Fiction   Essays   Poetry  The Ten On Baseball Chapbooks In Memory

Carol Papenhausen

Rockin' Robin and the Field of Flowers

The man who was becoming Robin Yount showed up at the bookshop a week before Wynn noticed the change. At first he thought it was a game or a stunt, some loon trying to hustle himself toward Rockin’ Robin.

“Candid Camera,” Wynn said to his assistant, Franny. “You take something seriously and everyone laughs because it was a fake, a setup.”

“No, dear,” she said. The new show had an edge, a streak of mean. A guy turning into Robin Yount wouldn’t do it, even if Wynn hadn’t made it up.

“No, it’s happening,” he insisted and walked over to pull out the book on the Brewers. “Look. There he is. Rockin’ Robin Yount. Remember him? My god, everybody anywhere near Milwaukee lived and breathed the Brewers.” He’d been thirteen when the Kid ran from high school out to the infield at County Stadium to become one of the star shortstops of all time. Wynn Duvall adored him. Everyone in Wisconsin adored him, and the closer you were to Milwaukee, the more important he was in your life.

“I wanted to be just like him,” he told Franny, that old feeling in his chest when he remembered the Brewers in the old County Stadium as the team stepped up to the plate on that long, exciting trek towards the pennant and the World Series.

She stuck her finger at the book as he shut it. “How many books on baseball do we have?” she asked.

“Hmmm.” Wynn knew but he wasn’t going to tell her. By the Book may be a small bookstore in a small town in a small corner of Wisconsin, but Wynn Duvall was a keeper of the flame. He knew at once that this customer was turning into Yount. He also knew that was impossible.

“We’re talking about the same guy, aren’t we?” he said.

“The man in the red and blue shirt who comes in here and stares at that book every day,” Fran said.

Wynn nodded. Who else?

“How can you say he’s turning into someone else? Nobody becomes another person. That’s ridiculous.”

He nodded again, started to open the book again but changed his mind. If she hadn’t seen it the first time, she wouldn’t now. “Watch him,” he said,. “He was about fifty when he came in the first time. And fat. And when he took his cap off he had hardly any hair. Don’t you remember?”


“I do. Watch him. He’s younger now and skinnier and his hair is getting bushy and it’s starting to stick out under his cap.” He bunched his fists up by his ears. “Like that photo of Yount with the hair sort of erupting out of his hat. Sort of like Bozo.” Oh oh. He apologized silently. I didn’t mean that, Robin.

Franny stared at Wynn and shook her head. “You’re nuts. You know that?”

“You’ve said that before. And I’m not.”

The man came in the next day and went straight to the shelf with the book in the blue and red cover that read Brewers! Franny put down her paperback and leaned over the counter to stare at him, beginning with his feet and working up to his cap and his crop of curly brown hair. She tiptoed into the back room and tapped Wynn on the shoulder.

“He’s here,” she muttered.

“Uh huh. And?”

“I don’t know. You could be-– He does have more hair. And he’s lost weight, you’re right.”

“Look at his face,” Wynn said and pushed back his chair. “Come on, I’ll go out and talk to him and you take a good look.”

He slowed as he reached the sports section and whistled idly while he rearranged books. He stopped a few feet away from the man who was transmogrifying before his eyes. What the hell was happening?

“Hi,” he said. He had to say it twice because the first greeting stuck in his throat.

“How’s it going,” the man said.

“Great, thanks.” Wynn turned his head to look at the book the man held in both hands. “My team,” he said. “Always will be, I guess. My guys. Molitor, Yount, Fingers, Vukovich. Never be another team like that. You a fan, too?”

The customer looked full into his face and smiled, and Wynn stepped back as if he’d been punched in the chest. Even the teeth, those incisors that on anyone else would have been a little creepy — the moustache was gone now as he worked his way back to Rookie of the Year. Wynn rocked against the shelves and as he put his hand out to steady himself, he almost touched the new Robin, who swung away in a quick fluid motion like the athlete he was.

Wynn walked back to his office without seeing anything. It was him. There was still a little fineness to the face that needed to be factored in, but then it was him to the life, Yount himself who had come back to the scene of his wonderful early days, the first glorious years of that twenty-year career that saw record after record fall as Yount made the transition between shortstop and centerfielder. But even if he was — and that was crazy enough — he wouldn’t come to Wynn Duvall’s little bookshop in little St. Clair, Wisconsin. No way.

Fran came in and sat down heavily on a corner of his desk. “You’re right,” she said. “I saw the picture and his face. It’s him.”

“I know.” His hands played on the computer keys for a minute and he sat back, his eyes closed. “What are we going to do?”

