While on my way back from Sacramento, before crossing the E Street Bridge that leads into downtown Marysville, an uncontrollable force veered the car towards an exit ramp where a road sign read: Feather River Blvd. Mental gravity pulled me back into this dark, existential black hole of the world known as Olivehurst-Linda. I just could not get those damn books off my mind; that, and how a ballplayer could concentrate on baseball while studying philosophy. After all, it was Yogi who said that baseball is ninety percent mental and only fifty percent physical. Although Van Roth was never a major-leaguer, I nevertheless thought about starting a file that perchance might make for good copy someday. A philosophical ballplayer. If thatʼs not the damnedest thing Iʼve ever heard. I decided to pay Mrs. Van Roth a return visit.
Mrs. Van Roth didnʼt have a clue who I was; had no recollection our previous meeting. “Youʼre who?” she asked.
“James Quinlan,” I replied. “Remember? The sportswriter. We met just a few days ago.”
“No, I donʼt remember. I must be losing my marbles.”
“I was here with Styx and Mr. Hughes. We talked about baseball and your family. I was wondering if I might take some more pictures of Davieʼs room?”
“I donʼt know anyone named Sticks.”
“I believe her real name is Betty, Betty Lou. Her father was a little league coach ... the team in the red uniforms.”
“Oh yes, Betty. Now I remember. Please come in. Take all the pictures you want. Iʼll brew us a pot of tea.”
I snapped over two hundred shots with my Alpha-phone -- the old withered caps, the plaques, trophies, photographs, newspaper clippings, notes, the books including some of the under-linings, and each page of Van Rothʼs journals and recollections -- all 110 pages. It was the books! The library was what captured my attention. There seems to be some sort of connection between the books and Van Rothʼs performance as a ballplayer. I may have stepped over the line when I shot a few of Bobby Van Rothʼs personal letters from Vera Cruz, Mexico, but then again ... Iʼm a journalist. Stepping over the line often goes with the territory; whatever it takes to sell a book or an article; whatever it takes to put food on the table.
After a cup of tea, I kindly thanked Mrs. Van Roth with a hug and then returned to my hotel room. A maintenance man brought in two portable tables from the hotel conference room and butted them together in the front corner of the room forming a large, L-shaped work station. After transferring all the photos that I had taken into my Alpha-notebook, the pics were cropped and enhanced, then transported to staples.com for printing. I now had a stack of vivid, hard-copy photos and documents which were organized in chronological order, matching the way the books were aligned at the shrine. The photographs were taped to the wall just above the conference tables. Next, I placed the newspaper articles, baseball stats, notes that I had made from interviews, and the pages from the journals onto the tables directly below the corresponding photographs. Like putting together a biographical jigsaw puzzle, I began to piece together an organized collage of the young ballplayerʼs early life. Laid out before me, comprising approximately 144 square feet of wall and table-space, was a tapestry of Davie Van Rothʼs early life.
“I chalked up his phrases on the wall -- in the kitchen, in the living room, above the toilet, even outside the house. Those phrases will never lose their potency for me. Each time I run across them I get the same thrill, the same jubilation, the same fear of losing my mind should I dwell on them too long. How many writers are there who can do this to you? Every writer produces some haunting passages, some memorable phrases, but with Rimbaud they are countless, they are strewn all over the pages, like gems tumbled from a rifled chest.”
1 Miller, Henry. The Time of the Assassins. Norfolk: New Directions, 1956. pp. 18
To my far left were early family photos including his mother, father, and brother followed by the nine and ten-year-old little-leaguer clad in his green Panther uniform, posing, as if in action shots. I peered at the facial expressions of these early photos and thumbed through the first pages of his journals along with notes I had made from interviews. I began to piece together or re-enact the making of the young ballplayer by catching a glimpse of his mind and body working together -- his pre-established harmony -- his coordinated psychophysical parallelism, beginning with his memories of a five-year-old.
