Until the End of the Ninth

Beth Mary Bollinger

THURSDAY, AUGUST 2: DULUTH, MN

My drive to Duluth for Thursday night’s game will be long, and includes a stop at my aunt and uncle’s house in Eau Claire for lunch, as they will be out of town for the weekend (in Duluth, ironically) and the only time I can see them is on Thursday, on my way through Eau Claire.  The cell phone rings by 8:30 a.m. – I’ve been on the road almost three hours already.  It is my publisher.  They are going to join me in donating proceeds.  Of course, Kevin says.  It’s the right thing to do.

I get to my aunt and uncle’s house.  My aunt has an article from the local newspaper about my book signing clipped to the refrigerator door.  It mentions one uncle from Eau Claire but not the other one – the one who I’m having lunch with.  Just then, my uncle comes into the house with a copy of the article, waving it at me.  “I’m your godfather!” he says, pointing to the article and the absence of any reference to him.  Hey, I told the reporter about you, I say, laughing, as he points out that I name everyone else – my brother, my other uncle, my grandfather (who ran a city league team near Eau Claire back in the 1940s), but not him.  Just then my father calls me on my cell phone. I hand the phone to my uncle who tells my dad of the omission and points out that my dad isn’t mentioned in the article either.  When I finally get to talk to my dad, he’s laughing too.  

During lunch, my uncle asks me what the next step is for the novel.  I actually do have a plan for next baseball season, for spring training and all of that.  One long road trip, is the plan.  But that’s not what I tell him, because that’s not what I think is going to happen.  Instead I say, “The next step is a movie.”  This is what I believe, even as I make more practical, logical plans.  It is more than what I believe.  It is what I know, in my gut. 

I have been proactive about making this story into a movie in that I have written to one movie person in particular.  In the meantime, people have starting approaching me to discuss it, and help.  Either way, we are on the brink of it.  So that is what I tell my uncle at lunch. 

Back to the road, and the radio…. 

By the time I get to Duluth, I have learned that all the ball clubs – Duluth, Eau Claire, and the Twins – will be donating their share of the book sale proceeds to bridge collapse victims too.  This means 100 percent of all proceeds will be donated.  People buying the book seem pleased with that news.  Many in Duluth are aware of the bus crash from 1948 that took the lives of five of their minor league players – it was the Duluth Dukes, back then – but are surprised to learn of Spokane’s bus crash, which was exactly two years and one month before the Duluth team crash.  After the two bus crashes, minor leagues thought that they would not be able to continue to play – that this would be the way of the future.  And then that was it.  No more bus crashes.  And though the Duluth team now is a summer collegiate team – called the Duluth Huskies, not Dukes – it is still a part of the history of the city.  In fact, it just so happens that I am at the Duluth game on their turn-back-the-clock night, and they happen to be wearing the Dukes’ uniforms from back in the 1960s.  There is a connection there.  One man gives me a poster of a painting that he did of the Duluth team during 1998 (the 50th anniversary of the bus crash).  Stunning. 

One young teen keeps eyeing the book.  I don’t usually do this, but I decide to give him a copy.  It just seemed like he needed his own copy.  You need a copy, I say.  I ask him his name so I can personalize my autograph.  He tells me.  “That’s my cat’s name!”  I say to him.  I look at him quizzically: “Do you chase birds?”  I ask.  He smiles.  “Yes I do,” he says.  “So does my cat!” I exclaim, adding, “you two have a lot in common.”  He grins.

I am scheduled to be interviewed by the play-by-play guys for both Eau Claire (fifth inning) and Duluth (sixth inning).  (Since Eau Claire is the away team, and since I’ll be in Eau Claire the next night, they decided to interview me on the radio.)  The ladder I have to climb to get to the radio booth has no angle to it – just straight up to the heavens, daring me to survive the trek.  And then it gets harder, as I have to walk on a pathway built across the roof to get to the booth.  “Do not walk on roof,” the sign says.  Yeah.  As if that’s what I was going to do.  Trust me – I’m not straying from this little walkway. 

It is a great night.  At the end, I give one of the shafts of wheat to a young woman who helps me there.  Interesting, I think – so far, three of these pieces of wheat went to young women.  And all went to women.  I didn’t plan it that way.  It just happened.  Interesting.