"It'll all work out," he said.
Hooper looked at him. "What?"
"Whatever it is," Babe said. "We'll make it back."
Stuffy said, "How, Gidge? You tell me that? How?"
"Somehow." Babe's head was beginning to hurt again. Talk of money made his head hurt. The world made his head hurt--Bolsheviks overthrowing the czar, the Kaiser running roughshod over Europe, anarchists tossing bombs in the streets of this very country, blowing up parades and mailboxes. People were angry, people were shouting, people were dying in trenches and marching outside factories. And it all had something to do with money. The Babe understood that much. But he hated thinking about it. He liked money, he liked it just fine, and he knew he was making plenty and he stood to make plenty more. He liked his new motor scooter, and he liked buying good cigars and staying in swell hotel rooms with heavy curtains and buying rounds for the bar. But he hated thinking about money or talking about money. He just wanted to get to Boston. He wanted to hit a ball, paint the town. Governor's Square teemed with brothels and good saloons. Winter was coming; he wanted to enjoy it while he could, before the snow came, the cold. Before he was stuck back in Sudbury with Helen and the smell of horses.
He clapped Harry on the shoulder and repeated his estimation: "Somehow it'll all be fine. You'll see."
Harry Hooper looked at his shoulder. He looked off into the field. He looked back at Ruth. Ruth smiled.
"Go be a good Babe," Harry Hooper said, "and leave the talk to the men."
Harry Hooper turned his back on him. He wore a straw boater, tilted back slightly from his forehead. Ruth hated boaters; his face was too round for them, too fleshy. They made him look like a child playing dress-up. He imagined taking Harry's boater off his head and flinging it onto the roof of the train.
Harry walked off into the field, leading Stuffy McInnis by the elbow, his chin tilted down.
Babe picked up a rock and eyed the back of Harry Hooper's seersucker jacket, imagined a catcher's mitt there, imagined the sound of it, a sharp rock against a sharp spine. He heard another sharp sound replace the one in his head, though, a distant crack similar to the crack of a log snapping in the fireplace. He looked east to where the field ended at a small stand of trees. He could hear the train hissing softly behind him and stray voices from the players and the rustle of the field. Two engineers walked behind him, talking about a busted flange, how it was going to take two hours, maybe three, to fi x, and Ruth thought, Two hours in this shithole? and then he heard it again--a dry distant crack, and he knew that on the other side of those trees someone was playing baseball.
He crossed the field alone and unnoticed and he heard the sounds of the ball game grow closer--the singsong catcalls, the rough scuff of feet chasing down a ball in the grass, the wet-slap thump of a ball sent to its death in an outfielder's glove. He went through the trees and removed his coat in the heat, and when he stepped out of the grove they were changing sides, men running in toward a patch of dirt along the first base line while another group ran out from a patch by third.
He stood where he was and nodded at the center fielder trotting out to take his spot a few yards from him, and the center fielder gave him a curt nod back and then appeared to scan the trees to see if they planned on giving birth to any more white men today. Then he turned his back to Babe and bent at the waist and placed his hand and glove on his knees. He was a big buck, as broad-shouldered as the Babe, though not as heavy in the middle, or (Babe had to admit) in the ass.
The pitcher didn't waste any time. He barely had a windup, just long goddamn arms, and he swung the right one like he was unleashing a rock from a slingshot meant to travel an ocean, and Babe could tell even from here that the ball crossed the plate on fire. The batter took a nice clean cut and still missed it by half a foot.
Hit the next one, though, hit it solid, with a crack so loud it could have only come from a busted bat, and the ball soared straight at him and then went lazy in the blue sky, like a duck deciding to swim the backstroke, and the center fielder shifted one foot and opened his glove and the ball fell, as if relieved, right into the heart of the leather.
Ruth's vision had never been tested. He wouldn't allow it. Ever since he was a boy, he could read street signs, even those painted on the corners of buildings, from distances far greater than anyone else. He could see the texture of the feathers on a hawk a hundred yards above him, in hunt, streaking like a bullet. Balls looked fat to him and moved slow. When he pitched, the catcher's mitt looked like a hotel pillow.
So he could tell even from this distance that the batter who came up next had a fucked-up face. A small guy, rail thin, but defi nitely something on his face, red welts or scar tissue against toffee brown skin. He was all energy in the box, bouncing on his feet and his haunches, a whippet standing over the plate, trying to keep from busting out of his skin. And when he connected with the ball after two strikes, Ruth knew this nigra was going to fly, but even he wasn't prepared for how fast.
The ball hadn't finished arcing toward the right fielder's feet (Ruth knew he'd miss it before he did) and the whippet was already rounding first. When the ball hit the grass, the right fielder bare-handed it and didn't so much as stutter-step before he planted and let her loose, that ball leaving his hand like he'd caught it sleeping with his daughter, and no time to blink before it hit the second baseman's glove. But the whippet, he was already standing on second. Standing tall. Never slid, never dove. Waltzed on in there like he was picking up the morning paper, stood looking back out to center field until Ruth realized he was looking at him. So Ruth tipped his hat, and the boy flashed him a grim, cocky smile.
Ruth decided to keep his eyes on this boy, knowing whatever he was going to do next, it would have the feel of something special.
The man on second had played for the Wrightville Mudhawks. His name was Luther Laurence, and he'd been cut loose from the Mudhawks in June, after he got into a fight with Jefferson Reese, the team manager and first baseman, big- toothed, smiley Tom who acted like a perfumed poodle around white folks and bad-mouthed his own people in the house where he worked just outside Columbus. Luther heard the specifics one night from this girl he ran around with some, fine young woman named Lila, who worked in that same house with Jefferson Reese. Lila told him Reese was pouring soup from the tureen in the dining room one night, the white folks going on and on about uppity niggers in Chicago, the way they walked the streets so bold, didn't even drop their eyes when a white woman passed. Old Reese, he piped in with, "Lawse, it's a terrible shame. Yes, suh, the Chicago colored ain't no more'n a chimpanzee swinging from the vine. No time for churching. Want to drink hisself outta Friday, poker hisself out of Saturday, and love some other man's woman straight through Sunday."