“I think back to my earliest memories and all of these recollections are about fear. It was at the State Theater, high up in the loge section with my older brother when I slumped down in my seat, covered my face, and peeked through the slits of my fingers while giant nematodes and spacecraft with periscope-like lasers waged H.G.Wellsʼ War of the Worlds. Also frightening was when that spiny-backed reptile-man suddenly emerged as The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Although those frightful experiences were real, the events of the movies were not. The fear didnʼt last long and had little long-term effect, at least, I donʼt think it did; but the bullying of Reggie Baker did happen, and from then on, I kept one eye looking over my shoulder while he or anyone else of his kind were anywhere near my presence.”
2 Van Roth, Davie. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer
He was trembling, clutching tightly to his motherʼs skirt as she opened the large iron gate which led to an open courtyard. Not unlike a small prison compound, the isolated kindergarten was secured by eight-foot-high, stuccoed walls that formed an enclosed playground. After a brief introduction with Ms. Jenkins, the small lad was assigned a desk and issued a napping mat before Mrs. Van Roth took her son by the hand and led him back to the schoolʼs entrance. She gave him a kiss on the forehead before adding a few kind words of encouragement. Go play. Make some friends, she instructed. Sadly, she closed the gates behind her and waved good-bye, leaving her frightened and confused child peering through the bars, watching his mother drive away from the school parking lot. For the first time, he was left to fend for himself. He didnʼt want to make any friends, for they were strangers. He was accustomed to the comfort provided by the gentle kindness of his mother and the protective companionship of his much older brother. Like Baudelaire, when he was first sent off to school and separated from his home-life for the first time, so too did Davie Van Roth become alienated and intimidated by his schoolmates. He withdrew into himself, thus his indifference and solitude began.
“I did not ask to be born...I am responsible for everything, in fact, except for my very responsibility, for I am not the foundation of my being. Therefore everything takes place as if I were compelled to be responsible. I am abandoned in the world ... in the sense that I find myself suddenly alone and without help, engaged in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able, whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility for an instant.”
3 Sartre, J.P. Being and Nothingness. NY: Philosophical Library, 1956. pps. 555, 556
Oh, no! he thought. He would have given back his ticket to existence had he the choice, but he had no choice and was bound to this life of which he was given. The lad was thrust into this social situation against his will and he didnʼt like it -- his first step towards becoming condemned to be free. Slowly, he turned from the closed gates and observed the world before him. He remained at a distance, hesitant, watching, and waiting before making a move. The sandbox appeared dull and boring. The shrill screams of young schoolgirls while chasing each other at lively games of tag bothered him as did the unorganized games of kickball and dodgeball. Playground balls sailed aimlessly through the air in several different directions without purpose. The courtyard was noisy, chaotic, and intimidating. He turned his attention to the big playground slide but that too was a problem. Most of the kids stood in line and anxiously waited their turn, but not all the kids ... not Reggie Baker. The bigger and stronger Reggie never waited in line as he bullishly pushed and shoved his way to the front of the line, often knocking his smaller mates to the ground. Baker was a bully! His mean temperament and size made life miserable for those who happened to get in his way. Reggie Baker was an asshole.
