This is my entry in the Opening Day Stories Project conducted by the Dankoville Story Group. It’s 8400-plus words. About 27-29 pages in book form. – George Miner aka Danko Whitfield, April 2015
How Dazzle Jarvis Got His Name
by George Miner
© 2015 George Miner
All rights reserved.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the Stevenson Cornstalkers souvenir program for Opening Day 2015 at Jarvis Field in Stevenson. It was written by local historian, George Miner.
Dazzle Jarvis Field opened in 2009. Its name comes from a former Stevenson Cornstalkers player, manager and local celebrity who went on to play and manage in the major leagues.
Dazzle Jarvis had the distinction of playing in the Cornstalkers’ first stadium, South Side Field, in its final season (1953); playing in the team’s second stadium, Putnam Park, in its first season (1954); and having the third stadium named after him.
Now you know how the ballpark was named. But what about the man?
This is the story of how Dazzle Jarvis got his name.
“Dankoville Station! Last Stop! Dankoville! Please be sure to take your belongings from the overhead rack.”
Henry looked out the window at the newly-planted cornfields.
“I must be on another planet,” he thought.
He wasn’t being literal. It’s not that type of story.
Henry Jarvis was from Kansas City. This trip started in Jacksonville. Now he was in a place called Dankoville.
All three of them could have been on different planets. Especially in 1953.
The railroad station was on the outskirts of town. But the walk didn’t take very long. It’s not that big a town.
It only took about ten minutes for Henry to walk into and all around the town and determine there were two places to eat, the Tip Top Diner and the Town Tavern.
On Sunday morning, he was notified he was being sent down. He said goodbye to a couple of guys, then packed and went to the train station. How many changes was it? Jacksonville to Atlanta to Washington to Cincinnati to Chicago to now, Wednesday, in the middle of nowhere.
It was lunch time. Henry thought a good meal and a cold beer for dessert was in order after four days like that. He crossed the street to the Town Tavern.
But before he opened the door, he said to himself the question he would say to the bartender or waitress or whatever staffer he encountered. “Do you serve lunch here?”
But that wasn’t what he was really asking.
“Do you serve Negroes here?”
That was the actual question.
A couple times in Jacksonville he just blurted out the real question, just to get it over with. But that hadn’t worked out well.
But this place wasn’t Jacksonville. Henry didn’t know much about this place. Truth be told, he didn’t know anything about it. Even though he was much closer to home now than when he got on the train, this place wasn’t anything like home.
But at least it wasn’t Jacksonville.
In Kansas City, he knew where he stood. Well, he knew where he stood in Jacksonville too but Kansas City was different. It was segregated too but he knew his way around, where to go, where not to go. He had no particular problem with any particular white folk. As a child, he thought the way black folk were treated was unfair. But now he knew that was naive. He was worldly enough now to know that second-class citizenship was more than merely unfair. It was much more pervasive than that. It affected everything he did and everything he said. Every day.
He couldn’t just walk into the local bar in Nowhereville and sit down and order some lunch. Well, maybe he could but he certainly couldn’t assume so. He had to think about it first, think about what to say, brace himself for the possible responses.
“Do you serve lunch here?”
“Why yessir, young feller, we do. And a mighty fine lunch it is, if I do say so myself. And I do.” The middle-aged bartender wiped his hands and placed the cloth behind the bar, then folded his hands out in front of him and brought them to his chest as he wiggled each finger. “Might you be in the market for a lunch of said nature?”
This was definitely not Jacksonville.
Henry smiled. “It sounds just perfect, sir,” he said.
“You are welcome to sit here at the bar, where I will take your order, or if you prefer a table, Sally is our waitress today and she will seat you just as soon as she’s done with that table in the corner.”
“I’ll sit here,” Henry said as he took a place at the bar and wedged his suitcase and satchel below the barstool. The bartender brought a glass of water and handed Henry a menu. He ordered a Coca-Cola as he scanned the specials.
Henry was tired and hungry. He ordered the baked chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and the vegetable of the day, steamed carrots. He looked around the bar but tried hard not to look like he was doing so. There were the familiar company shields of various brands of beer scattered along the walls, along with plaques from veterans and fraternal organizations, photographs of Dizzy Dean and Stan Musial and a newspaper clipping with a photo of a local man standing beside a very large catfish. The radio played Frank Sinatra, followed by Al Martino.
“You here to play ball?” the bartender asked Henry.
“Uh, yes sir. How did you know?”
“Well, you look strong, like you do physical work but you’re a couple weeks late for plantin’ season. I suppose you could be visitin’ somebody but you look about the right age to play for our local team.”
“And there is the color of my skin,” Henry said.
“Yes,” said the bartender, “there is that.” He nodded.
“So if I’m not here to plant crops, I must be a baseball player,” Henry said politely though he was trying to figure out the bartender.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say ‘must.’ More of a ‘might be,'” the bartender said in a matter of fact tone. “And I read in the paper this morning that a new Negro player was joining the team. From Jacksonville?”
Henry nodded. Maybe the bartender was just a baseball fan. He brought Henry’s baked chicken. “Another Coke?” “Yes, please,” said Henry. The radio played a new and annoying song by Patti Page about a doggie in a window.
