Only Claude Martin knew the marksmanship of the aim, a pain behind his shoulder, a needle shot, a piece of red hot fire, a sudden twisting of his whole body as the leaded missile worked its way in a patch of muscle and a piece of bone. He felt a Millinocket forest fire work its way in the system of his nerves. And as he ran, as his speedy legs took him around a corner and out of sight of the hobbled policeman, a fierce and freezing cold invaded him, an icing ran over the red flames and made Norway not so palatable. His lungs filled with frost, a hot-ice steam, an unsheathed stiletto of cold steel, a cold ache he swore he could remember. “Oh, Christ, I don’t want to go to Norway,” he mumbled. “Just to someplace nice and warm. Some place in the Mediterranean. Some place like Naples or maybe Athens.”
Soft warm water, green, friendly as a bed, that’s all I need. I didn’t need to be a Yankee. And I don’t need to be here. Just get myself to Athens by the sea, warm and sweet Athens by the godly hill, warm place of wisdom, place of Athena. No place where Thor throws that godforsaken hammer, no place where pain lives atop things, where ice and night seem to be forever.
In an alley a bum recognized him. “They’re all still back there waiting for you, kid. You let the uniform down. Poor old Babe is rolling around in his grave about now, getting hot. He’s getting a little pissed off at you. Get a little down and they kick your butt. You ask me and I’ll tell you how it goes. I know from experience. I’ve been there. I’ve been in the sling and in the hot sun ever since I can remember. I can never go back, but you sure can.”
Claude Martin, now substantially weaker, his heart pounding a self-countable pulse, legs getting floppy and rubber bandy, a funny acidic taste in his mouth, slipped down the alley past the patriot. Athens slipped into and slipped out of his mind. Athena, athenaeum, godly hill, Thor striking his ax across home plate, a boy looking like him waving a fist over his head, in a Millinocket cemetery a cop twisting his arm behind his neck and the hands cold as a January wind; wasn’t that his father waving a fist beside the barn in the false gray morning, his mother with her fist stuffed in her mouth standing by the door like a laundry bag, in front of him, monolithic and cold, gray, a wall he had seen on television.
Chink Holman lived in Yankee Stadium. Nobody had seen him outside its walls in thirty-seven years of his service. Nobody knew where he lay down his head; in what deep confines, impenetrable to all but Chink, he spent most of his life. But he was a Yankee down to the core. Yankee burned in his blood, kept him alive, and on his morning constitutional, rising from the gray and cool depths like Grendel reborn, he was the one who called the newspapers and the television stations, and then the police, and then Yankee management. It was Chink Holman who opened the gates and let in the entire Fourth Estate, and the TV's instant eye’s shining lens and its forty man crew of supporters, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Tuxedo'd Horde, and Cosell because he liked Dandy Don and remembered Gifford’s bell getting rung by the wild linebacker from Bethlehem.
Chink Holman was a Yankee PR man who made his living as a groundskeeper. And they gathered as he directed them , near the dugout and a canvas drop cloth which he had taken from the paint shop. They gathered, these men of words and pictures, an army of bright professionals, at Chink’s bidding, as if he were Arthur about to draw the sword, as if a new mustang had leaped the ranks. In a slow and deliberate unveiling, he drew back the mustard-colored drop cloth.
Some of those hard men cried, some of them wept, some of them held a gasp caught in their throats, one of them walked off into the flat gray dawn. One thought of a lead line and a title which would emblazon him in Yankeeland, one slowly knelt in the batter’s circle, when he saw Yankee number 32, like a beach upon which blood had washed; one photographer thought of his brother still hiding out someplace in World War II.
Number 32 was bent and fetal, as if he hugged himself into himself, like a Boy Scout knot at exhibition, like a last cry for help can be molded in the very flesh of the one who cries for help amongst his peers and agonies. Groundskeeper Holman rolled over bloody 32 in a manner that at any other time could have been called callous, but there, tucked away in the grip of death, stolen forever, was Yankee home plate.
The mere groundskeeper spoke in the stricken silence, his voice sure, confident, carrying through the stadium in the gray morning, his eyes fastened on the fallen figure, his mind full of corporate fervor and the astonishing annals of purest admiration, the bit of love itself. “Gentlemen,” he said, his head bowed, cool as a lama at annunciation, ‘this man here was a Yankee.”