Young Davie Van Roth went out of his way to stay out of Bakerʼs way but it would only be a matter of time before their paths would come together. Sure enough, it happened one day during finger painting class when he was approached by Baker and his entourage of four other young tykes. Reggie promptly dipped his hand into some red paint and smeared it up and down the front of Davieʼs shirt. Baker glared while his posse pointed and roared with laughter. Little Davie was ridiculed, embarrassed, humiliated, and devastated but the ill-feeling lasted only a few moments ... then something happened. Some way, somehow, a change took place -- a transformation, whereby some thing, it, Someone, or another Davie suddenly emerged and took control. Whether it came from within or from outside, it was; nevertheless, instilled somehow, triggered, and it happened in an instant. He no longer heard the jeers and chants coming from Reggie and his band of young hoods. The intimidation and fear disappeared, and then ... there was silence. He felt strong, confident, and became intensely focused, like a hawk hovering above its prey and becoming possessed by controlled anger. Davie Van Roth was empowered. As Baker reached for another hand-full of goop, he was met with a first punch; a quick and powerful overhand left that stopped the unsuspecting bully dead in his tracks. The young ogre was stunned as crimson spurted and oozed from his beak and over his chin; staining his own shirt. The young puncher stood strong, waiting to strike again if need be, but it wasnʼt necessary. Reggie grabbed his nose, turned, and ran towards Ms. Jenkins who was already in pursuit. She paused just before reaching the battered, brutish imp and gave Davie a comforting nod, as if to say, donʼt worry little boy. Everything will be all right.
“Iʼve often wondered where that first punch came from. I donʼt remember ever sparing with my older brother. It could only have come from one source--Pops. I remember him sitting in his favorite armchair listening to Saturday Night Fights on the radio. Using mostly his upper torso, he would bob and weave, as if to avoid punches from an imaginary fighter. At times he would put me on his lap, reach around me, and while grasping my hands, together, we would throw lefts and rights in combos--jabs, hooks, crosses, and uppercuts.”
4 Van Roth, Davie. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer
Reggie Baker never bothered him again. He did, however, continue to bully, hassle, and terrorize most of the others, especially the smaller ones. Davie Van Roth was more at ease now and school became more tolerable, but still never turned his back to Baker. He was more confident and self-assured yet still remained reserved, quiet, and sometimes, painfully shy. Like Reggie, he returned to his natural self.
I turned my attention to the blank stare of a twelve-year-old All-Star. The stone-cold gaze as if met by the stare of a medusa indicated a precocious solitary childhood. Thereʼs a story behind those vacant eyes. If only I could witness his thought train; his William Jamesian stream of consciousness; his James Joycean self-reflection; his modus operandi -- what a tale it would tell.
The conversation with Styx, photos of a young little-leaguer, and the scrapbooks full of box scores and newspaper articles tells it all. Iʼll never forget those games as long as Iʼm alive, said the emotional barkeep. Everyone in the whole area hated us, calling us Okies and Arkies; plus, the umpires cheated so we couldnʼt win. I can still hear those damn city folk yelling and mocking us from across the ball field, ʻWeʼre gonna mop the floor with you Arkies, then send ya back to the Ozarks were ya all come from! Davie was our only hope. I crossed my fingers and prayed that somehow Davie Paul would become my hero.
Among the newspaper articles was a 1962 preview about a little-league game which was to be played later that night in Yuba City. It featured a picture of Van Roth that depicted a rather skinny, almost frail-looking young lad with a blank, emotionless stare on his face as if to say, I donʼt want my picture taken but I guess I have to. The ensuing article was a recap of the games and stats that led up to this one, the big one, the District-2 Area Little League championship game. Olivehurst-Linda had advanced by way of Van Rothʼs fifteen-strikeout no-hitter against Marysville and David Willitsʼ 9-8 extra-inning squeaker against Nevada City. Tonightʼs match-up was against Peach Bowl Little League of Yuba City who had annihilated their previous opponents, Sutter Buttes and Gridley, by scores of 18-2 and 15-3, blasting seven homers in the first game and five more in the next.
I recognized some of these Peach-Bowlers from a college team photo -- Ohrt, Stam, Gallagher, and Lopez. They were all big fellows, standing in the back row and were starters on a Yuba College team that would win a Conference Championship. Some of these players would continue on to four-year colleges and a couple would become professional players. Also, on that Yuba College team, kneeling down in the front row, was freshman Davie Van Roth.
