The pulsing crowd voiced its admiration, a long and blissful whistling and amen, in appreciation of the rookie’s eyes and anticipation of coming thefts. And the rapscallion from Millinocket took himself down to the bag at first base, set himself up in the runway where Billy Martin once was galvanized. Old Mississippi Mud, on the first pitch, took no notice of the runner on first.
The elusive Millinocket target, acknowledged of Mississippi’s habits which he had studied for eight innings, set out for possession of second base. Neither jack rabbits nor elusive hares could raise more dust in the stealer’s base path. Under the catcher’s throw, clouded by dust, Claude Martin recorded a stolen base. And Mississippi Mud, affronted thus, told the Millinocket flash to watch his head.
“Hey, Rookie, you get your ass in your hands or I’ll slam this ball right between your eyes!” But the Yankee fans had their coming out, their cold breakaways from their nine to fives, and once again they went Gregorian, as if Matins were held over for The House That Ruth Built: Croughmartin , Croughmartin, Davin Croughmartin, steals third base, and loudly, boisterously, If you can’t steal third, you’re not a Yankee. If you can’t steal third, you’re not a Yankee.
When Millinocket’s chief meanderer, quickly as a ferret, stood on third base and felt the eyes of sixty thousand fans casting a warm feeling over his frame, he felt a kinship with all those Yankees who had waged war over the far-flung years. He had put himself in the record book....Two stolen bases in just two tries in his very first game. He had spent his life getting to this place.
Now the undercurrent began to swell, began to move itself in the stadium, came past the chanting and the children screaming; it echoed off concrete walls and open steel, thundered like subway trains in corridors, in deep aortic tunnels where Yankee hearts are first filled with their excitation; it vibrated granite and all the flesh, it moved all the skin and bones and stone wear that make Yankee Stadium come alive as any place in the city.
Claude Martin was caught up in the moment, standing on third base drinking in the sounds, feeling like he was on the very top of the world. He had never been so happy, never dreamed that life could be so enjoyable, that a lifetime could have moments like this. And suddenly his noble bubble burst---out of the dugout, his fist raised on high, and the Yankee manager right behind him, came thundering the real Down East Bates College shortstop.
“It’s too damn hot here,” yelled Claude Martin, to himself as much as to anybody. “I’m getting the hell out of here!” He leaped quickly over the wall at third base, ran right through the suddenly quiet and rigid crowd, dashed underground through the cavernous ways that lie hidden beneath the stadium as massive in being as an iceberg. A picture of a cool Norwegian field, frost-white, ringed by a thick pine greenery, stars as sharp as blue diamonds in the sky, filled his mind as he raced into darkness in Yankee gray.
The press service wires began to hum. Reporters searched for an hyperbole weighty enough to wrap the story with, sought an image, monumental of course, to carry the traitorous Yankee sham. TV news rooms took over the sports shows, moved their somber and all god rapprochement into the tag-team world of young sports. A documentary was born and died in a think-tank high on Fifth Avenue. Night moved.
Yankee fans laughed or cried their way to sleep, buzzed the same monotone in subway cars, spoke of the impostor with reverent awe, or castigated his deep lunacy. Early morning bakers, cabbies and firemen, bartenders and bookies, gas pumpers, pimps and prostitutes, dames and great ladies, all brought themselves to a final question: Would the mysterious Yankee on third base have stolen home plate?
Through the night the world moved towards a new war, an arsonist struck Newark a deadly blow, a frail boy leaped off the Washington Bridge through the outstretched arms of a crying cop, five homicides were reported, two stores were robbed under the menace of shotguns Steve McQueen could have used: and Gus Purleigh, finishing off his day, slackness in his knee with its pain, thinking of the chances he never had, grew outrageously angry at the pseudo Yankee.
Fame and Fortune are fleeting mistresses, are often cosmetic at the touch, their smiles never favoring certain souls. All this Gus Purleigh carried in his mind; the pseudo Yankee did not ease his pain, but seemed to heighten all his frustrations. And coming off duty, knee-favoring, heavy at the heels and at his holstered hip, groping his way to a rewarding sleep, he barely saw the man in Yankee stripes crossing a bare bulb in an alleyway. He thought his eyes were carrying his dream into his wakeful but faltering hours. He yelled, “Hey, you! Hey, Yankee pretender! Don’t you move your ass or I’ll blow your phony head off!” The Police Special was in his right hand. The Yankee image was scribed on his heart. The destiny of baseball was in his path. He sighted down the stubby gun barrel as he had at The Academy. He never knew the arc his finger moved.