making a big mistake, Maz said. You realize that, dont
As Billy hung his head Maz kept after him. Have you really thought
about what youre doing?
Billy made a face, prompting Whitey, a small, ravaged old-timer sitting
nearby, to chime in. It aint too late to change your mind,
Thats right, Maz said. Say the word and all will
Billy fought back tears. Im sorry, he said, but
I gotta do what my father says.
And just why is that?
Hey, Maz, give the kid a break, Whitey said. Hes
just obeyin the Ten Commandments, the one about honoring thine father
Were talkin baseball here, not the bible, Maz
replied testily. He turned to Billy. Tell me something. Has your
father ever hung out in the bleachers?
You know the answer to that.
I want to hear it from you.
He doesnt have time to go to ball-games. He works two jobs
to make a living.
So he has no idea about what goes on here, right?
He roots for the Giants as best he can.
for the Giants is one thing, knowin what life is like in the bleachers
is another. Aint that right?
Billy could only shrug his shoulders.
Whitey spoke up for Billy again. Its a sin to go against the
Who asked you to butt in?
I got every right to express my opinion. He looked at Billy
through his red, watery eyes. Stick up for yourself, kid.
Billy did just that. My family is moving to Brooklyn, he explained.
We found an apartment right next to Ebbets Field.
Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers! Maz spat.
Ill be able to walk to the ballpark and catch a game whenever
Am I supposed to be impressed?
Im just trying to explain why it makes sense for me to become
a Dodger fan.
Once a Giants fan, always a Giants fan, Whitey insisted. That
is an undisputable fact.
Dont listen to him, came the voice of a young bleacherite
known as Lemonhead. He plumped down in a seat, two rows down from Maz
and Billy. Whitey is full of shit.
Lemonhead, if you know whats good for you, you will shut your
I heard what youz guys said to Billy. You got no business breakin
his balls like that.
Were doin it for a good reason. He intends to root for
you blame him? Hell be stuck in the middle of the Ebbets Field bleachers,
surrounded by thousands of Dodger fans.
Youd root for Brooklyn yourself, if you were me, Billy
Never! Maz shouted. Never in a million years!
* * *
The argument broke off when some of the other fans began to arrive. First
was Wrigley, a large rotund black man who, despite the July heat, wore
a dark suit and tie, and a derby hat. Chewing on a cheap cigar, he slipped
into a seat not far from Maz.
He was followed by Louie dAlessandro, a short, bald, squat gent
with a pair of binoculars slung round his neck. Moving slowly, arthritically,
he headed down the steps to the first row of the bleachers, where he plumped
down and peered out through the protective screen at the ballfield, some
five hundred feet away, where batting practice was being held.
Then Hershey the Vendor showed up, carrying a tray of drinks. Getcha
beers, he cried out, get em while theyre still
cold and fresh!
Whitey was the first to buy, then Maz. Lemonhead, whose close-cropped
skull truly did resemble a lemon, started peeling an apple with his penknife.
Wrigley sat meditatively, chewing on his stogie. Louie kept his glasses
trained on the ballfield.
After gulping down some beer, Maz went back to work on Billy. I
cant understand why you feel the need to become a Dodger fan. Look
at Wrigley here. Why dontcha follow his example?
right, the slightly tipsy Whitey said. You should immulate
good old Wrigley. He was born in Chicago and grew up in Wrigley Field.
Then he moved to New York and came here to watch the Giants play-
Correction, Wrigley said. I came here to watch baseball,
not the Giants.
Okay, okay, we got that. You aint a Giants fan, youre
a Chicago Cubs fan-
A loyal Cubs fan!
Thats exactly the point Im makin, Maz said.
And just what is that? Lemonhead wanted to know.
Wrigley sits here in the Polo Grounds bleachers, surrounded by Giants
fans, yet he still remains loyal to the Cubbies.
You got that right! Wrigley exclaimed.
Maz turned to Billy. Did you hear that? It proves you can still
root for the Giants no matter where life takes you.
Louie turned and contributed his bit of wisdom. Its whats
in your heart that counts.
Billy reminded them that when Wrigley first came to the Polo Grounds bleachers,
he wasnt alone, he had Louie by his side. They knew each other
from the post office.
We worked there together for thirty years, Louie said. Thirty
fuckin years! Wrigley added.
But I dont have any friends in Brooklyn, Billy continued.
Ill be on my own in Ebbets Fields.
So what? Are you scairt of those Dodger fans?
Wouldnt you be?
for a single goddamn minute! Maz shouted. The big, hulking construction
worker lifted a fist and waved it around. Id punch out anyone
who tried to give me a hard time!
Sorry, Billy said. I aint you, Maz.
Maz threw up his hands in disgust. Ive had it, he muttered.
I cant get through to this kid. He looked over at Louie.
