Author: Steve

Missouri Tribune

virgil 2The staff at the Tribune has been working on a novel idea in support of our home town baseball team, the Missouri Tribune Graphic Artists.  Mr. Peter Steiner has created a few picture baseball cards of some of our team players.  Here is the photo of first one Mr. Steiner created for 27 year old Virgil Johnson.  Virgil has played ball for the Good Earth Flour Mill team and has recently joined the Graphic Artists ball club.  Let the paper know if you’d like to see more of these.  Currently this one is in the display window at our printing office on Main Street.

 

 

The ‘Young Men’ of Oneida prepare to head West

buggy.jpg

The sun had just risen in the east, and the clouds hung low.  It was barely light enough to see but the group would need to leave soon to be on time.  The young men gathered round the large flat bed horse and carriage.  The commune was happy to assist them in getting to the train station.  All their necessary belongings, never much to begin with, were stowed away in small trunks, and in some cases, cloth sacks.  They have already said good bye to members of the dissolving community.

 

This was not a time for not sadness as the young men had already accepted their new life weeks, ago.  Joy, mixed with some trepidation, abounded through each of them.  It is chilly out and all the young men are donning their heaviest coats. Their heads are kept warm with caps pulled down tightly over their ears revealing only a partial view of their faces.

 

Jason, not wearing any gloves, blows air into his hands to warm them.  His breath leaves a vapor that quickly dissipates into the chilly morning air.  As they climb aboard the horse drawn carriage Jason does a head count.  Upon finishing he repeats the count making sure the count of 16 is correct.

 

“Hey guys, I’m counting sixteen.  What gives?  Did somebody new decide to join us?

A small voice from the back says, “I did.”

“I didn’t get that”, calls out Jason, “who is talking?”

A short person gets up off the bed of the wagon and standing up, replies, “It’s me, Jason. Here in the back.”

“Who….what the….is that you, Jessica?”

“It is I.”

“But, what did you do to your hair.  It’s..well, it’s practically gone.  And, those clothes?  Whose clothes are you wearing?  I’ve never seen you in pants like that.  Those are men’s trousers.”

“How do I look, then?”

“Well, um, you.  I hope you don’t mind me speaking frankly Jessica but you look just like one of us.”

“Then you think I can pass?”

“Pass as what?……oh, no, Jessica, this here excursion is for baseball players, not women.”

“You forgetting I struck you out the last….let me count….six times you faced me on the field?  Do I need to refresh your memory Jason?  Because I can tell you what pitch I threw each time.  I can do that, y’know.  Let’s see first time it was a curve, next time”…

 

“No, we don’t need to relive those brief moments of batter ….batter fatigue that I was struggling with at the time.” Are you saying you want to go with us to St. Louis?  Work in the mill and play ball, too.  Is that what this is all about?”

“Pretty much sums it up, Jason.  Do you have any questions?  If not, I suggest you get this wagon rolling so we don’t miss the 10:15 to St. Louis.”

Jason, for maybe the first time in his life, was unable to formulate a response.  He blinked a few times, cleared his throat.  Started to speak but not much was coming out.

It was then he noticed that the other 14 boys were all smiling and looking down.  Trying to hide their amusement.  A few elbowed each other which elicited some muffled giggles.

“Well, I….um”.  He broke into his own smile.  Shaking his head he called out, “You heard Jessica, Adam, lets get this cart a rolling.”

“Uh, Jason, you can call me Jess.”

The Closing of the Commune

Oneida_Commune

“Members of the community I have an announcement to make”, said the aging and bearded John Humphrey Noyes.  He had the full attention of the one hundred and fifty or so members of the Oneida community.  Numbers had been dwindling for the past ten years as the current membership was about half the amount of the peak years.

“The commune, as we know it, will cease to be in the very near future.” A murmur spread through the crowd.  A few knew this was coming and they sat quietly on the ground looking around to gauge reactions hoping their advanced knowledge did not give them away.   Many gasped and looked at each other with bewildered looks.  Some of the younger men, gathered near the back of the ground, wore the same expression as before John Noyes began speaking.

‘We are going into the business of making silverware.  That will be our new focus.  We will be the Oneida Silverware company.”

The leader of the community continued, “You are all welcome to help in this new ‘family business’, but from this point on all of you will be entering society and living by their rules.  For some of you, this is old stuff.  You younger folk, well, this will be a new experience.  Our Relocation Committee, headed up by Edna here, will help you with logistics.”

