Ding Schoenecker was the manager for the Wobegon Whippets, a perennial cellar-dweller in the New Soo Baseball League of Minnesota, a bunch of stumblers famous for choking in clutch situations. Dean had a big belly, was a regular at the Sidetrack Tap Bar, and smiled a yellowish tobacco stained smile.
"A bunch of drunks with sawdust for brains. That's what we got here frankly. Not to gild a silk purse or anything." says Ding.
A shambling galoot with a hound-dog face and slope shoulders took the mound and started grooming it with the toe of his shoe, smoothing out little imperfections, kicking bits of stone onto the grass. where they wouldn't throw off his rhythm. "Ernie's gonna be 47 years old in September," Ding said. "Why a man that age would want to keep pitching, I couldn't honestly tell you. Some people crave punishment, I guess."
He lit a cigarette. Uncle Sugar leaned back to avoid a cloud of smoke drifting by. "Guess he must love the pastime," said Sugar.
"Has nothing to do with baseball," muttered Ding. "Has to do with the pastime of meeting young women under favorable circumstances. Ernie'd like to get himself a girlfriend. Don't ask me why. He's had two wives, one Polish, one German, you'd think that'd satisfy anybody's curiousity. But hope dies hard. So he wants to get on the mound, show how limber and hardy he is, and hope to get lucky..."
Ernie kept grooming the mound, raking it with his foot, filling in hollows, as if the slightest irregularity would undermine him... Meanwhile, the batter, Boots Merkel, did similar preparation of the dirt around home plate.
"Boots is Fred Merkel's brother. I went to school with Fred," said Uncle Sugar.
"He got the nickname 'Boots" from a little idiosyncrasy of his. He'd sometimes field a ground ball using his foot."
I could see the saliva turning in Ernie's mouth as he got set to throw. He bent to tie a shoelace. he juggled the resin bag, then turned his back to the plate and parked a large gob of spit on the ball. It was a mouthful. It glittered like the Hope diamond. "Don't bean him with it, he might drown!" yelled somebody. Ernie turned and threw the pitch with hardly a windup, and the spray flew up as the ball came fluttering in letter-high and Boots swung and missed by a mile and the ball slapped in Milkman's mitt like a wet towel on a bathroom floor. There was great merriment in the on-deck circle. "By God, the old man's still got the touch!" "Lucky for us he doesn't have a cold...that phlegm ball of his can turn you inside out."
**Garrison Keillor from "Lake Wobegon Summer 1956"