“You are kind of a big man,” Dottie said in the breezy spic and span Brooklyn air.
“I’m almost 300 pounds,” said Happy Felton. “I used to play football in college, although I always wanted to be a ballplayer, be behind the plate. But I was a perfect circle. How could I be a perfect catcher?”
“You would have been perfect to catch a perfect circle, the baseball,” Dottie said,
Marie had taken Dottie to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers play the Philadelphia Phillies. The view was so good the fans in the bleachers could see the stitching on the uniforms.
The city’s air was usually so dirty you could touch the grime suspended in it. Coal power plants belched dark smoke. Burnt-up garbage rained ash on everybody except the Upper East Side. Three years earlier more than 200 people died in one week breathing the filthy smog air.
Dottie was in the right field bullpen, she and two boys, playing throw and catch and throw, warming up for Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang show on WOR-TV. The program aired 25 minutes before every home game. Happy knew how to put on a bang-up matinee. He had been in a medicine-man show, beat the drums in a circus, sang as one of the Four Ambassadors, headlined an orchestra for ten years, appeared on Broadway, and been a contract player for MGM.
After introducing the kids, Happy always introduced a Dodgers player, who judged the kids on speed, fielding ability, and baseball smarts. This afternoon it wasn’t a player. It was Buzzie Bavasi, the general manager of the team. He had led the Dodgers to National League pennants in 1952, 1953, and 1955. They won their first World Series in franchise history in 1955.
They were shooting for the stars the rest of the week.
“We don’t usually have girls out here,” Buzzie said to Dottie.
“I always called him Buzzie, not Emil, because he was always buzzing around,” said Emil’s sister Iola.
Buzzie called his sister Lolly.
“I can do anything a boy can do, and better,” said Dottie. “I’m the best stickball player in our neighborhood.”
“Let’s see what you’re made of,” said Emil the Buzz.
Tony the Phil walked by on the warning track, glancing over the fence at the kids swinging bats and running imaginary bases. He veered into center field and stopped where he knew the storm drain was. It was where he was planning on planting nitro, enough of it to kill a man, many a man. He looked down at the ground. He hoped it didn’t blow anybody else up besides who was going to be in the car, but he knew it was going to be a hell of a blast.
He didn’t want anything to happen to Happy or any of the kids who might be in the bullpen. It would be too bad. But he had to do what he had been told to do. He was going to follow orders. It was all there, all in his head. He had to go ahead.
After the boys and girls had gone through their paces, and Happy and Buzzie had put their heads together, they pinned that day’s blue ribbon on Dottie. The two boys got baseball equipment for their appearances, and Dottie was told she was eligible to come back the next game, the first of the last series of the regular season, for a solo chat with her favorite Dodger’s player.
“The Little Colonel!” she exclaimed when asked.
“Why is he your favorite player,” asked Happy.
“Because he’s the best shortstop ever. His glove is where base hits go to kick the bucket. He can swallow them down like a kingfish and he can double them up,” Dottie said.
Pee Wee Reese had been a champion marbles player as a kid in Kentucky. A peewee is a small marble. He was a small child. He could knuckle down, playing ringer, boss-out, and black snake, getting low to the ground. His size was a godsend in the sand. One year he was runner-up to the national champion in the Louisville Courier-Journal’s marble tournament.
He was an undersized teenager, too, not playing baseball until his senior year in high school. Since then, he’d beefed up gotten into stayed in professional baseball for 17 years, making the National League All-Star team ten years in a row.
“Can I come back Wednesday instead of this weekend?”
“I like your spirit, but we have to win today, and we have to win when the Pirates come into town, too, for there to even be a next Wednesday.”
“I just know you will. I’m counting on it. Can I come back Wednesday, please?”
Happy and Buzzie put their heads back together.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please join us before the game on Wednesday next week, what we hope will be the first home game of the series, when Dottie Riddman will spend a few minutes talking to Pee Wee Reese. Until then, this is Happy Felton signing off for WOR.”
It was going to come down to the weekend, it turned out.
The Phillies pummeled the Dodgers on the Wednesday with ten hits, taking the game 7 – 3. Del Ennis drove in two runs on three hits, which was three hits more than Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson all together managed to put together. Only Duke Snider matched Del Ennis, while the rest of the Dodgers eked out two separate harmless singles, one of them a blooper.
Dottie didn’t go home unhappy, though. She wasn’t somebody who needed her team to win to make the trip to the ballpark worth it. Winning was a part of it all, but everything else, the sunshine in the daytime, jumping to your feet in the stands, peanut shells and tobacco butts, all the fans, the fun of the game, the heroes and goats and memories, was more than anything the whole part of it.
“If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop ‘em,” said Yogi Berra on the other side of the river.
Nobody was going to stop her from going to the ballpark.
The weather stopped everybody from going to the ballpark on Friday. A drizzling rain started at 5 o’clock. The game was called by Umpire Jocko Conlan at 7:30 and rescheduled as a twin bill on Saturday.
The Milwaukee Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals that night, 5 – 4, cutting their lead in the National League to half a game over the second-place Dodgers.
In the first game against the Pirates on Saturday afternoon Sal No-Hit Maglie was jolted early, giving up two runs in the top of the first, but stiffened, and slammed the door shut. The Dodgers came back with three in the bottom of the frame and won going away, 6 -2. Clem Labine, a crack relief hurler pressed into starting, couldn’t solve Roberto Clemente, who went three for four, in the second game, but the Bucs wasted their other four hits, and were barely able to push across a single run in the eighth.
“Sometimes the only thing worse than a Pirates game is a Pirates doubleheader,” said a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Press, a writer who had endured four finishes dead last in the cellar in the past six years.
After the Dodgers took the front end and then the back end of their doubleheader against the Pirates, it left one game on Sunday for all the marbles. If the Dodgers won, nothing the Braves did would matter.
Dottie just knew the Bums would get it done.