I began to imagine and visualize the upcoming little-league game after gazing at the Van Roth photograph and figured that he was about to be crushed by these titans from across the river. I was initially impressed upon first arriving in the Yuba-Sutter area with Marysvilleʼs prostyle ballpark, Yuba Cityʼs modern urban sprawl, and the areaʼs celebrated history. Those favorable thoughts began to waver after recollecting the huge levees which protected affluent Marysville and the tiny berm that was supposed to protect the Olivehurst-Linda area. I generally root for the underdog and Olivehurst-Linda had never won an Area Little League championship. Now, they were getting ready to face another titan, Peach Bowl, from across the other river, the Feather River. I juxtaposed the contrasting run-down neighborhoods of Olivehurst and Linda with the momentous areas of Marysville and Yuba City. As a sportswriter, Iʼm supposed to be fair, unbiased, and impartial; however, this time I was pulling for, and becoming a fan of these misfits from downtrodden Olivehurst-Linda. Linda, once a town of her own, but after the great flood of 1950, reluctantly had to adopt the zip code 95901 -- that of Marysville. The two areas hated each other.
Perhaps there would be some kind of pseudo divine intervention; after all, the upcoming clash had all the earmarks of a classic Davie facing a gargantuan Philistine. I gained hope after going over the pre-game stats and found that Van Roth had never lost a ball game. At age ten he was 3-0 with a .330 batting average. A year later, he was 7-0 with a .525 batting average along with seven home runs. This year, he was 9-0, including six no-hitters while allowing only four hits for the entire regular and postseason. His ERA was 0.000, zero, zippo, nada; nary an earned run allowed. He had struck out 140 batters in just 54 innings averaging 16 Kʼs per game with an area- leading .588 batting average including eleven homers. I looked at the photo and wondered how this thin, frail-looking young lad could put up such lofty numbers. Usually, little-leaguers that put up these kinds of stats are much bigger kids -- those who reach puberty at an early age.
The game was played in Yuba City and progressed the way Styx had described it. The newspaper article was somewhat sterile except for the headline: “Van Roth Tosses No-No. Strikes Out 17.” It was written as if the sportswriter might have been biased, most likely from Marysville or Yuba City, and didnʼt like the outcome. I imagined the story as if I were writing it -- The confident, boisterous, arrogant, and cocky Yuba City side of the field become even more so after Van Roth walked the leadoff batter; however, they were quickly silenced as the lanky right-hander swiftly struck out the next three batters. He fanned the side in order in the second and again in the third as all his pitches were working to perfection. He had the popping fastball and his “drop ball” was plunging three to four feet, right off the table as it approached the hitting zone; and, if that werenʼt enough, heʼd occasionally deliver a pitch from down under with a low, sinking submariner.
In a later oration delivered at Toastmasters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, brother Bobby spoke: “Evan at ten years old Dave was a dominating pitcher. It was at the annual little league picnic after the season at Bidwell Park in Chico, that Dave recalls the one and only time that Dad ever played catch with him. Pops showed him how, as a young man, he used to make a softball ʻriseʼ by flinging it underhand, in a backward motion, with the back of the hand leading the way towards home plate. Dad told him, ʻTry this with the hardball, only throw it overhand, straight over the top.ʼ What came next was a testimony to the hard work and perseverance Dave brought to every aspect of his game. The pitch was awkward, unorthodox, very difficult to coordinate in his delivery, and he could only fling the ball in a high, slow rainbow arc, like the Ephus pitch immortalized by Ted Williams. But he never gave up on it. Eventually, after thousands of tosses, he developed such command of his “drop ball” that by age twelve he had mastered the pitch, heaving it with the same intensity as he put into his fastball. The ball appeared to drop quickly, three to four feet, nearly straight down, just before it reached a batterʼs hitting zone. The pitch was unhittable. As I remember it, a hitterʼs best chance against this devastating breaking ball was to just stand there and pray for a free pass.”