Other patrons came in, some took a table, some sat at the little bar. Some nodded or smiled or said good afternoon to Henry, some didn’t. He couldn’t say if they were treating him any differently than a white stranger who might come into this bar but how could they not be? Even though he felt no negativity aimed in his direction, Henry felt very out of place. Most of it was about being the only black man in this bar – who knows? maybe the only one for miles! But there was an added layer too. It was also about being a city boy in the country.
When he finished his meal, the bartender cleared his plate and asked, “Some dessert? Or maybe a beverage of the alcoholic sort?” Henry smiled at the bartender’s manner and ordered a Schlitz.
“You’d be surprised but it was warmer here than you had it in Jacksonville last month,” the bartender said as he poured and delivered the beer.
“Really?” asked Henry.
“The honest truth. We had 80 degrees three times in April. One of those days, I read in the paper, it was 64 degrees in Jacksonville, Florida,” said the bartender. Henry nodded, mildly surprised, mildly interested.
“So Jacksonville to Stevenson, huh?” the bartender asked. He was definitely a baseball fan. Henry could tell the bartender knew it was a demotion.
“They said they had too many shortstops, too many second basemen,” said Henry.
The bartender nodded.
“I played in Eau Claire last season, so I’m still a level up from there,” Henry said, hoping his explanation didn’t sound too defensive.
The bartender nodded again.
“Does Stevenson have any Negro players?” Henry asked.
“Well, you’re not the first but I believe I can count ’em on one hand and still have a finger left over for other pursuits.”
“We had two Negro players last year. They both started the season here so I guess they were both ‘the first.’ Honey Gimbel was one of them and I just saw in the paper Sunday that he got promoted to Evansville. He’s gonna be good. He come in here several times, nice young feller. John Malbus come here this year. So I guess that makes you number four.”
“Eau Claire, huh?” the bartender said. “You musta played with Henry Aaron then. I’ve read about him in the paper several times. He’s in Jacksonville now, ain’t he?”
“Boston, err…Milwaukee is going to be unbeatable in a couple years when you add Aaron to Mathews and Adcock.”
Henry smiled. It was hard to get used to the fact that the Boston Braves had moved to Milwaukee. No major league team had moved in over fifty years and the Boston Braves were one of only two teams to be in the National League since its inception in 1876. Just two months ago when Henry reported to spring training in Bradenton, Florida, he was an employee of the Boston Braves. A week later the move to Milwaukee was announced.
“Henry Aaron could be playing in Milwaukee right now,” Henry said.
The bartender nodded. “My name’s Dan McBride by the way, everybody calls me Buster.” He offered his hand. Henry shook it. “Henry Jarvis,” he said. “Welcome to Strange County, Henry. When do you have to be in Stevenson?”
“Oh not until tomorrow. They’ll be back from a road trip then,” Henry said.
“Yeah, they’re in Peoria. Lost to them yesterday, third in a row,” said Buster, shaking his head.
“Do you go to the Stevenson games, Buster?”
“Oh yes. About a dozen games a season. Thursday’s my day off. If they’re home on Thursday afternoons, I’m at the ballpark. And I take the Missus on Sunday afternoons about once a month. I don’t get to too many night games though, gotta get my beauty sleep.”
Henry smiled. “So they do have lights at this park, I was wondering,” Henry said.
“Yeah, they put ’em in after the war. ’47 I think it was. Tryin’ to boost attendance,” the bartender poured himself a Coca-Cola. “It definitely worked. Once school lets out, they sell that place out pretty much every night game.”
Henry nodded. Baseball is pretty big stuff around here, he thought. He liked that thought.
“So that Henry Aaron is that good, huh?” Buster asked.
“One of the best I’ve seen,” Henry said, “and I may be young but I’ve seen some good players in my time. Played with them and against them when I played in Kansas City.”
Buster raised both eyebrows. “You played for the Monarchs?”
“Then you must be pretty good yourself,” Buster said.
“Yeah, well maybe someday. I’m playing Class B ball right now,” Henry said.
Henry Jarvis was proud of how well he played but he knew if times were different, he’d be in Triple A or maybe even the Major Leagues right now. But regardless of the reasons why, Henry felt until he made it to the majors, he had nothing worth bragging about.
“The Monarchs come through here a long time ago, before the war, on a barnstorming tour. They beat the Cornstalkers something like 14-1,” Buster said. “My Papa went to that game. It was the biggest thing to hit Stevenson since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig barnstormed through here in the ’20s.” Henry smiled.
Even though the Negro Leagues had begun to fade in the six years since Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color line, the Kansas City Monarchs were still a strong team. Buster was very impressed and thinking he might very well be looking at the best player on the Cornstalkers this year. “I’ll definitely look forward to watching you play, Henry,” he said, “and if you and Henry Aaron are playing together in Milwaukee in a couple years with Mathews and Adcock, I may have to become a Braves fan.”
There was some mild protest and some laughter from the other customers sitting at the bar, including one wearing a Cardinals cap.
Henry smiled at the others and turned back to Buster. “If I’m going to be playing with Henry Aaron again, I’m going to have to do something about my nickname.”
“Oh? What’s your nickname?” Buster asked.
“I hit .310 at Eau Claire last year,” Henry said.
“That’s good,” said Buster.
“But Henry hit .336,” he continued, “so I became Little Henry.”
Buster nodded. “I guess that could get old.”
