No, I don't. I'm dead. So's your mother. Leave us alone.
I'm going to Tampa, George Senior. Spring training. Just thought I'd stop by and let you see I'd made something of myself.
Made something of yourself? You can barely read. You fuck whores. You get paid whore's wages to play a whore's game. A game. Not man's work. Play.
I'm Babe Ruth.
You're George Herman Ruth Junior, and I still wouldn't trust you to work behind the bar. You'd drink the profits, forget to lock up. No one wants to hear your bragging here, boy, your stories. Go play your games. This is not your home anymore.
When was it?
Babe looked up at the building. He thought of spitting on the sidewalk, the same sidewalk where his father had died from a busted melon. But he didn't. He rolled it all up--his father, his mother, his sister Mamie, who he hadn't talked to in six months, his dead brothers, his life here--rolled it all up like a carpet and tossed it over his shoulder.
Don't let the door hit your fat ass on the way out.
So go then.
He did. He put his hands in his pocket and walked up the street toward the taxi he'd left idling at the corner. He felt as if he wasn't just leaving West Camden Street or even Baltimore. He was steaming away from a whole country, the motherland that had given him his name and his nature, now wholly unfamiliar, now foreign ash.
Plant Field in Tampa was surrounded by a racetrack that had been out of use for years but still smelled of horseshit when the Giants came to town to play an exhibition game against the Red Sox and the white-ball rule went into effect for the fi rst time.
The implementation of the white-ball rule was a big surprise. Even Coach Barrow hadn't known it was coming this early. Rumors floating through the leagues had held that the new rule wouldn't be employed until opening day, but the home plate umpire, Xavier Long, came into the dugout just before the game to tell them today was the day.
"By order of Mr. Ban Johnson, no less. Even provided the fi rst bag, he did."
When the umps emptied that bag in the on- deck circle, half the boys, Babe included, came out of the dugout to marvel at the creamy brightness of the leather, the sharp red stitching. Christ's sake, it was like looking at a pile of new eyes. They were so alive, so clean, so white.
Major league baseball had previously dictated that the home team provide the balls for every game, but it was never stated what condition those balls had to be in. As long as they possessed no divots of marked depth, those balls could, and were, played until they passed over a wall or someone tore the cover off.
White balls, then, were something Ruth had seen on opening day in the first few innings, but by the end of the first game, that ball was usually brown. By the end of a three-game series, that ball could disappear in the fur of a squirrel.
But those gray balls had almost killed two guys last year. Honus Sukalowski had taken one to the temple and never talked right again. Bobby Kestler had also taken one to the bean and hadn't swung a bat since. Whit Owens, the pitcher who'd hit Sukalowski, had left the game altogether out of guilt. That was three guys gone in one year, and during the war year to boot.
Standing in left, Ruth watched the third out of the game arc toward him like a Roman candle, a victim of its own brilliance. He was whistling when he caught it. As he jogged back in toward the dugout, God's fingertips found his chest.
It's a new game.
You can say that twice.
It's your game now, Babe. All yours.
I know. Did you see how white it is? It's so . . . white.
A blind man could hit it, Babe.
I know. A blind kid. A blind girl kid.
It's not Cobb's game anymore, Babe. It's a slugger's game. Slugger. That's a swell word, boss. Always been fond of it, myself. Change the game, Babe. Change the game and free yourself. From what?
Babe didn't, but he kind of did, so he said, "Okay."
"Who you talking to?" Stuffy McInnis asked as he reached the dugout.
Stuffy spit some tobacco into the dirt. "Tell Him I want Mary Pick-ford at the Belleview Hotel."
Babe picked up his bat. "See what I can do."
Babe wiped down his bat. "Well, it is an off day."
Stuffy nodded. "Say around six."
Babe walked toward the batter's box.
Babe looked back at him. "Call me 'Babe,' okay?"
"Sure, sure. Tell God to tell Mary to bring a friend."
Babe walked into the batter's box.
"And beer!" Stuffy called.
Columbia George Smith was on the mound for the Giants, and his first pitch was low and inside and Babe suppressed a giggle as it passed over the toe of his left foot. Jesus, you could count the stitches! Lew McCarty threw the ball back to his pitcher and Columbia George threw a curveball next that hissed past Babe's thighs for a strike. Babe had been watching for that pitch because it meant Columbia George was stair climbing. The next pitch would be belt high and a hair inside, and Babe would have to swing but miss if he wanted Columbia George to throw the high heat. So he swung, and even trying to miss, he foul-tipped the ball over McCarty's head. Babe stepped out of the box for a moment, and Xavier Long took the ball from McCarty and examined it. He wiped at it with his hand and then his sleeve and he found something there he didn't like because he placed it in the pouch over his groin and came back out with a brand-spanking new ball. He handed it to McCarty, and McCarty rifled it back to Columbia George.
What a country!
Babe stepped back into the box. He tried to keep the glee from his eyes. Columbia George went into his windup, and, yup, his face corked into that telltale grimace it got whenever he brought the fire, and Babe gave it all a sleepy smile.
It was not cheers he heard when he scorched that fresh white ball toward the Tampa sun. Not cheers or oohs or aahs.
Silence. Silence so total that the only sound that could fill it was the echo of his bat against cowhide. Every head in Plant Field turned to watch that miraculous ball soar so fast and so far that it never had time to cast its shadow.
When it landed on the other side of the right field wall, five hundred feet from home plate, it bounced high off the racetrack and continued to roll.
After the game, one of the sports scribes would tell Babe and Coach Barrow that they'd taken measurements, and the final tally was 579 feet before it came to a full stop in the grass. Five hundred and seventy-nine. Damn near two football fields.
But in that moment, as it soared without shadow into a blue sky and a white sun and he dropped his bat and trotted slowly down the first base line, tracking it, willing it to go farther and faster than anything ever could or ever had or maybe ever would in so short a time, Babe saw the damnedest thing he'd ever seen in his life--his father sitting atop the ball. Riding it really, hands clenched to the seams, knees pressed to the leather, his father tumbling over and over in space with that ball. He howled, his father did. He clenched his face from the fear.