5 Van Roth, Bobby. Toastmasters, Albuquerque, N.M. April 2010
In O-Lʼs top of the fourth, Van Roth singled, stole second, and scored on David Willitʼs single up the middle. During Peach Bowlʼs half of the fourth, a flicker of hope appeared but only for a split second. After the first two batters struck out, their fans quickly rose to their feet but just as quickly sat back down as cleanup hitter John Stamʼs ground ball headed straight towards the awaiting O-L second baseman Steve Riley. It was the first ball touched by a Peach Bowl batter, not even a foul ball. O-L added an insurance run in the fifth and another run in the top of the sixth. It was all over ʻcept the cryinʼ as Van Roth struck out the side in the fifth and again in the sixth. The Peach Bowlers were stunned and demoralized after getting shut out and no-hit with only one batter hitting a fair ball. Seventeen of the eighteen outs were by way of the strikeout. Not only that, but those Yuba City folks realized, my God, weʼre going to have to deal with this Van Roth kid next year, the year after that, and for years to come.
Appropriately, Styx, excitedly summed up the game: We showed em. Davie stuffed it down their throats. Take that you damn city folk! Afterward, we all jumped in the back of pickup trucks and paraded through the streets of downtown Yuba City, over the fifth street bridge into Marysville, and then back into Yuba City again over the Tenth Street bridge. We circled oʼer an oʼer aginʼ till way past midnight, all the while shouting, Williamsport, Williamsport, here we come! Williamsport, Williamsport, here we come!
The Olivehurst-Linda team wasnʼt just a one-man show. They had pitching and defense. Number two and three pitchers, Mike Hitchcok and David Willits had blazing fastballs, faster than Van Roth, but they were wild and often wild up-and-in. They did not have Van Rothʼs control, composure, pitcherʼs savvy, nor his focus and ability not to be distracted ... all assets that cannot be taught or learned. These traits are innate. Either you have them or you donʼt.
Willits was huge for his age, a man-child standing six-foot tall and weighing one hundred-eighty pounds. He threw the hardest of the three but was timid, afraid of hurting someone, and often, he did. Hitchcock was also big for his age but his temperament was contrary to that of Willitsʼ. Hitchcock had a mean streak and if he fell behind in the count, he might just as well go with the beanball, without remorse. The rest of the squad were tough, hard-nosed and scrappy streetwise kids, fearless at the plate, and they hustled. The middle of the lineup, Van Roth and Willits, formed the best one-two punch in all of Northern California, combining power, average and speed. Willitsʼ eighteen homers in nineteen games topped all Northern California sluggers and Van Rothʼs .588 average was the areaʼs best. Together, they combined for twenty-nine homers, also tops in the North Valley. Almost as impressive was number two hitter Danny Crawford with his .568 average. Although a slashing, “Punch and Judy” hitter, he accomplished that average while facing the big three in six of the sixteen-game regular- season. It would be Hitchcock who gets the nod against Arden of Sacramento for the right to advance in Sectional tournament play.
With Van Roth at shortstop, Olivehurst-Linda was even better defensively. He was among the best of all California little-leaguers at that position. Rangy, with quick reflexes and an accurate rifle for an arm, the error was not a part of his repertoire. No mistake about it, the O-L shortstop played an aggressive, although smooth, pro-style brand of little-league baseball.
“At age nine I tried out for little league. They lined us up and hit us three fly balls and then three ground balls. Next, we took five swings at the plate. When they told us to get on top of the mound and throw three pitches, I declined, saying, no, Iʼm not trying out to be a pitcher. Iʼm a shortstop. Iʼm gonna be just like Luis Aparicio. Once I reluctantly threw those pitches, shortstop became second fiddle and took a back seat.”
6 Van Roth. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer
Hitchcock was pitching one of his typical games -- eight free passes, two hit batsmen, and a slew of wild pitches with eleven strikeouts. He put runners on base in every inning, including a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the third, however, a four-six-three twin-killing bailed him out of trouble. Both teams traded goose eggs till the fourth when O-Lʼs Bunyan-like first baseman David Willits sent the first pitch he saw soaring over the centerfield fence. It was a monster shot and Willitsʼ nineteenth round-tripper in twenty games, his third in All-Star competition along with his .500 batting average.