“And then in Jacksonville too?”
“Yup. It’s one thing from your teammates, not that I like it from them either,” he lowered the volume of his voice, “but it’s something else when it’s coming from a bunch of bigots in the stands.”
Buster nodded, grabbed a cloth and began wiping down the bar again. “Do you have an idea for a new nickname?”
“No,” said Henry. “I never really had a nickname before. I was always Henry. So ‘Little Henry,’ that’s not something I’m ever going to like. And unless I get traded, Henry Aaron and I are going to be playing together for a long time.”
The bartender nodded. “I’ve always been Buster. Nobody in the family remembers why. Never thought about actually choosing a nickname before.” He ceased wiping the bar and put his hand on his hip. “You should go to the library. They got a good one in Stevenson. Who knows? Maybe they have books about nicknames.”
“Good idea.” Henry nodded and downed the last of his beer. He paid the bill, put down a tip and asked Buster where to get the bus to Stevenson. Turns out the bus stopped right in front of the bar.
In Stevenson, Henry went directly to the home of Robert and Dorothea Tillman, whose address he’d been given by the Braves before he left Jacksonville. The Tillmans were active in Stevenson’s small but growing African-American middle class community. They had helped the first black Cornstalkers players get settled at the beginning of the previous season and now were ready to help Henry, the first black player to join the team during a season. Henry would stay with the Tillmans for his first few nights in town and they would help him find a place to live for the rest of the season.
The next morning, after a big breakfast, Robert drove off to his office in New Teasdale and Dorothea and Henry took the bus into town. She was headed to the flower shop she owned on Milk Street and gave Henry instructions about which stop was best for the walk to the ballpark.
Henry arrived at South Side Field just after nine o’clock. The game wouldn’t start until six-thirty and the players weren’t required to be there until two o’clock but most of them would arrive long before that. Playing baseball was their life. When a player got up in the morning – no matter how early it was, he got out of bed, had breakfast and went to the ballpark. There was no thought of doing anything else. Not that there was a whole lot to do on a weekday morning in little towns like Stevenson. As he followed Dorothea’s directions to the clubhouse entrance, Henry could hear the sounds of baseballs hitting gloves as the early arrivals were getting loose out on the field.
The clubhouse door led to a narrow hallway, past an open door with a ‘KEEP OUT’ sign which sounded like the power room. The next door was open to a storage room where a tall, thin man, about sixty years old, was counting baseball bats.
“Excuse me,” Henry said as he stood in the doorway.
The man glanced at him, then looked at his clipboard and wrote something down. He puffed on his cigar and turned to Henry. He looked him over. “You Jarvis?”
“Come on.” The man put the clipboard on a small, rickety desk and walked past Henry, out the door and down the hallway into the locker room, where a clubhouse boy was hanging freshly laundered uniforms in lockers.
“You get the whole lot of ’em done, Tommy?” The clubhouse boy nodded vigorously but said nothing.
“What number you wear last year?” the man asked Henry.
“Twenty-six. And thirty-three. And twelve,” said Henry.
The man puffed his cigar. “Those are all taken. What position you play?”
“Shortstop and second base,” Henry said.
“Six is taken too. But we got four. That’s a good number for a second baseman. You want four?”
Henry shrugged. “Sure.”
“Tommy, give this man number four.” The clubhouse boy quickly pulled the uniform shirt out from the pile of clean laundry and brought it to Henry. “Thanks,” he said. The boy nodded and began gathering up the rest of Henry’s uniform.
And thus was chosen a number that this team would one day retire for all time, to honor the man who had just accepted it.
The man with the cigar opened an empty locker. “This’ll be yours, right here. Next to Malbus. He’s the only other…” he paused and looked at Henry, not sure how to end that sentence and make it come out right.
Henry just stood there, waiting.
“Uhhh, he’s the uh…well, he’s the only other Negro on the team. They tell me to put you guys together to…uh…”
Henry just listened.
“…well, they must have some reason for it, I guess.” He puffed on his cigar and extended his hand to shake. “My name’s Orkisen. I’m the equipment manager, the traveling secretary and all-around Grand Poobah of the clubhouse.” He turned. “Ain’t that right, Tommy?” Tommy nodded his head with vigor once more. Henry shook hands. “I’m Henry,” he said. The equipment man continued, “They call me Sketch. If you need anything – anything at all – you come see Sketch. I’ll take care of you.”
“Okay.” Henry smiled.
“Smoky Roy is the manager,” Sketch said. He’s gonna want to see you when he gets back. He’s upstairs right now. Coach Jimmy Sadowski just came in. He’s in charge of helping the new players get settled. He’ll be on the field in a few minutes, so you might want to get dressed and go out and see him right away.”
Henry thanked him and donned the number four.
As he walked down the hallway, he stopped at the door to the storage room/office. “How come they call you Sketch?” he asked.
“Oh…” Sketch reached for a slip of paper on his desk. He showed it to Henry. It was a drawing in pencil of a storage room full of boxes with a baseball player, in uniform, holding a clipboard and taking inventory. “I’m always drawing stuff,” Sketch said as he puffed his cigar. He grabbed a large book from atop a tower of boxes and opened it for Henry. It was an artist’s sketchbook with drawings of baseball players in action poses on the field, some in pencil, some in ink.
