Me and Babe
My name's Bean Baker. You probably heard of me on account of I pitched a no-hitter and lost, which hasn't been done very much. I think I'm only the second one in the National League and maybe only the third one that went nine innings and lost. Course everybody knows about poor old Harvey Haddux who went twelve, but mine was bad enough. I walked six guys and made an error that let in the run that beat me. So we lost one to nothing. Hard to win when you don't get any runs.
I've been called Bean since the fifth grade on account of I'm tall and skinny, always have been. There was one girl in my school that was as tall as me but she was heavier too and older I think. Time I went to junior high, I was 12-years-old and just about six feet tall and weighed, I think, about 110. So they called me Bean Pole, even my folks did. And that became Bean pretty quick.
Of course I tried out of the basketball team since I was so tall, but I was a lousy player. Coach, he kept me hoping I'd get better. I didn't. I couldn't hardly even make a foul shot or a lay-up, and I kept stepping on my own big feet and fouling people.
But I was pretty good in softball and dodge ball - I was a prime ducker. I got to be a decent softball pitcher by the time I was in eighth grade and then when I got to ninth grade, I went out for the high school baseball team on account of ninth grade is high school even if it isn't in that building. And I made the team, as a pitcher, an overhand pitcher, but I never got to start a game.
So when I went to high school the next year I was about six-foot-two and I weighed about 120 so I was still a "bean pole." My folks would not let me try out for football on account of they were sure I get broken up some, and I still couldn't play basketball any so I got cut the first week and wasn't surprised.
But I had played American Legion baseball in the summer and had gotten a lot of work and learned some tricks, especially about pitching sidearm or crossfire. And I had coaches smart enough to tell me not to throw any curveballs which might have hurt my arm. As a tenth grader I started three games and won them all and then when I was a junior I was the number one pitcher and got picked to the all-star team. I won seven games that year and lost only two.
I broke my leg chasing a fly ball the first day of practice when I was a senior in high school so I missed most of that season and only pitched two games but won them both. But I got drafted anyhow and two small colleges offered me scholarships, both in Maryland. I decided I had gone to school long enough and signed with the Nats, the Washington Nationals, and got a nice pile of money which I gave to my folks who needed it on account of my father had lost his job when the Pontiac dealership went out of business during the recession.
Now the other part of this story is about a girl. And I don't know any more about girls than I do about basketball or chemistry, which I flunked twice and had to make up in summer school to graduate. Anyhow, there was this girl, this pretty girl, prettiest girl I ever saw, that I've ever seen. Ever. Everybody said that, how pretty she was.
And she lived on the next block so sometimes we walked to school together, kind of accidentally, and so we talked to each other some. She was smarter than me too, and so she helped me when I had to write something or couldn't figure out a problem. Her name was Bettylou Hanks, but she was called Babe. She was probably called Baby when she was little, but when I knew her, she was Babe. And she was a babe. So darn pretty people stopped to look at her.
Anyhow, she didn't have any boyfriends or go out with anybody until she was in high school on account of her folks were very strict, and she was their only kid. I never even thought about asking her out to go to a dance or a movie or anything. I didn't ask any girl come right down to it. Girls scared me.
But I got to be Babe's boyfriend kind of accidental like, and I've never been sorry about that. Best thing that ever happened to me I guess. I'm pretty sure it is on account of we're married and everything.
There were bullies in our school, but they didn't cause much trouble until junior high and then there were a group of nasty guys that pushed kids around and smoked cigarettes and cussed and stuff. So out on the playground one lunch time these jerks trapped Babe up against the chain link fence and pawed at her and tried to pull off her shirt and stuff like that.
And I saw what was happening so I ran right into them and kicked and punched and called them names and chased them off and then took the crying girl to the nurse's office and left her there, trying not to look at her almost bare chest. I got called into the vice principal's office and told him what had happened and even gave him some names.