Edna Parsons stood up and nodded at the crowd.  They were accustomed to her leadership inside the commune.  She was smart, and could be trusted, which is why John Noyes asked for her leadership.

Noyes went on about the accomplishments of Oneida, as well as the new direction, trying to muster excitement tempered with the sadness of dissolution of the Oneida community.  But there was no disguising the sadness etched into his voice as the founder of the commune knew that his community was forever changed with this announcement.

Some of the faithful hung on every word.  Others were so shaken; they hardly heard a word.  Both men and women fought back tears during the very poignant portions of Noyes comments.  At the very back of the group the young men, one by one, closed ranks and formed a small circle of 18 to 20.

“It’s like I told you brothers, this decision has been in the works for pert near two months.  We knew it was coming.  Now, I’m going to ask you to think about something.  I don’t want you making no snap decision.  This is about your life and what you are gonna do with it.  You have at least two options, as I see it.”

Jason Evans stood five feet ten inches and weighed about 175 pounds.  He was old enough to vote, and young enough to cut and chop wood nearly all day long.  His sandy brown hair was long, tucked behind his ears, and he sported a full beard as did many of the men in his circle.  His bright blue eyes seem to be forever smiling, even as he addressed this splinter group.

‘Nothing wrong with making silverware gentleman.  It’s respectable and will earn a man and his family a decent income.  I’m not asking any of you to leave the only thing we’ve known all our lives, ‘the big family’.”

“Tell us more about that baseball game you saw when you were in the big city”, chirped one of the younger boys.  “The one in the ballpark.  I don’t want to be no silverware maker.”

A few voiced agreements with the young man, but they all were waiting for Jason to share the second option.  The chance to do something other than make silverware.

‘All right, you all know about the game of baseball.  We’ve been playing a little right here in our community for almost two years.  Some of you have gotten quite good.  We’re no strangers to the game of baseball, but the game of baseball doesn’t know of us.”

Jason scratched his beard and looked around at his brothers.  He was not an eloquent speaker, by any means, but he always spoke from the heart.  He loved these guys and couldn’t imagine a life without them.  They had built houses, planted crops, raised farm animals together their whole lives.  He knew the commune was coming to an end but that didn’t mean he would have to lose his brothers.

“Here is the deal.  You guys all know Jacob, right?  He left Oneida just last year.”  The men either nodded or verbally confirmed.  “Okay, Jacob and his group have been playing ball just outside of St. Louis for fun and exercise.  Most of em work a day job, but, then they get together and play ball on weekends and some weeknights.  They are playing a few other ball clubs that have their own teams.”

“That’s how they make their money?”, yelled out one of the young kids.

“Jason quickly answered, “No, they are not getting any money for this.  They are doing it for fun.  It’s not the big league, you see?  But, some of the scouts of the teams in the big league, well, they come out and watch these games.  And the fella’s they like, they signed them to contracts.  Those guys are the ones making the money.”

“So, you have to kind of work your way up”, confirmed Adam, one of the older boys who had chatted with Jason many times.

“Adam is right.  The thing is, this group Jacob is part of, well, they want to grow.  Add more teams.  They are looking for good ball players.”

Jason had the complete attention of the group at this point.  If John Noyes was still talking it would have been news to any of the young men.  Their imaginations starting to create visions in the minds.  Visions of a new life, outside the commune, playing this new game called, baseball.  It was both exhilarating and frightening.  Many wondered how they could survive outside the security of the commune.

The group was now seeing the white, almost perfect teeth, as Jason allowed himself a big smile.  He was going to enjoy this next part.  “You know what guys?”

‘C’mon, Jason, don’t tease us.’

‘Yeah, how is this gonna work?’

Jason spoke, “So, the name of Jacob’s company is the ‘Good Earth Flour Mill?”

‘We know that, Jason.’

‘What’s that got to do with us playing ball?’

“Well, guys, the Good Earth Flour Mill is just finishing up a new expansion to the old mill.  It’s going to be three times larger than what it was last year.  They are going to double the mill workers.”  Most of the young men let out sounds of either awe or surprise.

“I got word from Jacob that the mill will hire all able bodied and hard-working men in the next two weeks who appear to fill out a formal application.  All we got to do is hop that train to St. Louis and Jacob will practically guarantee the mill hires all of us.”

Adam said, “Geez, we could make good money and play ball.”

Jason had only planned out one line of his talk to his brothers.  If the conversation went well, and, he judged that it went extremely well.

