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Being Roger Maris

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"I'm not trying to be Babe Ruth. I'm trying to hit 61 home runs and be Roger Maris."

1961

The first year Annie ever fell for a ballplayer was in that long season when she was 14 years old and Roger Maris was the name on everyone's lips, almost always said with dismissal and disdain.

Not for Annie Savoy, though. She knew there was something special about that man.

Oh, sure, the press, they wanted you to spend all your time thinking about Mickey Mantle, but even at 14 Annie knew that he just wasn't as interesting as Roger Maris. Once the numbers starting racking up, she told her Daddy that, certainly, it was Roger's year, not Mickey's. He laughed at that, his big, low Daddy laugh that had filled up her childhood and countless nights in front of the radio and out at the DAP. But then he'd asked her, seriously, where she got such an idea. She knew Daddy wanted her to give him a real answer, to talk about who was hitting better and possible injuries and new pitchers. But she couldn't tell him that she'd started to notice things about baseball players that had nothing to do with their RBI. It wasn't just that there were some things you didn't tell your Daddy, it was also that she just couldn't explain it, this new thing she knew about baseball players in the summer of 1961.

It had something to do, though, with the way Roger Maris set his jaw and didn't seem to mind what people were saying. Annie could see this, could feel this, when she saw fuzzy images of him on their TV or read about him in the paper. It was the way he showed up and did his job, did it well, even in the face of criticism and complaint. That was a man who knew what the world was all about, Annie could just feel it. That's what made her know Maris was going to do something amazing and that's what made her love him with all the dedication a 14 year old heart can muster, her first ballplayer.

But none of that was something she could tell her Daddy, so she just shrugged and said it was a feeling she had.

The October that Annie turned 15 (of course you were born in October, her Daddy would say, my girl is a fall classic.) Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record and Annie Savoy cheered when the rest of the world not so quietly booed.

After that season, Annie Savoy never doubted her instincts again.

--

Years later, one night in bed, Annie told Crash it was no coincidence that Roger Maris hit 61 homeruns in 1961, the first year she'd fallen for a ballplayer. He, of course, had laughed this off, nuzzled her neck and said it was exactly that, a coincidence and nothing more. She'd swatted his wandering hand away and asked how he might explain, then, that she was 14 when she fell for her first ballplayer (Roger Maris) and 41 when she fell for her last (Crash Davis)? What else could that be, besides a divine act of synchronicity? He sighed at that, a low hum of contentment against her chest as he trailed his mouth down her body, and didn't laugh that part off at all.

--

1964

The year Annie turned 18, she fell in love with Roberto Clemente and told her Daddy that Durham, North Carolina was too small to contain her.

He smiled that smile of his and said, in a knowing way, she should go out there and wander far and wide, Durham and the Bulls would always be waiting to welcome her back and even if the day came when her old Daddy wasn't there, their house would be.

Annie rode elephants in India, cursed Bucky Fucking Dent at Fenway, spent the summer of love on the streets of San Francisco, gasped with delight at a Sandy Koufax's follow-through, and sang on stage for three whole weeks at a dive in Galway, Ireland.

Then she came on home.

--

They had that one glorious off season where Annie and Crash stayed in bed all day and danced all night, Annie taking Crash to all the places in Durham she'd loved as a little girl, the two of them exchanging stories about their misadventures until the sun rose. It was one of the most blissful and peaceful times of her whole life. When she confessed this to Crash one morning over breakfast, divulging this news with ease, he smiled at her and told her he had never thought he'd be this happy about something that didn't relate to baseball. Oh my, how she had laughed then, coming around the table to drape her arms around his neck, whispering into his ear, "Don't you be silly, can't you see how this is all about baseball?"

--

Right after that off season, Crash got the best job offer of his life, and both he and Annie knew there was no passing it up. Pitching manager is pitching manager, after all, even if it's just for the Oaks in Visalia. Annie thought long and hard about selling the house and leaving Durham behind to join him.

But she remembered Daddy's laugh and Daddy's dance steps and she knew that her old house, that Durham, was always going to be the place for her. Crash said he understood just perfectly and, after all, that's why there were such things as airplanes and telephones. Why, maybe they could even write love letters, he said, taking a book of Pablo Neruda poems off her shelf and giving her that wicked Crash Davis grin.

The night before he left, wrapped up in her bed, holding on to that man as if she'd never get another chance, he told her, "Now don't you be silly. Remember Roger Maris didn't break that record until the last game. We might be in the bottom of the ninth, but unless you plan to run off with Maris, there's nothing in Visalia or Durham that's going to pull us apart." She sighed into his arms and thought of that summer of 1961, knowing that Roger Maris was a man who didn't give up.