So the next day as I was walking to school; Babe stayed home that day, these guys jumped me right out on the sidewalk and beat the crap out of me. I got a black eye and a bloody nose, some sore ribs and a rip in my new khakis, the first ones in a while that were long enough that my ankles didn't poke out. The crossing guard broke it up and helped me inside and the nurse cleaned me up some and sent me on to class.
So a couple of guys got suspended and one got transferred right out of the area and things calmed own. But after that, Babe was my girlfriend, and we ate lunch together and stuff.
So after graduation - they let me graduate when I promised to take that chemistry class again - we had a big party, and Babe and me, we told everybody that we were engaged, engaged to be married. We had decided right then, that day, right after she kissed me. I didn't give her a ring then on account of I didn't have any money, but after the Nats gave a signing bonus I bought her a nice ring, and we had another party that her folks threw to celebrate a real engagement. I was eighteen and she was seventeen, and she outweighed me by about ten pounds, 130 to 120.
Anyway, the Nats sent me and some other young players off to the instructional league, I think that's what it's called, in Arizona. Boy, is it hot in Arizona, a hundred degrees every single day. So we learned and played and got paid for it, and things were going along Ok when I got a letter from Babe and my ring was in it.
She wrote that she was sorry but her daddy didn't want her to marry me. That I didn't have any prospects. That was the word she used, and I wasn't sure what it meant. So I asked a couple of guys and they said it meant money. So I tried to call her on the telephone - this was before I got one of those little cell phones, and she wouldn't talk to me. Her mother asked me not to call any more.
I played ball down there all winter pretty much and met some girls who helped me to spend my money and taught me about all sorts of things I sure didn't know people could do. One girl took me home one weekend, and she had a couple of friends so I enjoyed three girls, more or less, or maybe they enjoyed me.
In February they loaded us on a plane and flew us to Florida and a town called Viera where the Nats practiced. And they gave me a shirt, two shirts in fact, with number 97 on them and some pants and other stuff. One shirt was grey and the other one was white with red sleeves. I liked 97, it reminded me of an old song I'd heard on the radio about a train wreck so I'm still wearing 97, and they're selling shirts with my name and number, the Nats are.
So anyhow I got to pitch some batting practice and do what they called PFP, pitcher fielding practice. I did that a lot. Over and over until it was automatic. Now when a dog or a person on a bike or a ball goes by me to the left, I run and cover first - automatically.
So a lot of young guys got sent to the rookie league team, but they sent me to Hagerstown, Maryland, to play for the Suns which was one of the Nats' minor league teams, an A level team which is, I guess, the lowest there is. But they didn't have a 97 shirt so they gave me a shirt with 9 on it, and I said thanks. I was tempted to write on it and make it 97, but I didn't.
Anyhow, Hagerstown wasn't very far from home so on an off day I drove down and took my ring back to the store where I bought it, and they offered me two hundred for it so I kept it. Glad I did since my wife's wearing it still.
I was a starting pitcher for the Suns, every fifth day I got to work. And the more I worked, the better I got. The coach, he said I should learn how to throw a split-finger pitch. He said every good pitcher could do that. So I went around with a baseball stuffed between my first two fingers to stretch them some and in a month or so, I could throw it and get it over and it did funny things, like dive at the last minute or last couple of feet, just dropped like it got heavy or something.
Then I got a real surprise, one that was like a kick in the head. I don't know how they found out where I was, but they sent it in care of the Washington team and it got to me. It was a fancy, carefully-printed announcement of Babe's marriage to a guy in Virginia. It wasn't an invitation. The wedding was over. She was married to this man in Virginia. Got to admit that hit me hard. I cried, I really did.
I borrowed a guy's laptop and found out that she married a rich man who had horses on his place near Middleburg. And I found out that Mrs. Kennedy and a bunch of other rich people lived around there. I mean Mrs. Kennedy used to live out there.