In his best inspirational voice, he posed the question, “What’s it going to be?  You want to make silver in Oneida, or earn money and play baseball in St. Louis?”

 

Steve Meyers

Schoolhouse Baseball

A School somewhere in rural upstate New York

by Steve Meyers

“Settle down, class. You are high school seniors and you need to carry your self with a little more civility and a little less horse play.  You will be graduating next week, if you manage to pass your final exams, so it’s time to get serious about your life and your career.  And, the upcoming final exam that commences next Thursday.”

The final bell rung, and the class abruptly left the room like a herd of cattle on a Colorado cattle drive.  The young men in the class grabbed their hats and caps off the hooks, the few who owned a baseball glove snagged them, while the best player, Joseph Sumption, secured the bat and ball from his coat hook area.

Most of the students had exited the room by the time Joseph turned to his teacher and asked, “Say, Mr. Evans, sir, we’ve got a little ball game going out in the field in back until supper time.  If you’d like, that is, if you are not too busy, you could come by and watch us.   We’d be glad to show you how the game is played.”

“Well, thank you Joseph, that is mighty kind of you to offer.  I have to grade the essay papers first, but, if I get done before the game ends, I’d be very interested in watching you boys play the game of baseball.”

“I’m pitching today, Mr. Evans, so those 11th graders better look out.”  Joseph smiled at his teacher and headed out the door to catch up with the rest of the team.

Mr. Evans waved good-bye to his star pupil and called out, ‘have fun’, before his eyes dropped to the stack of 20 single paged essays sitting on the corner of his desk.  He let out a deep sigh, adjusted his spectacles, and took the top one from the stack, and began reading.  Half-way down the page he decided the room was stuffy.  Stifling, in fact.  How could he expect to concentrate on the essay’s when he was so overwhelmed by the heat?  Not to mention the humidity.

He walked over to the window and turned the lever on the window so that he could push the glass open.  Initially, it was stuck, but using the heel of his hand, he was able to force it open.  The hot air gently rolled in the window.  Before heading back to his desk, he heard one of the boys in the distance, ‘second base, throw it to second base.’

He lingered at the window trying to see the source of the voice in the distance.  But, the trees outside the classroom obstructed the makeshift baseball field in back.  Stifled in his attempt to see the game, Franklin Evans headed back to his desk and resumed his attempt at reading the first essay.

Reading the essays of the kids was something that Franklin always enjoyed.  He loved the way that the kids would share their thoughts about anything from tending to wheat fields to training a horse, to why the Constitution is important.

It was different today.  He couldn’t stay engaged.  He decided to loosen his tie.  Unbutton his collar.  How could he expect to grade an essay being in such discomfort?

He was out for by a mile.”

What are you talking about it, he missed the tag.  He still hasn’t tagged me.”

Again, Franklin went to the window.  This time he stuck his head through the opening and peered around to the back.  There it was.  The right field corner of the playing field.  He could see one kid standing out there.  No glove.  Squatted down a bit, with hands on his knees, he was ready in case a ball came his way.

It occurred to Franklin that he didn’t have to finish the essay’s right now.  He could take them home and read them tonight.  After he had dinner with his family.  He could sit in the family room and grade the essays.  It would be cooler.  Less stuffy.  And, he could get rid of this stiff shirt and jacket.

After he locked the classroom, Franklin headed to the rear of the building and towards the baseball game just past the dirt road out back.

When he reached the field, he saw Joseph standing in the pitcher’s position getting ready to throw the baseball.  He looked in towards the catcher and threw the ball towards home plate.  The batter swung and missed.  ‘Strike three!”, someone called.

“Mr. Evans.  You made it”, shouted Joseph as he made his way toward his side of the field near home plate.  “Did you see that fastball?”

“Mighty nice pitch, Joseph.  Mighty nice.”

Franklin watched Joseph’s team bat the while under the shade of the big oak tree next to third base.  The first batter up for Joseph’s team was a young man named, Robert.  He was a big kid, the same one that Franklin saw in right field.  On the second pitch of the inning he took a vicious swing of the bat and screamed a ball towards third base.  The ball took a wicked hop and bounced right into the chin of the third baseman.  He dropped like a sack of potatoes.

Franklin rushed out to assist the injured player and saw the gash on the lip.  Immediately, it was starting to swell.  It was decided the young man would leave the game so that he could walk home and have his mother apply first aid treatment.