“What are we supposed to do?”

“I don’t know. Nothing like this has ever come up.” Wynn laughed, a short laugh with no humor. “Do you report it to someone?”

Franny shook her head. “I don’t know.” She stood up, walked to the door and peered out, then came back to Wynn’s desk. “Still there.” She let herself plop back onto the desk. “Why here? I mean, in your bookshop. ”

“I think he needs that book. Or something like it.” Wynn bent over an imaginary book in his hands and stared at a page. “Because he goes right to it. He needs to look at a particular picture. And maybe — holy shit.”

He stared at the wall in front of him. “Franny? Do you think there are more?”

“More what?”

“More of them. More —”

“More players? Oh, Wynn, come on. This is nutsy enough already.”

He nodded. “You’re right. I can barely get my limited mind around this. Any more and I’d have to run down to Mendota State and check in.” Still....

They watched the dust motes dance in the quiet air, each focused on something no one else could see.

“Have you ever met my stepson?” Franny said suddenly. Startled, he dropped the pencil he was playing with. When he bent to retrieve it, he bumped his head on the way up.

“Ow. God. You can see why I never made it to County Stadium.” He rubbed the top of his head and winced. “Big lump there tomorrow. No, sorry. I know you have a stepson. Stepsons.”

“Right. Anyway, Danny comes in tomorrow or the next day. He’s on his way to Appleton, but he rents a car at Mitchell and usually stops to see me.”

“Which one is Danny?”

Fran stared at him with no expression. “He’s coming tomorrow,” she said again. “Do you think our friend will be here?”

Wynn pushed out of his chair and disappeared into the shop. Fran closed her eyes.


“Yes what?”

“Yes, I think he’ll be here. He’s not quite there yet, he’s still kind of unformed. And he tripped on the doorsill going out.” Tripped like someone who wasn’t quite sure how his legs worked or why, he thought. What the hell was going on? And what did Franny’s stepson have to do with a man who’d changed into someone who’d been a hero for his entire career?

Danny was taller than Wynn, which made him six feet one or two. He told them he’d subtracted hair and added glasses since he’d played third base for UW-Stevens Point and then Triple-A in Missouri. A first baseman’s spikes ended his career when they drilled into his ankle as he slid into base.

“Tough luck,” Wynn said, wishing he’d said something that sounded more convincing. Franny's eyes moved from one to another until they paused. “Danny’s a scout,” she said then. “For the majors.”

“My god, what a great job,” Wynn said and looked at Danny the way he’d watched Rockin’ Robin hit all those doubles twenty years before.

“Yeah, it is,” Danny said. “I’m a really lucky guy. All the fun and none of the work.” He winked at Fran and then turned to Wynn. “So I hear weird things are happening in your bookstore.”

The weird things sounded even more bizarre as Wynn told him every peculiar detail, ending with, “And that’s it, unless he comes in today.”

“You think he will?”

“Yes. I think he’s in a hurry. He wants to be eighteen-year-old Robin Yount, and he’s only got a little way to go. Maybe he knew you were on the way, and he could start over, a major league star again. Because you’d want him right away.”

“Uh huh.” Danny didn’t believe him, Wynn could tell, figured he and Franny were victims of some strange hallucination. “I’ll grab a sandwich and come back, see what’s going on.”

Even Franny was stunned when the young shortstop came in, looking exactly the way he did in the early photos she’d seen in the Brewers book. “My god,” she said. “Oh, my god.” She put her hand to her mouth and backed up until she was pressed against the counter. “Wynn, he looks just like him. I didn’t believe you, but he does.”

Wynn nodded. “Do you know where Danny’s having lunch? Run down and get him. He has to see this.”

She was back in three minutes with Danny, who still clutched his napkin in his hand as she pointed toward the man who held the red and blue book. Danny came up at his back, then said, “Excuse me. Sorry. Kind of a tight fit,” and walked around him. When he turned to look the man full in the face, his eyes opened wide. He blinked once, twice, and stared at the image of the Brewers’ star.

“Holy shit,” he breathed as he approached Fran and Wynn. “I didn’t believe you. And this just happened?” They nodded. “Holy shit,” he said again. “What do we do?”

“What if you told him you were a scout for the majors,” Wynn said quietly. “We could find out what he’s doing. Or why. Something, anyway.”

“Sure. Good idea.” Danny turned to walk away and shook his head. “I can’t just go up and say that.”

“No, you —” Wynn stopped. “I’ll pretend I’m calling someone to tell him you’re here and who you are.”