“Man, these are great,” Henry said as he turned the pages.
“When I see you play, I’ll do one of you,” Sketch said. “You can send it home to your mama. Or your girl friend.” They both smiled.
The clubhouse at old South Side Field was located under the left field stands. When Henry walked onto the field for the first time, the morning sun hit him right in the eyes and he was blinded for a moment.
“Heads up!” Someone shouted. Henry ducked and held his glove over his head. A ball whizzed past him and bounced off the wall. Henry retrieved the ball and shielded his eyes with his glove to see where to throw it. Several players were playing catch near third base. One held his glove up high and Henry threw him the ball and then trotted toward the players.
As he approached, another player called out, “Hey! Is that Little Henry Jarvis I see?”
Henry recognized the voice from Eau Claire. “Hey, Johnny. I knew they were hiding you somewhere. Now they’re trying to hide me too,” he said, laughing.
Johnny Goryl threw a ball to Henry. “Awww, Henry, you’ll be going back to Jacksonville soon enough. They might even have you skip Jacksonville and go straight to Milwaukee. I just hope you’ll take me with you.” Henry smiled and jogged over to Goryl to shake hands.
“Hey boys,” Goryl said to the others, “This here is Henry Jarvis, coming in from Jacksonville. We both played for Eau Claire last year. Little Henry showed me the proper way to steal a base.”
“So when you gonna steal one, Johnny?” a teammate ribbed him as the other players laughed.
“Well, I was saving it up in case I run into Little Henry again, so he can see my progress,” Johnny said with a smile. Everybody laughed. Henry shook hands with a couple of his new teammates and tipped his cap to the others.
“First thing, Johnny,” Henry said for all to hear, “I don’t want to be called Little Henry anymore.”
There was quiet for a moment as the other players listened.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be but I got to get a new nickname. And I have to do it right away so that’s how people know me here,” Henry said.
A couple players nodded. They immediately understood how a constant comparison to someone like Henry Aaron – whom everyone in the Braves organization was aware of – would not be a good thing for any player but especially for a young black player.
But a couple of them smirked. They couldn’t care less about what some colored player wanted to be called because they had no plans to be talking with him anyway. But now that they know you don’t want to be called by a certain name, well they will file away that little piece of information and hold it for just the right time, when it’ll look to others like they’re cheering you on and they can ruin your moment by calling out, “Way to go, Little Henry!” and put you in your place.
Johnny Goryl nodded and smiled at his friend. “Well then, we’ll just have to help you figure out a new nickname.” Goryl wasn’t playing politics, he was just a nice guy who wanted to help a friend with a problem. But his words sent a message to the smirkers: This man Henry is my friend and my teammate. I wouldn’t like it if someone crossed him.
The smirkers took note of Goryl’s words and smirked again.
“Don’t just do something, men, stand there!” hollered Coach Jimmy Sadowski as he walked toward them from the clubhouse, carrying a bag of bats and balls. The players immediately resumed playing catch.
“Where’s Jarvis?” Sadowski shouted as he peered in through the morning sunshine.
“Right here, coach,” Henry said as he trotted toward him. Sadowski welcomed Henry to the team and went through the usual first conversation a coach has with a new player. Then he sent Henry back to the clubhouse. “You’d better go see the skipper, then we’ll take some infield.”
Smoky Roy was in his underwear, putting on his uniform pants, when Henry walked through the open door into the office.
“Excuse me for not shaking hands. Sit.” He pointed to the chair. Henry sat.
“I gotta make this quick,” the manager said. “We just got back from a road trip. I already had one meeting upstairs and I got two more before batting practice. You talk to Coach Sadowski?”
“Good. You stay close to him for the first few days. He’s gonna drill you on infield plays, bunting and base-running. He’ll go over the signs with you.” Henry nodded. Roy continued, “Here’s the plan. Tonight, you sit and watch. And learn those signs. Tomorrow, you play shortstop, the next day, you play second base. Then Jimmy and I will powwow and figure out what to do with you. I got three days to figure that out. By Sunday, you will be in the lineup, in the same spot, everyday. You got it?”
“I got it, skip.” Henry was surprised and happy.
“Now listen Henry, this is all orders from Milwaukee,” the manager said.
If Henry’s attention could possibly be any more undivided, it certainly was after that statement. Henry really didn’t know what the Milwaukee front office thought of him and he’d been worried about whether they would think of him at all, after demoting him to Stevenson. But the manager was laying those fears to rest. “They didn’t have room to play you in Jacksonville but they didn’t send you here to ride the bench.”
“Now, I don’t know you from Adam, but somebody has seen something in you. My job is to develop that. Your job is to play hard.”
“I will, skip.”
“Curfew on the road is 11:30 p.m. Any violation is a fifteen-dollar fine.” Henry nodded. “I only got two other rules here,” said Smoky. “One, we already covered, play hard. The other is, keep your head in the game. By that I mean, every second of every inning of every game…even if you’re not in the game.” He drew the words out for emphasis.
“I will, skip,” Henry said firmly.
“All right kid, get your butt out there, I gotta run upstairs. Good luck.” He shook Henry’s hand and walked out the door.
On his way back to work with Jimmy Sadowski, Henry saw a black man in a Cornstalkers uniform trotting toward him. They hadn’t met but there was no question who it was.