Then, since I was doing pretty good, I got moved to Prince William County, Virginia, and the Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League. The stadium, which is called Pfitzner, is near Woodbridge. It's not really near anything, and I had to copy that to spell it right, Pfitzner I mean.
So the pitching coach there, who was about a hundred years old I think and used snuff, he said I needed a let-up pitch, and he taught me the circle-change which is a very good pitch. I learned how to throw it in two days. It wasn't hard. After I could do it, I tried different finger positions, on and off the stitching, and it became one of my favorite pitches.
I still didn't have a slider or a real curve ball, but I was pitching, and I was learning. And I was thinking about Babe and this rich guy with horses. When the league took a break for an all-star game, I rented a car and drove up to Middleburg and asked around and found the place where she lived. I went to the gate and pushed the buzzer and said my name. The voice said she does not want to see you.
I was making $1500 a month, I think it was, and I sent one check home and lived on the other one each month. We also got meal money when we were out of town, $20 a day which was pretty good since I ate hamburgers and pizza most of the time.
When the season was over, I bought a car, a used Dodge with the money I had saved. Then I drove back to Middelburg and pushed the button at the gate. Same thing happened, she said she did not want to see me. I came back the next day and tried again and then the day after that and on the third day, the gate buzzed, and they let me in. I was surprised, happy too.
She met at the front door, out in front of the house, wearing a white shirt and a long, blue skirt and walked me around to the side of the big, brick place, and we sat down on a patio and a guy brought us some iced tea. It was warm, a nice day. And she was as pretty as ever, still the prettiest girl I ever saw and by then I had seen a lot of pretty girls, close up and poked some too.
She said her husband was sick, in the hospital, that he had a heart attack and was in there with a tube up his nose. She said she was worried because she was his third wife and the other two had children and had sent lawyers to talk to her. I told her she ought to get a lawyer. She said she would and gave me her private phone number. I told her I would get a phone and send her the number. And I did. I'm glad I did that.
So I went back to work and tried not to think about her. I finished the season at Potomac and went home and didn't hear any more and started chasing some girls and having fun. Then in February, I went back down to Florida, to Viera. The third day of pitchers and catchers practice, when I came in at lunchtime, I noticed that my phone was beeping, and I had a message. It was her. She said, "He died. Call me" and gave a number. I called, and she told me that she was at Georgetown Hospital and was afraid to go home. I told her I would come right away, but it would probably take until late that night. She said, "Hurry."
I was lucky. I got a flight to DCA, the Washington airport, right away, rented a car and was at the hospital before midnight. She was waiting in the admittance area and came into my arms, blubbering, and hugged me.
She said she did not want to go home so I asked the lady at the desk, and she suggested a place near the canal and told me how to get there. Babe sat beside me sniffing, not talking, and we rented a room and went to bed. There were two beds in the room, but we only used one of them.
In the morning we made love again, and she said she guessed we were married, and I said that was good, and we went and got some breakfast. Then I drove to the stadium, and we went to the office, and I got the names of a couple of good lawyers who had done work for ballplayers.
We visited a Mr. Thomas on K Street, and I sat while Babe told him about her husband, and he agreed to be her lawyer. They did not talk about money after he hit a few buttons when she told him her dead husband's name. I guess he was rich, I mean I now know he was rich but then I guessed.
So then I drove out to my folks' house, and we had lunch and talked some, and she agreed to stay there for a few days. I drove back to National Airport and flew back to Florida, feeling I had done the best I could. I really didn't feel married, but I guess I was. I gave her back the ring.
By the time spring practice ended, Babe's husband's will had been read and things had settled down. I had a good spring and was assigned to Syracuse and got a raise. Babe was a very rich young woman, very, very rich. Each of her husband's five children got a trust fund of a million dollars; some money went to a church and an animal hospital and the rest was hers after the house and barn were sold. It was more than ten million she told me. Whew!
So before the season started, we had a real wedding which Babe's folks paid for. I enjoyed it a lot, especially the honeymoon.