--

Crash spent almost the whole season in Visalia, bringing those boys out from the bottom of the minor league. In between love letters and long, dirty phone calls from Annie, he also took panicked midnight calls for Nuke, who was streaking through the show like Halley's comet. The press ate up Ebby Calvin, all that unfocused power and country charm hit the leagues like a cannon. Hardly a day went by when he wasn't in one of the sports columns. He captivated all the reporters and chased all the girls, living it up while also pitching like a man on fire. Crash talked him out of down days and through complicated league drama.

Finally, after the third day in a row when Crash had to deal with his own team acting like a bunch of little leaguers and Nuke moaning about how there was something wrong with his curveball, Crash told him to just call Annie already. His curveball (and third eye too) snapped right back into place, Crash got some time to himself, and Annie had a chance to remind Ebby there was more to this being a big baseball star business than chasing supermodels and getting in the papers. (Crash says Annie helped because Meat was over thinking, as usual, but Annie knows it was reading Allen Ginsberg to him.)

--

The Oaks were in serious playoff contention, if you can believe it, and everyone knew it was due in no small part to Crash Davis. (Annie also knew it was due to the candles she lit every night in her baseball altar, even as Crash laughed.)

Then Coach Riggins died suddenly of a massive heart attack.

When Annie heard, it was just like getting the news about Daddy again. Not that Coach was anything like a Daddy to her, mind you, but because it rocked the foundations of home. She called Crash before anyone else did and tried very hard to keep from crying on the phone, but then she thought the DAP without Daddy and she couldn't stop the tears.

"I understand," she told Crash "it's the playoffs, you can't just drop everything and leave."

"Oh, Annie," he said, his voice soft. "It's only baseball."

She laughed through her tears and even though the Oaks fired him, he was on the next plane back on home.

--

Ebby didn't have to come to the service, not being a big star in playoff contention himself, but he assured the press that trailed along in his wake there was no way he was going to miss it.

"After all," he said to the cameras, "without Durham, without Coach, I'd never be in show right now." With the reporters scrawling down his every word, he continued. "It was here in Durham I learned the most about baseball, both from Coach and from Crash Davis."

The pens to paper hesitated briefly. That name sounded sort of familiar, after all.

"Yeah, Crash Davis. He was coaching out in Visalia. Any of you write about what he did with them Oaks? He's just about the best pitching coach around, minor or major league. On top of which, not even a year ago, he broke the minor league homerun record. Any of you know that? Anyway, any ball club would be lucky to have that guy."

The frontrunner for the Cy Young Award telling the press about the best pitching coach there was? Now that was worth writing about. This whole thing, the minor league record, a tragic, early death of a beloved minor league figure, Nuke LaLoosh's praise, it just screamed BIG STORY!

At the end of the season, Nuke won the Cy Young Award, the Oaks bottomed out of the playoffs, and the Bulls took the very good advice of the biggest superstar they'd ever sent to the Majors and hired Crash Davis to coach.

When Crash called to hassle him about interfering Nuke'd just said, "Yeah, yeah, you're welcome, Meat. Now put Annie on the line already, I got a question `bout cosmic matters."

--

Two seasons later, Crash told Annie they were gonna celebrate with a special trip, but she couldn't know where. All she knew was to pack warm and that Nuke was involved because there was no way Crash could afford a private plane. ("How else am I going to surprise you with the location? Besides, didn't we talk Meat down during Game Three of the Series? He owes us!" he'd defended.)

She was blindfolded from the second they'd stepped off the plane, laughing at the absurdity of it all and holding tight to Crash's hand.

Now, many women wouldn't consider being proposed to in a shopping mall in Fargo, North Dakota to be the height of romance but, well, those women just didn't understand the beauty and poetry of The Roger Maris Museum.

She said yes, she threw her arms around that man's neck like she was never going to let go, and she said yes.

He laughed and held her tight, kissing her just like that first time: a long, slow, deep, soft, wet kiss that lasted three days.

--

It's a known baseball fact that everyone cheered for Mickey Mantle and everyone loved him too. But he didn't break Babe Ruth's record. Roger Maris did, in that season of 1961, and Maris did it the hard way, bit by bit, and the fair and honest way too.

The hard way made it so much sweeter to Annie Savoy, at 14 and 41, so she knew she'd never be happier than she was right then, in The Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, North Dakota with Crash Davis kissing her.

Roger Maris isn't a Hall of Famer (just yet) but who cares about that?

It's only baseball.