Talk to him, he said. See if you can straighten him
Louie lowered his binoculars and fought to stand up. Then, ever so slowly
and painfully, he clambered up the steps and slipped into a seat beside
I remember the first day you showed up here, he said quietly,
with your lunch bag in one hand and a notebook in the other.
How come you always carry a notebook? Lemonhead interrupted.
It aint a natural thing to do.
Shut up, Lemonhead! Louie suddenly barked. Mind your
own business. He turned back to the kid.
Point is, you arrived here all alone. You didnt know a soul,
Billy shrugged his shoulders.
We could have told you to sit by yourself, at the top of the bleachers,
Louie said. But instead Maz took a liking to you and invited you
to sit down here with us. Within a month he allowed you to sit beside
him. Do you realize what an honor that was? Maz was our leader! Yet he
let you sit right by him!
You took my spot, Lemonhead complained. I sat beside
Maz for years but then you came along and squeezed me out!
For a very good reason, Maz said. Id had it up
to here with your stupid remarks and nutty behavior!
did the right thing, Whitey cut in. You get on everyones
nerves, he told Lemonhead. Youre a mental case!
Look whos talkin, the original Bowery Bum himself!
Shut up, both of you! Maz shouted. I dont want
to hear no more crap out of you!
Blow it out your ass! was Whiteys blunt reply. Then
he turned back to Billy: I treated you pretty good, didnt
I? I bought you your first beer.
No argument there.
How old were you at the time?
Twelve, Billy said.
There you are. I helped you become a man.
Thats nothing compared to what Maz did for him, Louie
said. He talked all the time to Billy...and not just about baseball
either. He helped him grow up.
He also bought him the cap hes wearing, chimed in Wrigley.
It was for Billys thirteenth birthday and to celebrate his
first year with us.
That aint no ordinary baseball cap either, Maz said.
Its an authentic New York Giants baseball cap, the same kind
of cap Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott wore-
And dont forget Willie Mays, Wrigley reminded him.
Thats right, the say-hey kid himself! Lemonhead yelled.
It was a special present, one I knew youd like, Maz
said to Billy. But now, in light of all you have said, I want the
Tears came to Billys eyes. But I love this cap!
a genuine Giants fan should be allowed to wear it. Only someone who is
loyal to the team!
Lemonhead reached up and tried to grab the cap. Dintcha hear
what Maz said? Give him back his cap!
Let go, goddammit!
They grappled over the cap. Lemonhead finally managed to wrest it away
from Billy. He held it up and shouted, It belongs to me now!
Billy threw a punch at Lemonhead, landing a shot to the jaw that stunned
him, made him drop the cap.
Billy scooped it up.
Lemonhead reached for his penknife, opened it and pointed the blade at
Billy. Gimme that fuckin cap! Hand it back!
Billy reluctantly let go of it. Lemonhead clapped it atop his head and
danced around, shouting giddily, Ive got your cap and now
Im gonna take your seat as well. Im the one whos gonna
be sitting alongside Maz from now on!
Billy shot an anguished look at Maz.
Is that right?
Im afraid so. Your time is finished here.
Shut up, Maz said. Go find yourself a seat in Ebbets
Billy looked around at the others. No one met his gaze. He turned, picked
up his notebook and and started to climb the bleachers steps. Lemonhead
suddenly lunged at him, shouting, Gimme that notebook!
produced his knife again. Give it I said!
Billy, in tears again, had no choice but to obey him.
Then he turned and started to make the long, lonely climb up to the top
of the bleachers. Lemonhead opened the notebook.
Hey, Maz, he suddenly shouted. Youll never guess
what hes been writin!
What do you mean? Hes been keepin score, right?
Keepin score, my ass! Its full of other stuff.
What kind of stuff?
I dont know. You tell me. I dont read so good.
Maz took the notebook and flicked through it. Then he glanced over at
the others and said, Its all about us-how Wrigley always
wears a black suit and derby, how he and Louie worked the night shift
at the post office sos they could spend their days in the bleachers,
how Whitey gets drunk on beer all the time.
Maz turned to another page.
Listen to this. He read from it. I wish I could tell
Maz and the guys just how much they have meant to me. I wish I could thank
them for all the kindness they have shown me, a kid sitting with a bunch
of grown men who treated me as an equal. I have come to respect, admire...and
even love them.
Maz put the notebook down. He and the other bleacherites sat in a stunned,
embarrassed kind of silence.
Then Lemonhead cried out, Who gave him permission to write about
us? Who the hell does he think he is-some kind of writer?
and called up to Billy. You aint no writer! You aint
nuthin, do you hear? Youre just a dirty stinkin little
traitor, a goddamn Dodger fan!
The others stared down at their shoes. Billy looked upon them through
eyes that were wet with tears.