The one-run lead held up going into the last inning, but with two outs, Hitchcock got into trouble again, loading the bases on two walks and another hit batsman. He was unraveling when Arden cleanup hitter, Buster Johnson lofted a little pop fly down the left-field line. O-L third baseman Danny Crawford back-peddled while hesitant left fielder James Bright came lumbering in. No matter what, this little bloop of a dying quail was going to decide and end the game. It looked like the ball was going to drop; however, seemingly out of nowhere, a streaking Van Roth knifed his way between his two teammates, reached up and speared the ball, snagging it out of the sky as if heʼd made this play a thousand times before. Hitchcock, although shaky and rattled for most of the game, got the no-hitter, his third of the season. He also got his first shutout.
After catching their breath with a sigh of relief, the O-L faithful began to think destiny. Could it be ... that this band of tough misfits from the impoverished area known as Olivehurst-Linda go all the way? They were going to the Northern Sectional finals and one win away from going to the Northern California State title game. The competition was getting tougher and they almost let this one get away. They werenʼt quite as boisterous this time as they climbed back into those same pickup trucks and paraded the Woodland area singing: Williamsport, Williamsport, here we come... They would send Van Roth back to the hill against West Sacramento.
One could tell from the beginning that this game was going to be another pitcherʼs duel as both Van Roth and his counterpart had good stuff. Both pitchers mirrored each other by putting up nothing but zeros on the scoreboard. Neither team had even threatened as not a single baserunner reached second base with only a couple of walks being issued through the regulation six innings. The strikeout was the name of the game as Van Rothʼs “drop ball” again was unhittable and he would strike out another seventeen. He was averaging more strikeouts in All-Star competition than he was during the regular season. He seemed to have the ability to step it up a notch as the competition got better.
Both pitchers took no-hit shutouts into extra innings. After a meaningless seventh inning, O-L finally broke the ice in the top of the eighth. Van Roth led off with the gameʼs first hit, stole second, and then pulled his patented move by swiping third. West Sac got caught off guard as Van Roth nonchalantly took five or six steps off second base before stopping and appearing to return to the bag. As the catcher lobbed the ball back to his pitcher, the sneaky baserunner twirled and raced to third with a headlong dive. By the time the pitcher caught the ball, turned towards third and threw, it was too late. West Sac became rattled as Van Roth jitterbugged back and forth as if to steal home. The result was a wild pitch, and O-Lʼs crafty baserunner easily crossed home plate with the apparent winning run.
Throughout the playoffs, Olivehurst-Linda's defense had been flawless. They bailed out Willits and Hitchcock on several occasions and whenever someone did manage to hit a fair ball against Van Roth, the defense was right there to make the play. The pitching of Van Roth and Hitchcock was the best in the land as they combined to toss hitless and scoreless baseball for twenty-five-plus innings. After two quick outs in the bottom of the eighth, the O-L nine found themselves just one pitch away from going to the Northern California finals to face San Jose, California, winners of the Bay Area Sectionals. A win there would mean a trip to the Western Regionals of which two teams would survive and travel to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for the Little League World Series. O-L became even closer when West Sacramentoʼs catcher Michael Edwards got jammed with a Van Roth fastball sending a little bleeder towards first baseman David Willits. The ball plopped and stuck in the grass, only a few feet away from the bag and the charging first baseman. Willits reached down with his bare hand but didnʼt grasp the ball firmly as he hastily turned towards the bag for the gameʼs final out. It was ... a FUMBLE! There was still plenty of time as the jammed hitter struggled to get out of the batterʼs box. In a panic, Willits turned, only to commit the same miscue a second time. The third was no charm. West Sac had a man aboard, only their second of the game.