After some discussion about how to proceed without one less player it was Robert who came up with the idea that would allow the game to continue.

“Say, Mr. Evans, could you fill in at third base for their team?  You can play the outfield if you want, but we really need another player to keep the competition fair.  Please?”

“C’mon Mr. Evans, we’d really appreciate it.”

“Maybe he doesn’t know how to play”.

“That’s not fair, we need a real ball player to take Jake’s place.”

These are some of the comments that Franklin heard as he was pondering the decision to join the boys.  Ultimately, he decided, ‘why not’.

He removed his jacket and headed over to third base politely refusing the offer to assume the easier position in right field.

When the game resumed, the batter hit a ground ball to the second baseman who couldn’t find the handle.  Runners on first and second with no one out.

Franklin could see the next batter talking with the player that would bat after him.  They were smiling as they looked towards their teacher while sharing their little secret.  The two shared a smug look on their faces.

The batter squared around on the first pitch and bunted the ball.  “Run” his teammates yelled.

Franklin broke towards the plate using small, but efficient steps, that carried his lean frame quickly to the ball as it was falling to the ground.  The surprise to everyone was that it never made it to the ground.  It was a mere one inch from the tall grass before the large hand of Franklin Evans slid between the ground and the sinking baseball as he squeezed it securely in his palm.

The force of his body propelled him forward so that after catching the ball he did a roll and landed on his feet holding the ball for all to witness.  Without pause, he rifled the ball to second base where it was caught by the second baseman.  Franklin kept running towards first base and as he passed the out of position first baseman, he yelled, ‘back to first, throw it back to first.”

The second baseman, ‘Johnny on the spot’, tossed the ball back to Franklin thus completing the rarest of putouts, the baseball triple play.

“But…how….where did you learn how to do that Mr. Evans?”, called out Joseph as he stood with thirteen other stunned young men.

They were gathered around their teacher now.  The game all but forgotten.  The focus on the amazing play of their…..teacher, of all people.

Franklin looked at the young men without any apparent emotion and thought about how he was to answer that question.

“Let me put it this way Joseph”, but he was looking at all his students now, “I wasn’t always a schoolteacher.”

Good Earth Flour Mill


St. Louis, Missouri
February, 1989
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.”

                The shorter of the two, dressed in overall jeans like his work buddy, declared, “You don’t have to twist my arm.  I am dragging today.”

                He 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. 

                “Again?”, said the tall man, “Don’t you ever buy your own?”

                “Sure, I buy my own.  I just happened to be forget to buy them today.  Is that a crime?” 

                The 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.“

                “Never mind then, Earl, don’t need no handouts from you, anyway.  You make such a federal case about a single smoke.”

                Virgil 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.

                Virgil 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.” 

                Jacob 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’.

                The 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. 

                Jacob, 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.”

                “Oh, 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.” 

                There 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.

                Virgil, spoke, “What is it, man.  Did you want to say something else?  You can speak up here, just me and Earl.”

                After 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?”

                “Yeah, 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.” 

                Ignoring 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.”

                “Yeah, 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.”

                “Well, I just came from the Hotel there in downtown St. Louis, you know the Diplomat Hotel?”

                Earl starting to get interested asks, “Yeah, we been there, what about it?”

                “When 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.”

                Virgil and Earl spoke at the same time, “What did you hear?”

                “OK, they are talking about forming a new league.  Pro baseball.  New cities, new managers, and new players.”

                “Ah, 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 disgust.

                “That’s 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’.”

                Jacob 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.

                “Here is the kicker gentleman.  You ready?”

                “Damn, we’re ready”, Virgil was practically shouting while waving his hands, “speak up son, what do you have?”

                “Yeah, we want to know what you got”, from Earl.

                “This 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.”

                The 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.”

                “What kind of sucker are you, Jacob, they ain’t gonna let no black man on the field in their league”, spoke Virgil.

                “And, I was thinking you had something exciting for us, Jacob”, a deflated Earl added.

                “What, you gentlemen don’t believe me?  I can see you don’t.  Maybe you will believe this?”

                Jacob 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.

                “That say what I think it says, Earl?

                “Well, 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.”

                “That’s right, gentleman, this is an advertisement for players for the new league.”

                Virgil, looked up at Jacob and asked, “So we can tryout for this team?  And, get paid money to play?”

                Jacob smiled and said, “The first tryout is March 1.  Oh, and Virgil?”

                “What’s that, Jacob?”

“Don’t forget to bring your glove.”