“How is Stevenson treating you so far, Henry Jarvis?” his new teammate asked as he extended his hand.
“People here are very nice, John Malbus,” Henry said as he shook that hand.
“How was Jacksonville?”
“Don’t ask,” Henry said. Malbus nodded. “How good is Honey Gimble?” Henry asked.
“He’s pretty good. He’ll make it,” Malbus said. “How’s that Henry Aaron?”
“He’s everything you heard.”
Malbus nodded. “I saw you play for the Monarchs once.”
“You didn’t,” Henry said, smiling. “How’d I do?”
“You went one for five. But it was a sweet hit. A triple to right.”
Henry nodded. “Where was this?”
“Comiskey. Against the American Giants.”
“I hit it off that white pitcher they had,” Henry recalled.
“That was it,” said Malbus, smiling.
“I should remember that guy’s name,” Henry said. “He should be famous. He broke the color line.”
The two young black men laughed.
“I gotta take outfield. You tell Mr. and Mrs. Tillman hello for me, okay?” Malbus said.
“Okay,” Henry said as they shook hands and went their separate ways back to work.
That night, the Stevenson Cornstalkers were hosting the St. Joseph Saints, a team from Missouri that was newly affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals, Stevenson’s former club. It was the first visit for the Saints this season and some fans were cheering for their favorite players from St. Jo’s who had played for the Cornstalkers the year before. So no matter which team made a good play or scored a run, some fans in the large crowd would cheer. Add in the beautiful weather and a special two-for-the-price-of-one offer at the Dandy Dogs stand and there was a festive atmosphere on this fine evening at South Side Field.
It started off as a very lively game which caused a lot of cheering. Neither starting pitcher had a good night and by the end of the fourth inning, the score was tied 6-6. But the relief pitchers who took over for both teams grabbed hold of the momentum of the game and swung it around completely. In the last five innings, the two teams combined for only three hits and no runs.
By contrast, Smoky Roy’s stomach had been nice and quiet for the first few innings but he could feel it start to rumble as he walked out to the mound to make the pitching change with two outs in the top of the fourth. Smoky Roy’s stomach was a grand and wondrous thing. How it might react to any given situation – weather, stress, food, medication, exercise, tobacco, alcohol…or even just being empty – on any given day, was anybody’s guess. Doctors had been making guesses about Smoky Roy’s stomach for years now. Every one of them had struck out, looking.
In those days, the Cornstalkers coaching staff consisted of three men. The manager, who during the game would coach third base; the fielding and hitting coach, who during the game would coach first base; and the pitching coach, who during the game would warm up relief pitchers on the sidelines. If a game went extra innings, Roy and Sadowski would remain in the coach’s boxes for the tenth but if it went beyond that, two senior players who were not in the game would take over the coaching boxes and Roy and Sadowski would stay in the dugout.
With his stomach doing the latest dance craze for half the night, Smoky Roy was praying for either side to score in the ninth inning, just to get the game over with so he could go home and warm up some milk. He couldn’t bring himself to walk out to the third base coach’s box to start the tenth. “Jimmy!” he hollered at Sadowski, who was already trotting toward the first base box. He waved Sadowski into the dugout and turned to the players. “Lockman, Herzog, you’re up,” he called as he pointed with his thumb toward the field.
“How ya doin’, skip?” Sadowski asked as he came down the dugout steps.
“Touch and go,” said Roy, “touch and go.”
After the tenth inning, with the score still tied, the manager addressed the team. “Reserve players, get loose. If there’s a twelfth inning, you’re all going in.”
“Okay, skip” four players said at once, including Henry.
“Except you,” he pointed at Henry. “New man, what’s your name?”
“Jarvis, you be ready. If this game goes long enough, you’ll be in too.”
Henry knew the manager had not forgotten his name. Smoky Roy wasn’t about to forget the name of a player whom Milwaukee’s front office had given him specific orders for. He quickly realized the skipper was showing him no favoritism for his own good and for the good of his teammates, especially those who played the same positions as Henry. The Braves might have their plans for Henry but he still had to earn his way to Milwaukee.
“Johnny, take the rest of the night off,” said Smoky Roy as he pointed at Johnny Goryl with one hand while the other held his stomach. Third baseman Goryl had hit a double and a home run and collected three RBIs. On a good night like that, a player got an early seat if the game went long. “Gardner, you’re at third,” Smoky said. As the manager made the other lineup changes for the top of the twelfth, Goryl looked over at the St Jo’s dugout. A relief pitcher came out to warm up in foul territory down the right field line.
Hey, Henry,” Johnny said as he sat next to him on the bench, “That’s Buttercup Bailey. We saw him last year at Eau Claire. He pitched for Superior.”
“Oh yeah,” said Henry. As the two friends watched the pitcher’s familiar form, they talked about the game and the opposing pitchers Johnny had faced tonight. Johnny gave Henry a mini-scouting report on each.
There was so much to learn about: a new manager, new coaches, new teammates, new signs, a new league, new ballparks, new opponents. But the way this game was going, he might just learn it all in one night.
To the casual observer, professional baseball looks like a slow-moving game but any player will tell you that on the field, most of the time, the game is moving at a hundred miles an hour. There are so many things going on all at once, every moment, even though it can give the appearance of a bunch of guys, just standing there.
