Episode 52 — Chapter 58
“How’d it feel gettin’ the cold shoulder after hittin’ the game-winning homerun,” Max Karras turned to Gates, as he took a bite from his cheeseburger. Seated on Gates’s left was third-string catcher Arlin Concade, also an African-American, and to his right, Ham Permak.
“Here today, gone tomorrow. He won’t last,” Gates mumbled smugly. “We’ll make damn sure of that.”
“You’re damn right we will” Rhodes chimed in. “No friggin’ way I’m playin’ second-fiddle to some freak-show all season.”
“Well, we better do it fast, before Bolt gets too enamored with him,” Karras offered. “Make sure he don’t stick around.”
“So, how the hell are we gonna do that?” Permak asked.
Gates nodded his head with a devious snicker, “Don’t worry, I got plans for that white boy.”
On orders from Bolt, Cobb was in the starting line-up the remaining two games of the home stand. The Braves won the middle game of the series, 3 to 0, as Blake Fournier went the distance for his second career shutout, allowing only three hits while striking out twelve. Cobb singled and walked in four plate appearances, scoring the game’s final run. In the field, Cobb misplayed a single into a triple by attempting a shoe string catch of a sinking two-out line drive by Sampson. Fortunately for Cobb and the Braves, Sampson died at third.
In the closing game of the home stand, Cobb singled and doubled in his first two at bats, then struck out and lined to left. He added a stolen base in the fourth inning with his theft of third base following the double. Despite his contributions, the Braves ended up on the short end of a 7 to 2 score.
The Braves’ private jet taxied into La Guardia airport at 2:00 a.m. the morning of April 11th, with players tired and cranky. Having concluded the home stand with the loss to Cincinnati in a game that ended at 10:15 p.m., they’d only had an hour to shower and dress before the bus took them to the airport for the flight. It was exceedingly rare for a visiting baseball team to have any welcoming fans at an airport in the early hours of the morning and the last thing the players expected or wanted was any hoopla at New York’s La Guardia.
The signal was given for the players to deplane and they walked down the long corridors to the secured exit. As they entered the public area, they encountered several television cameras and a dozen reporters. The players were perplexed by the unusual media attention.
“Get a picture of Cobb!” yelled a man in a checkered sports jacket.
“Where’s Ty Cobb!” cried another.
Having been seated near the rear of the plane, Cobb was one of the last players to deplane and at the end of the line of players entering the public area. As his face appeared, there was the glare of lights from news cameras.
“Welcome to New York, Mr. Cobb,” an anonymous voice emanated from a huddle of reporters.
Cobb nodded. As he exited the secured area, reporters streamed towards him and began asking questions. The other Braves players were invisible to the media as Cobb fielded questions for ten minutes before one of the coaches collared Cobb and advised him that the bus would be leaving shortly with or without him. By the time Cobb reached the team bus, many of the players were visibly peeved at the delay.
“Well, the celebrity superstar finally decided to join us,” a player shouted from the rear.
“Plays a couple of games and thinks he owns the damn league,” muttered another under his breath. Cobb saw a vacant seat near the front of the bus and moved toward it, preparing to sit. The player placed his magazine on the open seat. “It’s occupied.”
Continuing down the bus corridor, other open seats were similarly commandeered.
Gates couldn’t believe some rookie had overtaken his status as the top star on the team, after just three freaking games. After all, Gates could have easily been named Most Valuable Player of the National League the year before, with his 38 home runs and 113 runs batted, if the Braves’ performance hadn’t been so pathetic. Wasn’t it his face that was plastered all over billboards in Georgia and on the Braves’ promotional materials? Yet, he’d never garnered the same level of attention from a road city that had greeted Cobb’s arrival in New York. As Cobb passed Gates, the black player stuck out his foot hoping for Cobb to take a swan dive on the rubberized floor.
The guy must have an extra set of eyes, Gates muttered inwardly, when Cobb sidestepped the trap, all the while looking straight ahead toward the rear of the bus. Near the end of the line, Cobb spotted two vacant seats to one side and breathed a sigh of relief; he hadn’t been interested in standing and wasn’t hankering for another confrontation at the late hour.
Forty minutes later, the bus stopped in front of the hotel. Each player was handed an envelope.
Brian Brugge, who was seated across the aisle from Cobb, could tell by Cobb’s puzzled expression that he was lost. “That’s the card key for your hotel room.”
Cobb nodded appreciatively, “How do I find out who my roommate is?”
“Everyone gets their own room now.”
“Is that so?” The thought of more privacy appealed to Cobb.
“I’m Brian. Brian Brugge.” He extended his hand.
“I know. I think everyone on the planet knows who you are.”
Brugge was an articulate and studious left-handed rookie pitcher, who’d received a cup of coffee the year before, late in the season. One of the few players on the team with a Bachelor’s Degree, he had aspirations to practice law when his playing career was over. His manner of speech and intellect distanced him from most players, although this year he had vowed to dress down his Stanford dialect. The prior year he had started two games and relieved four others, finishing with an 0-1 record and 5.33 E.R.A. in 27 innings pitched—not exactly a stellar beginning. However, with a strong spring training, he’d earned one of the last slots on the team. Still, he hadn’t made his first appearance until being summoned to mop-up the last two innings of the Braves’ 7 to 2 loss to Cincinnati. Young as he was at 23 years of age, Brugge’s face had the youthful contour and texture of a ten-year old, though his large 6’3″ frame and 230 pound mass kept most veterans off his back. Wearing glasses also added another five years to his cherubic look.
“I recall reading a great deal about you when I was young.” Brugge said, causing Cobb to wonder what Brugge’s definition of young was.
They took the elevator up to the twelfth floor of the hotel—Brugge’s room was on the same floor as Cobb’s. “You really must have been some kind-of-a player,” Brugge knew better than to question Cobb’s identity, having already witnessed his quick temper. Nonetheless, his curiosity was piqued by the circumstances of his teammate’s mysterious appearance onto the baseball scene.
“So, how did it happen? Your travel through time?” the rookie asked.
“Damned if I know,” Cobb shrugged. “I went to bed in 1911 and woke up the next day in some hospital.”
“That must have been quite a shock.”
“That’s for damn sure.”
The elevator door opened.
“It must have taken quite some time to get used to all the changes,” Brugge said with a serious look, trying his best to relate to his new teammate.
“Damn right it did,” Cobb muttered politely, taking for granted Brugge’s sincerity.
Brugge stopped at his room and spoke quietly. “I’d be extremely careful if I were you, Mr. Cobb. There’s some deep-rooted resentment here toward you.”
Cobb nodded with an expression that indicated, No kidding!
“They think you’re some kind of public relations gimmick. And there’s a lot of jealousy from guys that would kill for the attention you’re receiving.”
“As far as I’m concerned, they can have it all,” Cobb replied.
“Yeah, they’re the same ones who are the first to complain about reporters when they do show some interest. They can’t seem to make up their mind if they want the limelight or not,” Brugge philosophized.
“I know the type,” Cobb gave a smirk.
“You may find us pitchers a friendlier lot. After all, the last thing we want is for an angry teammate to sabotage the game while we’re toiling on the mound… your room should be a little further down,” Brugge placed his card on the reader and entered his room.
Cobb was the only person in the hallway and, once again, he felt isolated from the rest of the world.