce projectile. Regaining his balance, Karras charged at Cobb like a raging bull, screaming at the top of his voice. Cobb stood his ground and shifted to the right a fraction of a second before contact was made, sending his attacker sprawling into the dirt.
A stadium now half full of fans roared with laughter at the sight of Karras lying on his side in the dust. Cobb backed up a few more steps as Karras picked himself up and brushed away the dust from his chest and legs. More enraged than before, Karras steadied himself for another charge. Meantime, Cobb removed his cap and began prancing about like a Spanish matador. Karras charged this time with his arms outstretched, ready to clothesline Cobb if he side-stepped again. Pirouetting and ducking with exquisite timing, Cobb avoided the second charge and this time Karras ended up face-first in the dirt.
The crowd hooted and hollered, believing they were witnessing a choreographed skit. Playing to the audience, Cobb doffed his cap and bowed in his best matador-style imitation. Spectators rose from their seats applauding. Their laughter alerted Cobb that Karras hadn’t given up yet. This time, Cobb gave a look of exaggerated fright as he took flight, while Karras bulldozed after him. It was clear that Cobb was far swifter than Karras and he toyed with Karras, allowing the burly first-sacker to nearly get him in his grasp, before veering off in the opposite direction, zig-zagging down the right field foul line. Even the Cincinnati Reds players stopped and watched the Keystone-Cop chase, ignoring fence-busters off the bat of burly, back-up catcher Arlin Concade.
Karras finally ran out of gas and allowed his mouth to give chase with an assault of verbal insults. Karras’s friend, Ham Permak, sauntered over to cool him off. Circling around to the far side of the dugout, Cobb grabbed another bat and advanced toward the plate.
Calvin and Savannah entered SunTrust Park just as Cobb entered the batting cage.
“Do you think Ty will see any action today,” Savannah inquired, as they walked past the concession stands in the interior tunnels lined with fans.
“I seriously doubt it,” Calvin responded. “Probably just let him get a feel for the game from the dugout and become acquainted with his new teammates.”
“I hope he pinch hits, at least,” Savannah gave a hopeful smile.
“You never know,” Calvin shrugged.
After a couple of bunts, Cobb began lining pitches in all directions. He then connected on consecutive blasts into the right and centerfield bleachers as the crowd and some players began to take notice. A chant began among the fans—barely audible at first, but within seconds it became distinguishable to all. The crowd was shouting, “Ty Cobb! Ty Cobb! Ty Cobb! …”
The crowd’s incantation began in earnest, just as Calvin and Savannah emerged from the inner tunnel to the stadium section where their seats were located, taking in the magnificent view of the field of play and seemingly endless surrounding seats.
“They’re yelling his name!” Savannah said to Cal in disbelief. No sooner had the words left her mouth than another crack of the bat accompanied a ball crashing into the right centerfield wall.
Calvin couldn’t restrain his wide grin, as they walked down the steps to their seats ten rows behind the Braves’ first-base dugout.
The phone rang in the dugout, just as Carpenter was getting up to present the line-up cards to the umpires.
“Have you penciled Cobb into the lineup?”
“Hell, no! You said to break him in gently…”
“Forget what I said. We’re liable to have a riot if the fans don’t see him out there. Scratch Rhodes and put Cobb in the second slot.”
“What? Are you out of your mind?!” Carpenter responded defiantly.
“Just do it!” Bolt hung up.
Carpenter made the correction on all three cards. Walking past Cobb on his way to home plate, he grunted, “Big chance for you to choke, prima donna. You’re startin’ in center, batting second.”
Cobb gulped in acknowledgment and felt a rush of fear and excitement.
“It’s Bolt’s orders, not mine,” he growled as he continued his trek toward the men in blue.
The starting center fielder, Graydon Rhodes, saw the line-up card posted on the dugout wall, and noted that his name had been scratched off, with Cobb’s inserted in his place.
“What the hell is going on!” he railed loud enough for Cobb to overhear. “Hasn’t even played a game and already he’s supposed to be some friggin’ superstar.”
Walking past Cobb, Rhodes spit in his direction. “You son-of-a-bitch…” The rumor had now circulated, “Go back to the looney-bin.”