With baseball very popular in the early 1900s, the editors of the Improvement Era joined many other publications in the U.S. and published stories about baseball. Often these stories were, like so many other stories in religious magazines, didactic in nature — seeking to make a point about moral choices. And while in the long run these stories could have easily turned off kids as much as taught them morality, they were, nevertheless, part of what readers of Church magazines experienced and read.
The following story is one of many published in the Improvement Era that featured baseball as an element of the story. I plan to periodically republish here some of those stories.
The author of this story, Glen Perrins (1902-1988), was an editor and photographer for the Ogden Standard Examiner and was the author of many short stories published in the Era and in venues for western literature like Ranch Romances, Frontier Times, and True West.
Once Too Often
By Glen Perrins
“Well, I fooled them that time,” said Jimmy as he caught hold of a hand extended down to him and climbed over the top of the high grandstand without glancing at the angry gate keeper below.
“That’s what I call ‘sneaking in’ royally,” remarked the owner of the helping hand. “Mingle with the crowd now, and he’ll never find you.”
“Thanks for the cooperation, pardner,” laconically answered Jimmy, and he scrambled in between two “cash” customers on the other side of the stand and prepared to watch the game.
Jimmy liked baseball—it was his favorite sport. He believed in paying to see the game—sometimes. He was a bit too old, he thought, to be “sneaking in,” yet whenever he didn’t have the money, he saw the game anyway. It was his idea to get in, either by hook or crook. However, Jimmy was soon to be cured of “sneaking in.”
He enjoyed the baseball game that day, of course. He always did. In fact this one was especially interesting, the home team winning with a close score of three to four. And Jimmy got away without the gate keeper seeing him, too. He slept that night, odd’y enough, with a clear conscience. He didn’t have to pay. He was too slick for ’em.
Well, the next week Jimmy decided to see the baseball game again, and this time he would ask his young lady friend, Mary, to go with him. He had a dollar thirty-five, just enough, he thought. It was one of his first “dates” and he was rather timid.
“I’d love to go, Jimmy,” Mary answered in reply to his phone call. “You know all about the game and you can explain it to me. Will you?”
“Sure, I’ll explain it,” said Jimmy—little dreaming to whom he would explain the next day. Had he known at that time he would have cancelled his appointment at once.
That evening and the next day passed quickly, and soon Jimmy with Mary hanging on his arm, was on his way to the baseball game. He felt rather odd, taking Mary, and felt that everyone was looking at them.
“Two,” he said to the gate keeper, handing him a dollar without looking up.
“Don’t you mean, three?” answered the gate keeper, smiling broadly down at Jimmy.
“Three! why-er-er, what do you mean?”
“You should know what I mean, young man,” replied the gate keeper firmly—”Wouldn’t you like to pay for last week’s ticket now? You’re the fellow I chased over the grandstand—Thought I’d recognize you if I saw you again—Been watching for you—”
The truth dawned on Jimmy. He looked at Mary. She was coloring. The crowd was watching.
“Hurry, