The Soul of Baseball

The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski Read Free Book Online

Book: The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joe Posnanski
Nicodemus from Kansas City, you don’t really turn right at Nowhere. You turn right in Hays, which is not very different. Fewer than forty people lived in Nicodemus on the day Buck arrived. Nicodemus was more living museum than town by then. Nicodemus had been one of the first towns west of the Mississippi founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. The founders intended for it to become the largest black colony in America. The brochures explained that Nicodemus had once been a bustling city of eight hundred people and had two newspapers, three general stores, four churches, a school, a bank, and an ice cream parlor! The brochure punctuated “ice cream parlor” with that exclamation point. The school building survived the Kansas wind, so did one church, but the ice cream parlor and town died. The Nicodemus historians explained this had something to do with the railroad not coming through. The first thing Buck did when he arrived in Nicodemus was hug everybody. There was a pattern to Buck O’Neil’s embraces. He walked up to strangers and held his arms out, as if holding an invisible tea set. He said, “Give it up.” That was it. I never once saw anyone resist. Sometimes people would hold out a hand and try to shake hands. In this case, Buck stepped up his attack. “You can do better than that,” he would say. Veteran Buck O’Neil watchers noticed that Buck hugged the women longer than the men, and the pretty young women longer than the pretty older ones. But everybody got a hug when Buck O’Neil came to town.
    “Welcome to Nicodemus,” a woman said after her hug. She was Joan, and she worked for the National Park Service. Nicodemus was her town. She looked to be about forty, and she wore the drab brown park service outfit. She had planned the day for Buck to the minute. Joan looked quite worried that something would go wrong. She gave the impression that she often looked worried.
    “Are you married?” Buck asked first thing, pointing at a bare ring finger.
    “No,” she said.
    “What’s wrong with the white boys around here?” he asked.
    Joan blushed and smiled. A couple of local men, Fred and Alex, walked over. They wore suits and sunglasses. “We’re the Blues Brothers,” Fred said, and together—with the alternating rhythm of a vaudeville act—they explained that they often put on their own Belushi-Aykroyd act at various local events and high school football games. Upon close inspection, Fred’s suit was blue and Alex’s black. They both wore giant sunglasses over their regular glasses, as if they were going to a 3D movie. Buck acted as if he was meeting Belushi and Aykroyd themselves.
    “You guys are great,” Buck said.
    “We’ll be driving you into the game,” Fred said.
    “All right, then,” Buck said.
    “It’ll be an honor,” Alex said.
    “All right, then,” Buck said.
    A warm wind blew and rattled the chain on the flagpole in front of the town hall. Spring felt close. Joan and the Blue/Black Brothers went over the schedule of events for the day, each interrupting the other. Buck would speak about baseball, then he would have some authentic Nicodemus barbecue—every town in Kansas, no matter how small, has its own barbecue—and then the Blue/Black Brothers would drive him to the baseball field, where kids would put on a re-creation of the first recorded baseball game played by blacks. Buck nodded, but he was not listening. He asked: “Who is the oldest person in town?”
    “Well, that would have to be Ms. Switzer,” one of the Brothers said. “How old is she now?”
    “She’s one hundred and one,” Joan said.
    “Take me to her,” Buck said.
    Joan’s worry returned. This was not on the schedule. She looked around helplessly, and Buck put his hand on her shoulder. “It will be all right,” he said. One of the Brothers took Buck to a row of small apartments down the street. Through a screen door, Buck could see Ms. Switzer sitting in a recliner. The room was surrounded

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