He pressed a few buttons on the phone and walked over to see the man who was now Robin Yount. “No, no kidding. Franny’s stepson is a scout for the majors and he’s here right now. Team? Hang on a minute. Which team, Danny? Or teams?”

“Chicago, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cleveland,” Danny called over, a calendar in his hand. “I’m checking out a kid from Appleton tomorrow.”

The eighteen-year-old with the mop of hair under his cap lifted his head slowly, and his hands dropped. He stared at Danny and then he grinned. The sharp teeth were a little more pointed than Robin’s, but it was his smile, and Wynn felt the shiver run all the way along his spine.

“Hey,” the man said. “That’s you? The scout?”

“That’s right,” Danny said and came out with his hand out. “Danny Cooper.”

“You know who I am?” the man said in a voice that sounded oddly old and cracked, a strange voice for an eighteen-year-old kid.

“No. Should I?” Danny smiled and came a little closer. “You look like some one I knew once. A long time ago.”

“What was his name?” the man asked in that cracked voice that didn’t fit.

"Shortstop, kid right out of high school. Played for — oh, hell, who was it —"

“Milwaukee. The Brewers,” the man whispered. “Robin Yount.”

Danny stopped smiling and the calendar fell to the floor. “Right. I remember. But that was twenty-five years ago. You weren’t even born.”

The sharp teeth flashed in the smile that lit up the man’s face. “I’m eighteen. And a hell of a shortstop.”

“Sure, but you’re not him. Don’t tell me you’re Robin Yount because that’s not possible. Sorry.” Danny shook his head and took a step back.

“Sign me up. You know who I am. We’ll go over to County Stadium, watch me play ball. You’ll know. Everybody will know.” And he grinned again.

Danny Cooper shook his head, opened his mouth to say something, and stepped back. “I don’t — it’s Miller Park now.” Wynn could tell he hadn’t meant to say that.

“Used to be County Stadium,” the man who was Robin Yount said. “Maybe they’ll change it back when we get there.”

“There are more?” Wynn said.

“Of us? Sure. Everybody. Molitor, Fingers, Vukovich. Everybody. And we ain’t begging to be signed up, neither. We’re just gonna show up. All of us.”

No one said a word and the kid with the old voice hitched up his pants with his forearms and pulled down the bill of his cap. “You turn on your set when the season starts. We’ll be there.”

He touched his cap, pivoted on the balls of his feet, and bowed as if thanking the crowd who, with a great roar, had risen to their feet under the lights on a warm summer night. Before he could leave, Wynn darted to the door and the bell jangled as he ran out. The owner of the café next door had his hands on his signboard with the luncheon specials.

“Sorry,” Wynn said and picked up the board. “Jesus, this is heavy.”

“Gotta be. Can’t be blowing over when a breeze comes up. Where you going with it?”

“Not far.” Wynn hauled it over and set it at his feet, a foot from the front door. As Rockin’ Robin walked out, incredibly young and trim and more like a professional baseball player than anyone Wynn had ever seen, he pushed the sign as hard as he could against the kid’s legs.

“Holy Christ!” the café owner yelled. “Watch it! You coulda hit him.”

Wynn picked up the board and put it back on the sidewalk. “I did,” he said and watched the kid saunter down the street and swing an invisible bat as he rounded the corner and disappeared. “I absolutely hit him.” He wondered what to do now, but he knew no one would ever believe him no matter what he did.

In a little bookstore in Sheboygan, the man who was becoming Paul Molitor closed the book with the blue and red cover and slid it into the space on the shelf, humming to himself. He tipped his cap to the clerk, who was too young to remember him, but the older man who passed him in the doorway stared as his green cap faded, changed color and deepened into a vibrant blue with the M and B forming a mitt that held a baseball. The white ball gleamed like a star in the center. He broke into a run as he left, an easy lope around the bases, a salute for another home run.

The man with white hair stared after him. Guy was the spitting image of Paul Molitor. He closed his eyes and slipped into a warm, wonderful night at County Stadium to watch his team play like champions, the crowd on its feet and everyone your friend. They cheered like it would never stop, but of course it did. Hell, never another team like that, nobody like Rockin' Robin or Molitor. Never again. Even if one did came along, he'd be too old to care. What the hell, it was only a game. He opened a book and gazed at it for a long minute before he realized it was upside down.

Fifty-five miles away, the man who'd become Robin Yount would celebrate his eighteenth birthday that weekend.

©2003 by Carol Papenhausen

Carol Papenhausen is a Chicago native, and graduated Northwestern University. She is the author of two dozen-plus stories and poems in literary journals (Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Literary Review), and has had two stories cited in Best American Short Stories. This will be her fourth story online. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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