Extra innings are part of the game. “Free baseball,” the thrifty ticket holder may call it. But the two things any coach or player hates – especially in this time – is extra innings on the last game of a road trip or the first game of a home stand. Everybody is tired from the hard travel and third-rate hotels of the minor leagues and they just want to get home to their own bed and a good night’s sleep.
Even as the players try to stay focused on all the things that are happening on each and every pitch, it can be hard in a long game like this to keep the muscles loose and the brain running smoothly. The talk in the dugout stays related to baseball but the subject matter tends to run lighter. Players toss out baseball trivia questions or tell stories about great plays they’ve witnessed or weird moments in games they played in or the antics of weird teammates.
Or other arcane baseball-related topics.
“You come up with a new nickname yet?” Johnny asked Henry in the top of the 13th.
Henry laughed. “Not yet.”
“I’ve been trying to think of some ideas for you,” Johnny said. “I don’t have a good one yet but I’m thinking on it.”
Henry smiled and put his arm around his friend.
Ralph Hook, a starting pitcher who had worked the afternoon before and who was trying hard not to fall asleep during this lengthy night game which he would not be part of, was sitting on the other side of Henry, listening.
“You guys buddies or something?” he asked.
“I played with Henry in Eau Claire last year, Captain.” Johnny said. “Henry, this is Ralph Hook, he’s a pitcher. Captain, this is Henry Jarvis. He plays short and second.”
Henry nodded at Captain Hook, who tipped his cap.
“How come you need a new nickname?” The Captain asked.
Henry looked at Johnny, wishing he hadn’t brought this up right now. Then he turned to Hook and said, “Well, like Johnny said, my name is Henry. I never had any nickname. I was always just Henry. Last year, I played with Henry Aaron at Eau Claire. Everybody called me ‘Little Henry.’ This year I was playing with him in Jacksonville. Someday it’ll be Milwaukee.”
“Nuf ced,” said Captain Hook.
They watched the next couple pitches in silence.
“If you were left-handed you could be Lefty,” said The Captain. “Lefty has always been a good baseball nickname. Lot of great Leftys. Lefty Grove. Left Gomez. Lefty O’Doul. Lefty Williams.”
Henry and Johnny stared at him after that last name, one of the players involved in the 1919 World Series scandal.
“Well, forget I mentioned that last one,” he said. Henry and Johnny laughed.
“But Lefty is still a good baseball name. On the other hand, nobody is called Righty,” The Captain said. He looked very pleased with himself for saying it. “Did you catch that one, guys? ‘On the other hand?’ That’s a pun.” Hook smiled at them as if he expected a reward.
“Hook, what’s the count, how many out?” barked Smoky Roy. It was something he did once or twice a game to be sure everyone had their heads in the game, even those on the bench.
“Three-and-one, skip. One out,” said Ralph Hook. “He’s gonna throw that curve ball again.”
Jimmy Sadowski glanced at the manager and they both smiled. The pitcher threw that curve ball again. Foul ball, strike two.
“Righty Jarvis. It’s one of a kind!” Captain Hook picked right up where he left off. “Nobody in the history of baseball has ever been called Righty. You can look it up,” said Hook definitively. He folded his arms in exactly the same manner.
“Righty Jarvis,” Johnny said, trying it out.
“I don’t think so,” said Henry.
“Well, Lefty, Shorty, Fatty. All physical attributes,” The Captain lectured on. “That’s where many of your baseball nicknames come from. What physical attribute do you have that sets you apart from the other players and is obvious to the spectator?”
As he asked the question, he turned to Henry.
Henry just stared at him.
Hook looked at Johnny.
Johnny stared at him.
Hook looked back at Henry who continued to stare. Then he quickly turned and looked at the field. “”Okay, forget I said that one too.”
Johnny snickered. Then Henry did. A couple of other players joined them.
“What about interests?” Captain Hook asked. He was not giving up.
“Interests?” Henry responded.
“Yeah. What are you interested in, besides baseball? And the ladies,” said The Captain. “Interests, hobbies. Do you like to fish?”
“I do,” said Henry.
“You could be Fishy Jarvis.”
Henry made a face.
“That’s better,” Henry said.
“Okay, remember that one,” The Captain said. “If you grew up on a farm, you could be Farmer Jarvis. If you like to shoot ducks, you could be Hunter Jarvis. If you can sing, you could be Crooner Jarvis. If you daddy is a doctor, you can be Doc Jarvis. If your daddy works on the railroad, you can be Pullman Jarvis. Stop me if you hear one you like.”
“What do you think, Johnny?” Henry asked.
“I think I’m still surprised he knows the word ‘attribute.'”
Everybody in the dugout laughed.
Another factor in a long extra-inning game is food. The concession stands eventually run out of food and close up for the night. This makes some fans unhappy but at least they had something to eat earlier in the game. The players haven’t eaten since before batting practice. By now, on this night at South Side Field, that was about seven hours ago. Food was now top of mind.
“Sugar Jarvis. Peaches Jarvis. Potato Chip Jarvis.” Captain Hook was rifling through nicknames related to food. “Hot Dog Jarvis. Hero Jarvis. Rib-Eye Steak Jarvis. Mashed Potatoes & Gravy Jarvis.”
“You’re not helping me, Captain.” Henry said.
