Episode 24 — Chapter 28
Savannah’s wardrobe the following day evolved from considerably more thought than her first visit. She wore an ankle-length, floral dress and nylons to conceal any skin on her lower legs. She quickly placed her hair in a bun on top—not her most common look, but one that she occasionally used.
Savannah walked past the hospital receptionist and hit the elevator button for the 4th floor. Moments later she was striding down the hallway, soon reaching 4-117. This time the door was shut. She hesitated for an instant; it seemed so impolite to just barge in, but she also didn’t want to knock on the door and wake up a sleeping patient. The lesser of two evils was to gently nudge the door open and see if the patient was awake or asleep.
Savannah quietly pushed the door open. The television was off, just as it had been the day before. Once again, the curtains were drawn, but it was darker than the day before because of dark clouds threatening rain outdoors. In the dimly lit room, Savannah saw the patient lying on the bed. Mr. Cobb’s eyes were closed. He looked more dead than alive. Then she saw his abdomen rise and heard him exhale.
Savannah stared at the patient for a few minutes, debating whether to leave or stay. She opted for the latter and, throwing decorum to the wind, Savannah tiptoed past the bed and sat on a chair near the window. Mr. Cobb’s eyelids flickered as Savannah stared at his face. The power of her stare seemed to will his eyes open and he glanced toward her.
“Anyone ever knock ‘round here?”
“Sorry, Mr. Cobb. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“How long you been here?”
“Not long, just a few minutes. How are you today?”
Mr. Cobb’s eyes dwelled on the attractive face of his visitor a second too long before glancing down to her feet. He quickly looked away, as though he was embarrassed for having stared.
“Nurse said the cast’s comin’ off later today. Ah’m lookin’ forward to bein’ on my own two feet ag’in.”
“That’s wonderful news,” Savannah responded. “You should be out of here in no time.”
“Once the cast is off, I’ll be on my way.”
“Well, I’d better take advantage of your last moments here. Would you allow me the honor of interviewing you for my magazine?”
“Who’er you with?”
“Never heard of it.”
“It wasn’t started until later in your career. But, it’s similar to the Sporting Life. I’m sure you know that publication.”
“Oh, sure. Good periodical. So what would you like to know?”
“Well, this is such a rare treat for me to interview a player from the past. Do you mind if I take down some notes?” Savannah withdrew from her purse a small pad and pen. “I’d love to know what your greatest baseball memory is.”
The patient closed his eyes and paused. “Where do I start? So many of ‘em.”
Savannah wondered if he’d be able to access even a single one.
“Well, is there one game that stands out among all the rest?”
Mr. Cobb appeared to be in deep reflection for a few moments. “Well, I reckon one of the greatest thrills happened early in my career.”
Savannah smiled, praying she’d hear something coherent.
“It was a seventeen-inning game. We were playing the Athletics in Philadelphia—a game that meant the pennant; we were in front by just percentage points. I’ve never seen so many fans at a game. They were crowding the foul lines and outfield all game … a lot of balls that could have been caught ended up in the crowd for two-base hits. The Athletics had us 7 to 1 until the late innings. By the ninth inning we were just two runs down. I came to bat with a man on base facing the great Rube Waddell. I hadn’t had much luck with him all game; he’d even struck me out. Down two strikes, I swung at the pitch and hit it over the right field fence. I still remember runnin’ around the bases, the bugs so silent it was as if they’d disappeared. It tied the game.
“Then, in the eleventh inning, I hit one into the crowd for two bases, and scored what should have been the winning run …. Game continued until the seventeenth inning, when I singled, stole second and went to third on the overthrow, but I died there. By then, it was so dark, you could hardly see the ball. Game was called when the Athletics failed to tally. We were supposed to play a double-header that day against ‘em, but gettin’ the tie helped us win our first pennant.”
“I wish I could have seen it,” Savannah responded. She was delighted by the level of detail in the narrative and the patient’s natural delivery, yet she questioned the account.
A home run is his greatest thrill? Maybe for Babe Ruth, but Ty Cobb?
It didn’t make sense. After all, it was common knowledge that Cobb despised how the home run had changed the game once Babe Ruth arrived on the scene. Surely, if he was really Ty Cobb, his greatest thrill would have been about stealing home or outwitting his opponent, not knocking the ball out of the park. Savannah had hoped for something better from her interviewee.
The patient wasn’t done yet. “There was a game last summer, also against the Athletics. I stole my way around the bases after reaching first on a base on balls.” He gave a short laugh. “That was a pretty good day.”
He must have heard my thoughts, Savannah chuckled inwardly. Now, that’s more like it.
“Yep. On consecutive pitches,” Mr. Cobb said matter-of-factly, as if it happened every day.
Savannah’s skeptical look told all. “Are you telling me you swiped second, third, and then home on three straight pitches?”
“Wasn’t the first time either that I’d swiped three bags in a row. I did it against the Red Sox a couple years before. I love thievin’ my way around the sacks—nothin’ unnerves ‘em more.”
“I’ve never heard of any player doing that! Amazing.” It seemed too incredible to be true, although she knew the real Ty Cobb had been the king of larceny during his career. Savannah made a note of the feat—it would be easy enough to check out on the web. Maybe Mr. Cobb would turn out to be a decent interviewee after all.
“What else do you want to know?” the patient wasn’t done yet.
Savannah reflected more a moment, “Who was the toughest pitcher you ever faced?”
“Oh, that’s an easy one, the Big Train. Johnson’s fastball comes at you the size of a watermelon seed and you can hear it hissin’ as it passes by. You’ve got to start your swing early against a pitcher like that. I’ve managed pretty well against him, but fast balls have never been my weakness.”