On the very next pitch, shortstop Robbie Reyner lofted a clean single to right, West Sacramentoʼs first and only hit of the game. The ball careened off the right fielderʼs glove and headed towards the foul line. Edmonds easily scored the tying run while Reyner rounded third with thoughts of heading home for the game-winner but quickly put on the brakes as a perfect relay was on the way towards home plate. Reyner stumbled and there was a play back at third base with the ball, runner, and third baseman Danny Crawford all arriving at the bag at the same time. The ball ricocheted off the baserunnerʼs shoulder and rolled towards shortstop Glen Baker who was backing up the play while Reyner and Crawford lay in a heap on top of the bag. It was the first hit issued by Van Roth in over three games of All-Star competition. In nineteen and two-thirds innings, he had not given up a hit or an earned run, while walking only three and striking out forty-nine batters, averaging better than 16 Kʼs per game. The umps huddled while an anxious fan hollered, put your heads together and make a rock pile! Head umpire Stan Johnson emerged, pointed to the baserunner, motioned him towards home plate, and bellowed Interference! Game over! I remembered the blurry-eyed Styx as she explained what happened next.
We were all stunned. Shocked. We couldnʼt believe it. One minute we were dreaming about a trip to Williamsport and just a few moments later it was over. It all happened so fast. Damn that umpire! We were yelling and swearing bloody murder. The announcer over the P. A. system was begging for order. It was chaos. I ran down to the dugout to be with my dad who was trying to calm down the players while Luther was out on the field screaming at the umpires. He was nose to nose with the head umpire. I thought he was gonna punch ʻem. The game was over. Nothing could be done and eventually, everyone settled down. The players lined up on both sides of the foul lines to get their pins and trophies. Some of the parents were crying. The players were crying. I was crying. I looked out at Davie but didnʼt see any tears. He just stood there with this stone-cold, unemotional, kinda eerie blank stare on his face.
It was just Little League but a game like this could produce emotional scars that last a lifetime. Willits, although a great little-league slugger, never donned another baseball uniform -- not in Babe Ruth League, American Legion, nor in High School. Never. The Willits moved out of the Olivehurst-Linda area, across the Feather River and into Yuba City, never to be heard of again from the sports field. Hitchcock played one more year of organized baseball, then took to the streets of Olivehurst where he was more comfortable and became a street fighter. He traded in strikeouts for knockouts; traded a blazing fastball for delivering black eyes, split lips, and knocked-out teeth. Hitchcock became king of the bullies, head knuckle-dragger, and a total lout. The only jersey he would ever wear again would be of the jumpsuit variety with penal number 76295401 stenciled on the front.
Moreland Little League of San Jose defeated West Sacramento 7-0 and advanced to the West Regionals held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. There, the team representing Northern California bested Rolling Hills of Southern California 3-2 and Kailua National of Hawaii 3-1 in the final; thus advancing to the sixteenth Little League World Series. At Williamsport, San Jose defeated Poitiers Post Little League from Vienne, France 22-2, and then Del Norte Little League of Monterey, Mexico 2-0 in the semi-finals. San Jose won it all when they shutout Jaycee Little League of Kankakee, Illinois 2-0 in the final. I wonder how Van Roth and his “drop ball” would have fared against a team like San Jose.
Photographs of a fourteen and fifteen-year-old Van Roth expressed a disgruntled solemn visage of malcontent and teenage angst. I could see it in his eyes -- his windows of tempestuous anxiety; however, his journal entries and American Legion cap a year later painted an opposing picture. I could sense his will to win and passion for the game after his battles with Nolan. He became inspired by “The Great One.”