“You’re making me hungry,” Johnny added.
“I wish I had some ribs right now, mmm-mmmm,” Henry said.
“Oh, I love barbecue, Henry,” Johnny Goryl, a Rhode Islander said. “I remember last year you said that Kansas City has the best.”
“It’s true,” Henry said. “There’s nuthin’ like the barbecue back home. When I played for the Monarchs, the whole team would go out for ribs every Saturday night after the game. Mmm-mmmm. Man, that was some good eatin’.”
“Do you guys have to talk about food right now?” Smoky Roy tapped his stomach as he looked for sympathy.
“Sorry, skip,” Johnny said. The players tried to hide their smiles.
Through the 14th inning, the nickname discussion had gone through the names of food, the names of places, the names of animals, types of trees, words for speed, words for agility, and a few other categories.
But the score remained tied.
“Now hold on one second, fellas,” Ralph Hook said. He turned to Henry. “Did I hear you say you played for the Kansas City Monarchs?”
“Four seasons,” Henry confirmed, nodding.
The Captain was newly impressed with his teammate. Which only meant it was time to rib him some, speaking of ribs.
“Well Johnny,” Hook said, “I know Henry is your friend and all but there is something that just don’t add up here.”
“What’s that, Captain?” Johnny asked.
“Well, I never played in the Negro Leagues myself –” Henry smiled at him. “– but from what I know, I can’t think of too many Monarchs who didn’t have a good nickname. I know there’s a few that didn’t. But most years I’d say, the Kansas City Monarchs led the league in nicknames.”
The several players who had been listening all paused and thought that one over. Captain Hook had made a very good point.
All eyes turned to Henry.
“Well, uhhh…” Henry sputtered as he tried to think of a way out.
“I think he’s got you there, Henry,” Coach Jimmy Sadowski said with a smile.
When a coach or a manager got involved in the ribbing, it was like having your hand called in poker. Henry had to show his cards.
“They called me Springtime,” Henry finally said.
There was silence. It was an unusual nickname and no one was sure how to react. All they knew was, Henry disliked the name enough to try and hide it. The smirkers smirked.
“Springtime Jarvis.” Johnny tried it in full to break the ice.
“Springtime. Why that’s a lovely nickname,” Smoky Roy chimed in, “just lovely.”
Everyone in the dugout laughed.
“Why did they call you Springtime?” Captain Hook asked.
Henry looked at him. “I wore number 87,” he said and turned to stare at the field.
Everyone on the bench laughed again.
High numbers – 70s, 80s, 90s – while common in football are generally not worn in baseball. The exception is during spring training, when they are worn by the many extra players in camp, players who are not yet good enough to make the roster. With that context, ‘Springtime’ is not a nickname a player would cherish. Henry’s full story was out. When it came to nicknames, he was down in the count, 0-2. He was really hoping to guess right on the next one.
Henry thought the best nicknames so far were the words related to speed. He thought his base-stealing and running ability was his biggest asset to a team. “I think I should pick a nickname that highlights that attribute.” It was Henry’s turn to rib Captain Hook. The pitcher tipped his cap.
“Flash is a good one,” Johnny said. “Or Lightning.”
“Lightning Jarvis. Flash Jarvis.” Henry tried them on for size.
“They’re both good,” Hook said. “But don’t sell yourself short. Johnny says you have a good glove too. You gotta find a word that highlights both the speed and the glove at the same time.”
“Yeah,” said Henry and Johnny as they watched the game and kept thinking.
It was approaching midnight. The game was in the 15th inning, with no end in sight.
“It’s a good thing we’re not on the road,” Smoky Roy said to the players in the dugout, “or you’d all be in violation of curfew right now.” The players chuckled and giggled along.
“Now, let’s see.” He turned his lineup card over and pretended to be writing and figuring. “Fifteen dollars a man…times…hey, Jimmy, how many players we got?” More chuckling.
“Hold on, skip,” Jimmy said, “Do you mean how many players we got or how many uniforms were issued?”
“Ouch,” said Captain Hook. More giggles.
“Now that was uncalled for, Coach Sadowski,” the manager said in mock reprimand. “I do believe this night has gone on far too long. Now, where was I, fifteen dollars times twenty-five players….how much is that Jimmy?”
“That’s a million dollars, skip.” Big laughter.
“Gee,” the manager said, “Maybe if we split that with St. Jo, we can get them to agree to call this game right now.” Giggles.
“It’s definitely worth a try, skip.” Jimmy said. Smiles.
“Well, it’s either that or –” he turned to the bench, “if one of you gentlemen would kindly arrange for a home run, we could all go home and forget this night ever happened. Any volunteers?”
“I could go in and give one up, pronto, skip,” Captain Hook, the pitcher, offered.
“Why that’s awfully generous of you, Hook,” the manager played along. “We’ll take that under advisement.”
Everyone smiled. But the game wore on. As much as he tried to remain in good spirits, Smoky Roy’s stomach continued to torture him and all he could think of was warm milk and a hot bath.
In the bottom of the 16th, Johnny Goryl was going over some of the finalists for Henry’s new nickname. A decision was getting close.
“Flash Jarvis. Runs like a flash. He flashes that glove at you,” Johnny said. “Jiffy Jarvis. He’ll steal a base in a jiffy. Stunner Jarvis. He stuns you with his speed. He’s stunning with that glove.”
