Room 1297 A
Eddie Waitkus knelt in the on-deck circle near the first-base dugout and studied the Cubs' pitcher as he took his warm-ups. The intermittent drizzle and afternoon fog shrouded the infield, and the huge green scoreboard that sat atop the center-field bleachers was barely visible. His back to the field boxes, Waitkus cleaned the mud from his cleats and watched the pigeons dart in and out of the rafters in the darkened Wrigley Field grandstands, before eventually disappearing beyond the right-field foul pole.
The Phillies were on their way to another big inning, and Waitkus, a former Cub, was enjoying what would prove to be an easy victory over his old teammates. Waitkus walked slowly to the plate, unaware of the young woman in the white babushka in the first-base boxes. He reached out and slapped the first pitch over third base for a single.
Waitkus's swing was more smooth than powerful, with a spiral, upright turn to it, like a barber pole. An old-fashioned hitter, a thinking man's batter, Waitkus was a star at a time when young heroes like Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Bob Feller gave postwar baseball elegance. It was a new era in 1949, and Waitkus, who had lost three major league seasons fighting in the Pacific, was part of it. In the middle of June, he was hitting .306 and enjoyed a huge lead—more than one thousand votes—in fan balloting for National League first basemen for the upcoming All Star game in Brooklyn.
When Waitkus rounded first base, the girl in the white babushka sprang to her feet, but she did not cheer along with the handful of Phillies fans sitting behind the visitors' dugout. Instead, she stared at Waitkus as he settled in at first base, and then she hurried out of the ballpark.