“It must have been during the middle of my last year in Little League, 1962, when I first began daydreaming about becoming a major-league ballplayer. There was no doubt in my mind that this was my destiny and nothing happened during the next few years to change that opinion. I loved every aspect of the game--the smell of fresh-cut grass, the pop of the ball hitting the pocket of the glove, the sound of the bat after making solid contact and the echo that followed, pepper and warming up when everyone was a pitcher practicing their curves and knucklers, the chatter of ballplayers and coaches--”hey babe” “attaboy”, “keep your head in there, eye on the ball, level swing”, “keep in front of it”, “follow through”. My thoughts were consumed with the game. I didnʼt play organized football or basketball nor cared much about school or even girls for that matter. I simply waited all winter until practice began the following spring. Baseball became my religion and reason for living. God, it was great to be alive!”
7 Van Roth, Davie. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer
Next, I gazed into the intimidating eyes of the twenty-year-old Yuba College pitcher; into his feral eyes of a tiger and began to witness his personal mantra -- the instrument of his mind -- his encouragement. I could see the gritting teeth and flared nostrils as he delivered a pitch during a championship-clinching game. I could sense the desire, the competitiveness, the drive, the will to win, and the anger as described by teammate Ron Hughes. I could only fathom what Hughes meant when he said that you have to experience a championship to understand it. Those feelings of camaraderie that Hughes and Van Roth shared while cruising the foothills must have been euphoric, that kind of feeling of beatific equanimity which has eluded me. I read the corresponding newspaper articles, journals, notes that I had made during interviews, and mentally fused them to the photographs. I was getting closer to the core of the matter by wading through the ballplayerʼs river of consciousness and organizing his mindstream. I could feel his essence; almost sense his self-actualization or impulse to convert oneself into what one is capable of being and was nearing his psyche, his consciousness, his fierceness, his competitive being, his “vital breath” -- his Latin Spiritus.
On page 65 of his journals, Van Roth links the connection of Platoʼs logos (Apollonian thinking logic) with controlling his Dionysian thymos (spirited anger) and guiding his drive and desire (eros) to form the ultra-competitive being. Pauche! I could sense his will to survive, that Bergsonian Élan Vital or vital force; his Nietzschean will to power or aim to become master of his own destiny; his ambition and motivation, his individual confident self, for the noble soul has reverence for itself or the sense of immense importance to what oneʼs doing and that great things lie ahead. Be all you can be and make your life a masterpiece! I began to apprehend his inner workings, witnessing his purposive striving course of action; his exercise of volition; his self-realization; his psuche! I could almost sense his vigilant arete of keen eagle-eyed awareness and self-control. If only I could master his insights. I was; however, without actually being the man, about as close as I could possibly get to witnessing his animus -- the mind and SOUL of Davie Van Roth.
It was the philosophy books that aroused my curiosity. Van Roth must have been some kind of philosophical ballplayer. Van Roth studied physics before turning to philosophy, somewhat like the British existentialist Collin Wilson; however, Wilson was no athlete. There have been several major-leaguers who became doctors and lawyers. Moe Berg was a scholarly catcher for the Yankees and a U.S. spy who spoke several languages but he was no philosopher. I was having a tough time trying to figure out this bookworm of a ballplayer from Olivehurst-Linda. He was arcane, abstruse, esoteric, and apparently only understood by his older brother.
Something was missing. Like putting together the pieces of a human jigsaw puzzle, I had reenacted the early life of the young ballplayer, but not all the pieces fit. Others were obscure. I got the feeling that there was something more to that blank, distant look of withdrawal on the face of the little-leaguer. Something lurked behind the mask; something hidden beneath his facial veneer; a first sign of a deep mistrust for authority; that, and a hidden passion -- a deep yearning or hunger and thirst to be a champion.
The seeds were first germinated by the tall, quiet, hardworking Van Roth senior. His father “Pops” would tell him: if you want something done right, youʼll have to do it yourself. His son would have to strike them all out -- every damn one of them. This would become his recipe for victory -- his guarantee of a championship. I had peeked into his soul, witnessed the young ballplayerʼs conscious awarenesses, and uncovered the first traits of this philosophical-ballplayer.
“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”
8 Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. NY: Schribner. 1964. pp. 49
A BALLPLAYER'S SOUL