Henry, Captain and some of the other players on the bench would respond to each nominee with nods and a “Yeah!” or groans and a shake of the head.
“Dazzle Jarvis. He dazzles you with that speed. He dazzles you with his glove,” Johnny went on.
With one out, Stevenson’s cleanup hitter, Tubby Wainwright, scorched a line-drive single to right-center field. The whole bench erupted in cheers. It was the Cornstalkers’ first hit since the 7th inning. When Tubby reached first, his cleat stuck in the bag and he almost fell over.
Smoky Roy, holding his stomach with one hand, turned toward the bench. He’d been listening to the conversation. He pointed at Henry.
“Hey new man. Dazzle, Tubby’s hurt, go in and run for him. Steal three bases and end this thing so we can all go home.”
“Okay, skip,” Henry said. He bounded up the steps and on to the field. At first base he slapped hands with Tubby, who left the field with a slight limp and the help of the trainer.
Henry had not seen this pitcher before. He studied his motion on the first pitch to the next batter. Ball one.
Two pitches later, Henry stood on third base.
As it said in the Stevenson Gazette the next morning, “This was accomplished without the aid of a struck ball.”
Henry Jarvis had just stolen second base and then third, on consecutive pitches.
The crowd was on its feet, cheering. Many of the fans had left as the game went on and on, those who remained now turned to their programs to see who exactly this number four was. But they found no answer as their programs had been printed a week earlier.
The manager looked at his coach, whose arms were folded. “I didn’t see you give any sign,” he said.
He shrugged. “I didn’t, skip.”
Smoky stared at Henry on third base as he leaned over to his coach, “Jimmy, what’s your new man doin’?”
“Dunno, skip. Kinda looks like he’s doin’ what you told him. Tryin’ to end this thing.”
The manager grunted and caressed his stomach. “That kid’s not gonna try and steal home, is he?” he asked as the pitcher looked in at the catcher for the sign.
“Don’t rightly know, skip –” Jimmy began to reply.
Before he could finish that thought, Henry Jarvis broke for home as the crowd cheered wildly and his teammates jumped off the bench and the manager held his stomach with both hands and thought to shout “No….!” But it was already much too late.
A cloud of dust rose up from home plate as Henry went into his slide and the batter jumped back and the pitch arrived and the catcher caught it and applied the tag and the umpire hollered, “Safe!”
The crowd cheered as the Cornstalkers ran onto the field to congratulate their new teammate on scoring the winning run. The manager, still holding his stomach, looked at the coach, who laughed and said, “He just did as he was told. Great strategy, skip!” as they trotted out to shake hands with Henry and the others.
When they walked off the field to the locker room, the manager turned to the coach and said, “Next time we have the bases loaded, remind me to tell that kid to go in and hit a grand slam, will ya?”
“I will,” said the coach, still laughing.
“We’re gonna be tellin’ this one for a long time, Jimmy,” the manager said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. That was some kind of razzle-dazzle!”
The following night, the Cornstalkers beat the Saints, 5-2. Henry started at shortstop and batted in the number two slot. He had three hits in the game. In the first inning he singled and stole second base.
In the third inning he singled again, with two out. As he took his lead, the fans behind first base began chanting, “Go!, Go!, Go!” After each pitch it would start up again and spread further around the stands. Henry wanted to give the crowd the stolen base it was crying for but he never got a good count to run on. The inning ended with Henry stranded at first base.
“Attaway new man, attaway,” Smoky Roy shouted as he clapped his hands while the players changed sides. “That’s how we keep our head in the game, attaway.”
Henry flied out in the fifth. In the seventh inning, with the Cornstalkers trailing 2-1, Johnny Goryl led off with a home run to left field. Later, with two outs and two on, Henry walloped one off the center field wall for a double, knocking in two runs and breaking the tie score.
It was a solid performance in every way.
“Good game, son,” Jimmy Sadowski said to Henry in the locker room after the game.
“You handled yourself well out there, don’t let the crowd run the game. Smoky Roy is in charge of that.”
“Right.” Henry laughed.
“But I guess you played before big crowds in Kansas City.” The coach leaned in close to the young player. “I don’t need to see anymore, kid. You’re ready for Milwaukee. You just keep playing hard until Milwaukee is ready for you.” Jimmy Sadowski patted Henry on the shoulder and walked away.
Outside the park, the crowd had thinned out and players were wishing each other good night. Henry was debating whether to catch the bus or look for a taxi.
“Hey Dazzle, can I have your autograph, please?” a little white boy called as he held up a baseball and a pen toward the tall black man.
“Why sure, young man,” Henry accepted the ball and pen. “What’s your name, son?”
“My name’s Henry too,” said the boy. “I’m a fast runner. When I grow up, I’m gonna be a dazzle, just like you.”
Henry felt a lump in his throat. He signed the ball.
It was the first time he had written it.
“Gee, thanks Dazzle,” the boy said as Henry handed him the ball. He ran over to his friends. “Hey guys! I got Dazzle Jarvis’s autograph! Woohoo!”
Henry turned around as Johnny Goryl pulled up in his car and pushed the door open. “Hop in Dazzle, I’ll give you a lift home.”
Dazzle Jarvis got into the car and they drove off.