Barnstormin’ with the Babe


Following is an excerpt from the novel Barnstormin’ with the Babe, an unpublished sequel to the “The Pitch,” by R. A. Cabral. 


Barnstormin’ is about a star visitor from the planet Verdeca who has journeyed to Sacramento in 1919 disguised as a postgraduate student to learn more about the chemical properties underlying the Valley’s fertile fields. In the process, he befriends a Portuguese farmer João Mendes, who owns property in the Pocket area south of Sacramento.  


In this scene, (a first person account taken from the star visitor’s journal), the farmer has been invited by the mayor to attend an exhibition game featuring Babe Ruth and other major leaguers, including the White Sox “Buck” Weaver in reward for Mendes’ heroism for saving a Filipino baby from a burning building on his property. Before the contest, Mendes and the star visitor Zeltac join the civic dignitaries at a local diner to meet Ruth before the barnstorming contest.

(Note: The fiction is based on the actual exhibition featuring Ruth, Weaver and others in Sacramento in 1919) 


       I had never seen the Portuguese farmer this way before. On November 10, the morning before the contest, Mendes read in the Sacramento Union that Chicago White Sox player Buck Weaver had been hit in the eye while fielding a ball in the contest in Los Angeles. The report listed Weaver as doubtful to play in Sacramento, although he was still slated to captain one of the squads. Weaver, Mendes explained, was one of the American League’s finest third basemen, despite losing to Cincinnati in the 1919 World Series just one month before. The star players, according to the report, were en route from Los Angeles to Sacramento by train. Mendes was giddy as a child. But he had every right to be excited. He worked hard sun up to sun down, “like a mule” as he liked to say, six days a week for the better part of each year. Here in the fall, he could relax a little by taking in a base ball game, represented by some of the game’s elite players. It was a chance in a lifetime and he had every right to capitalize on it. I looked to forward to observing this recreational sport that was still in its relative infancy in America. As compared to asvardgia, which has been played on Verdeca for nearly a millennium! 

       What Mendes had not counted on was the bonus tip from the mayor’s office the morning of the game: he learned that Ruth and Weaver were heading over to a small restaurant before the game. He was invited to join the mayor and other city dignitaries to lunch with Ruth and Weaver. 


       This place Sacramento is a truly bustling, bourgeoning enterprising mecca. The largest inland city in California and the capital of the state, it holds a strategic position from the standpoint of agricultural production and distribution; so states the pamphlet from the Chamber of Commerce. It is located not only at the confluence of two rivers (Sacramento and American), but also where two great railroads intersect: Southern Pacific and Western Pacific. A situation directly attributable to those businessmen known as the “Big Four,” who had the prescience to buy into a vision by engineer Theodore Judah and the wherewithal and sustenance to support Judah’s dream of building a railroad from Sacramento across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, linking west with east.  

       Sacramento County also has invested greatly in and capitalized on the development of its rich resources to develop electrical power via the rivers and streams permeating this great state. Here we find electric railways, lighting plants and smelters, which will surely revolutionize the iron industry. Electricity is being used for all forms of commercial, industrial and residential uses, and Sacramento is not lacking in this new development. 


       When we arrived at the Catalina Café, João and I found the ball players already dining with the city elite in the back room of the restaurant. It was a small diner, with a counter in the middle with a clear view of the cooking operation. When we entered the back room, Mendes introduced himself to the mayor, who promptly invited us to sit with them. He gestured to a small, two-person table next to the window in the corner. There were no places at the main table, but we were in the same room with the athletes and city dignitaries, and could overhear their conversations quite well. 

       Mr. Ruth and Mr. Weaver were seated in the middle but on opposite sides of the table. Weaver, still sporting an injured eye socket (a “shiner” he called it), was chiding Ruth about the big payday he was demanding from the Red Sox. A form of “extortion” Weaver termed it, with intended jocularity. Ruth countered that since Weaver’s White Sox took the pennant, Babe needed to enhance his income since he had come to expect that supplemental share from the World Series. The Red Sox had won three out of the previous four World’s Series until this year when the Reds captured the crown. 

       “They tried to hold us up last year, sayin’ we was only getting a percentage of what they had paid in the past.” Ruth was alluding to the 1918 World Series, which ended prematurely due to the United States’ entry into the world war in Europe. 

       “You threatened to go out on strike, isn’t that right, Babe?” asked the mayor. 

       “Damn straight, we did. But them owners, they got the thing rigged from the start.” Ruth slurped his soup, then said to Buck Weaver, “You boys know yet what you’re share is gonna amount to?” 

       Weaver, shaking his head, didn’t look up from his bowl. “Naw, not yet. Apparently, there’s a…problem. You know.” Weaver clearly did not want to get into the World Series problem, which at the moment was like the rhinoceros in the room. 

       “I know you, Bucky, you’re aces. And you’d never do anything to throw a game.” 

       “But is it true what we hear about Cicotte and Williams?” asked the head of the Chamber, in reference to the White Sox two main pitchers “throwing” the games, or intentionally playing poorly to affect the outcome of the games to benefit the opposition. 

       Weaver became flustered, clearly wanting to avoid this talking about the series.  

       “How about Gandil?” asked Mayor Cavanaugh. “Ol’ Chicky’s got a bit of the devil in him. We know, as he used to play right here for our Senators. Was he the ringleader, as they say?” 

       Weaver quickly denied he had done anything wrong, explaining that he had given it his all, and played pretty well in the series. “The Reds, they just outplayed us, is all.” 

       “Sure, sure,” Ruth said, in a patronizing voice. “Hey, Buck, don’t get us wrong. It’s just a lot hooey in the newspapers, we understand.” 

       Weaver returned to his soup, while the rhinoceros quietly hunched on both ankles. 

       Sensing it was time to leave, Ruth said, “It’s time we headed over to the ball field, fellas. Whaddya say, Bucky?” Weaver just nodded, and promptly rose from his seat. “We’ll see you all out at the ball park,” Ruth said, waving his giant paw of a hand over the gathering in the dining room. 

       “Put on a good performance for us today, fellows,” said the mayor.  

       “I’ll see if I can’t hit one out for you boys, today,” Ruth said, leading Weaver out of the diner. We watched them through the window as they walked around to the rear of the restaurant. Weaver was clearly happy to get inside the automobile and drive away to the ballpark. 


* * * 

(end excerpt from Barnstormin’ with the Babe © R.A. Cabral 2010)