St. Louis, Missouri
Good Earth Flour Production Mill A
By Steve Meyers
“If I have to lift one more sack of
100 LB. flour today, well, I don’t know what I’ll do”, said the tall man as he
gently set the bulky sack of wheat flour onto the pallet. He was the oldest of the two men in
conversation. His lean frame almost disguised his strong core of muscles that
hid under his baggy clothing. He wiped
his brow before looking left and right.
“I believe it’s time for a short break gentleman.”
shorter of the two, dressed in overall jeans like his work buddy, declared,
“You don’t have to twist my arm. I am
joined the tall man, each perched atop one of the bags of flour, so they were
facing each other. “Any of you guys got
a spare cigarette?” Virgil directed the
inquiry to include the third man in the room who was sitting by himself on a
pallet of bagged sugar.
said the tall man, “Don’t you ever buy your own?”
I buy my own. I just happened to be forget
to buy them today. Is that a
tall one let out a sarcastic laugh, “Hell no, it ain’t no crime, Virgil. The crime is you got the gumption to ask that
question twice a day every day of the work week. That, there, is the crime of it.“
mind then, Earl, don’t need no handouts from you, anyway. You make such a federal case about a single
looked over to the youngest man in the group.
The quiet one sitting by himself.
He was reading a book. Neither
Virgil nor Earl could read proficiently, so they often referred to Jacob, as ‘the
bookworm’, when he wasn’t within listening distance.
got up and walked over to Jacob, and, in his kindest and most respectful voice,
asked, “Say Jacob, do you think I could borrow one of your cigarettes? Just until tomorrow. We get paid tonight and I was gonna pick me
up some smokes over there at the city market.”
looked up from his book for the first time since the group had been on
break. Virgil figured he was about 20
years old, maybe 21, tops. But, neither
Virgil nor Earl knew much about ‘the bookworm’.
He kept to himself. When asked by
others if the ‘quiet one’, aka the bookworm, was friendly, Virgil would usually
reply, “Don’t really know the answer to that question. Now, if you was to ask me if he was
unfriendly, I would say ‘no, not at all’.
quiet young man who was a good 6 foot 3 inches, and nearly a half foot taller
than Virgil, closed the book creating a soft ‘puff sound’. It was then that Earl saw the title of the
book, American Baseball by Henri Whittier.
The cover was frayed around the edges.
It was a thick publication that looked as old as the game itself.
looked Virgil straight in the eye and, in a voice so soft Virgil had to lean closer
to hear the words, said, “I don’t use tobacco.”
well, that’s fine. Wasn’t really sure if
you did or not, Jacob. It’s hard to
remember who does and who doesn’t, if you know what I mean.”
was a quiet moment between the men.
Virgil feeling awkward, ready to break eye contact, Jacob looking like
he was about to add something else. He
just kept staring at Virgil. Not
unfriendly like, but, almost as if he was debating whether to continue.
spoke, “What is it, man. Did you want to
say something else? You can speak up
here, just me and Earl.”
a short pause, “You guys are ball players, right? You and Earl? I mean you guys are on the St.
Louis black ball players team, right?”
we’re on it. Earl pitches and I play
shortstop. Actually, any place in the
infield except catcher. You ain’t gonna
get me behind that dish.”
Earl’s last comment, Jacob continued, “So, here’s the thing. There is this league about to commence that
is to take the place of the one that folded last year. They referred to it as the National League.”
we knew about the National League. Bunch
of so-so players that couldn’t be on the same field as Earl and me. Yeah, I knew that league.”
I just came from the Hotel there in downtown St. Louis, you know the Diplomat
starting to get interested asks, “Yeah, we been there, what about it?”
I was delivering the flour and sugar bags to the kitchen, I could overhear the
conversation of the executives in the private room in back. They had the side door open for fresh
air. It’s right next to the
kitchen. I was chatting with the cook
there but then I got wind of a pretty big story. A pretty big baseball story. So, I did a fair amount of eavesdropping
before I headed back here.”
and Earl spoke at the same time, “What did you hear?”
they are talking about forming a new league.
Pro baseball. New cities, new
managers, and new players.”
it would be the same old group, Jacob.
They give those so-so players a new uniform and call them a fancy new name,
but nothing would change. Same
stuff.” Virgil spat on the ground in
where you are wrong, Virgil. Because,
you see here, this new league is going for the best players in the
country. If I may quote one of the executives,
I heard speaking inside the room, ‘the damn best ballplayers we can find’.”
paused and looked hard at both men.
Neither Earl or Virgil had ever seen him so determined and intense. It was almost scary, but, neither man was
actually, scared. They were intrigued.
is the kicker gentleman. You ready?”
we’re ready”, Virgil was practically shouting while waving his hands, “speak up
son, what do you have?”
we want to know what you got”, from Earl.
part, I swear it’s true because I heard it not two hours ago. The thing is they are really going to go for
the very best players. You know what
that means? It means any color,
nationality, is open to being on the team.”
two men just stared at Jacob. “Don’t you
get it? It means any of us, all of us,
can play pro ball in this league. We
don’t have to have our own league playing for peanuts. We can be one of those pro’s that people pay
good money to watch perform in big ballparks.”
kind of sucker are you, Jacob, they ain’t gonna let no black man on the field
in their league”, spoke Virgil.
I was thinking you had something exciting for us, Jacob”, a deflated Earl
you gentlemen don’t believe me? I can
see you don’t. Maybe you will believe
reopened his book. He flipped the pages
until he came across a folded piece of paper.
He carefully removed the paper and opened it up so that it was one full
page. It made a crinkle sound as he
smoothed it out. The two men quickly
went to each of his sides so that they could see the paper.
say what I think it says, Earl?
I’ll be damned. Look at that
Virgil. Those pictures of the
ballplayers have black men in the group.
You can see it plain as day.”
right, gentleman, this is an advertisement for players for the new league.”
looked up at Jacob and asked, “So we can tryout for this team? And, get paid money to play?”
smiled and said, “The first tryout is March 1.
Oh, and Virgil?”
“Don’t forget to
bring your glove.”