“Walter Johnson’s considered one of the greatest pitchers of all-time.”
“You’re damn right he is. Great future ahead of him. Too bad he’s on such a weak team; he’d be winning thirty games a year. I’ve actually had a tougher time with Eddie Plank. Doesn’t have the speed of Johnson, but he’s a crafty son-of-a-bitch. You never know what pitch is comin’ around the corner.”
Savannah asked about other players from the bygone era: Honus Wagner, teammate Sam Crawford, Cy Young and host of others. She took copious notes as she took down his statements, making a note to verify the accuracy of the details provided. She was surprised how easy it was to talk with him and she found herself conversing with Mr. Cobb as if he truly were the famed outfielder. His detailed and prompt responses showed no pretense or attempt to deceive. She decided to inquire about more intimate matters.
“What made you become a baseball player? I heard your father was strongly opposed to your playing.”
“I started playin’ before I learned my letters. Always had a passion for it. As I got older, I found I had some talent for the game and dreamed one day of making it to the big leagues.”
“But your father didn’t want you to play baseball, did he?”
“Oh no. Not at all!” Mr. Cobb shook his head. “He had other plans for me. Would’ve loved me to follow in his footsteps, or become a doctor or lawyer. We fought about it a lot, but I was pretty bull-headed and he could tell I had a love for the game. When I finally left home to play ball, he made me promise to do my best… not come home a failure. That kept me going, through thick and thin. More than once I nearly quit.”
“I know you revered your father,” Savannah asked.
“He was the best man I ever knew.”
From her research, Savannah was aware that Ty Cobb’s father had died just before he debuted in the major leagues, so she purposely asked the patient follow-up questions to ascertain if his responses comported with historical accuracy: “So, has your father become one of your biggest fans now that you’ve become such a huge success in baseball.”
The patient’s face suddenly changed to a crestfallen expression. “My dad never saw me play a day in the big leagues,” the answer came in a mournful tone. “He died before I ever played a single game.”
Well, he’s certainly right on that point.
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Savannah responded without revealing what she already knew.
“He must have died at a young age. Whatever happened?”
Mr. Cobb had a faraway look. “An accident.”
Savannah pressed further, though she knew it was rude, she had to test him. After all, it had been much more than just an accident. “How tragic. What kind of accident?”
“Just an accident. That’s all.”
Mr. Cobb’s tone and look made it clear he didn’t want to venture any further down that road.
Savannah changed subjects, “I understand you’re married?”
“I am. With two kids, boy and a girl. Ty, Jr., he’s two and little Shirley’s just six months old. Cute as a button.” The patient’s demeanor lightened up.
“Tell me about your wife,” Savannah inquired.
The patient took a deep breath and his eyes began to moisten. “Charlie must be worried sick about me. She must think I’m dead. No one can find her.”
Suddenly, the door to the private room opened and a heavy-set doctor entered. The doctor glared at Savannah, once he noticed her presence. Savannah discreetly placed her pad and pen next to her purse.
“Who are you?” the doctor asked in a loud and irritated tone. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry,” Savannah replied meekly. “I think I’m in the wrong room. Is this fifty-one, seventeen?”
“That’s one floor up. This patient isn’t allowed to have visitors. You must leave at once.”
“Sorry, doctor.” Savannah glanced at the patient, giving a subtle nod, before leaving the room.
As she passed the nurse’s station, Savannah quietly asked. “I was just visiting a patient in 117, when a doctor came in—very tall heavy-set man with glasses and black hair. He looks familiar, but I can’t recall his name.”
“Oh, that’s Dr. Cantril.”
“What kind of doctor is he?” Savannah asked.
The nurse’s interest was piqued. “You know Mr. Cobb?”
“Not really. I thought it was my uncle’s room and was just making small talk with the patient when the doctor came in… he’s not very friendly.”
“Um-hmm,” the nurse gave a knowing nod.
“I guess I accidentally got off on the wrong floor.”
Something disturbed Savannah about the way the doctor had reacted. It wasn’t just a look of irritation on his face; it was more an expression of malevolence—as though an outsider’s visit to his patient might upset everything! What could it possibly mean?
Savannah was also annoyed that her interview had been cut short. Mr. Cobb had proven to be a fount of details from a time long ago—actually a dream interviewee. He almost had her believing he was the real Ty Cobb. What a scoop that would have been! Still, Savannah was intrigued enough to check and see if the information he provided was historically accurate. If it was, she had a lot more questions for him and she might yet want to devote some space to him in her feature story.
Savannah walked toward the reception desk on the main floor and received another friendly glance from the lady who had greeted her the day before.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Savannah started. “I wonder if you could tell me what days Dr. Cantril is in.”
“I don’t rightly know. You’ll have to call his office if you want an appointment. I can give you his number.”
“Thank you.” Savannah dialed the number on her cell phone.
The phone rang and a lady answered the phone. “Psychiatry Department.”
“Hello, I’d like to make an appointment to see Dr. Cantril,” Savannah spoke into her phone. “What hours does he see patients?”
“He schedules patients between 10 and 4.”
“So, what’s the latest I can see him for a session? I have a full-time job. Does he ever work in the evening.”
“Ever?” There was laughter on the line. “He practically lives here, but he only makes patient appointments from 10 to 4. I can check to see the next day he has a 4 o’clock appointment. How soon do you want to come in?”
“Let me take a look at my work schedule and I’ll get back to you.” Savannah hung up. If she was going to venture another visit with Mr. Cobb, she was going to have be careful. It seemed that Dr. Cantril could pop up at any moment.