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The Dust of the Fields Behind Us
By Harry Albert Haines
The guy from down the hall in Steele dorm popped his head in the door. "Let's go to the ball game."
"Norfolk and Carolina Navy." It was 1943 and the world was at war. Those of us who weren't 4-F (medically insufficient) were putting in time at the University of North Carolina awaiting calls to service. The Navy preflight program at Chapel Hill-completely separate from normal academic life-ran on the "playing fields of Eton" theory. Jocks ruled.
"You mean, go sit in the sun and watch a bunch of Navy cadets play ball?"
"They got some studs. Ted Williams, Johnny Gremp."
Ted Williams? Ted Williams here, right under my nose? Ted Williams, for God's sake. The Splendid Splinter. The Kid. Williams had passed up those cushy and safe special assignments other stellar athletes were given by the services during the war. Williams was an honest-to-God candidate to fly those damnably dangerous navy and marine airplanes. He was not taking a pass from the war. Nor did he sit out the next, in Korea. In all, he lost five years of a career that would have been totally off the charts had he played in his prime, those productive twenties.
Sports was nothing like today. Newspapers, our only news source, were hurting for manpower and often didn't report on Carolina Navy baseball at all. But an immortal was hitting home runs two hundred yards from my dorm room. As a high schooler, I sat in my Arkansas kitchen eating biscuits and sausage and reading about Ted Williams in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Ted Williams was larger than Arkansas and the Commercial Appeal. Larger than the Senate or Notre Dame football or cotton candy. Larger even than Blytheville High School football. Ted Williams lived in the hall of gods, the place where Babe Ruth lived.
To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Winter 2000 issue.
HARRY ALBERT HAINES is a retired Arkansas journalist who has been published
in a dozen literary journals around the nation and in England. He lives with
his wife and daughter in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
© 2000 Harry Albert Haines
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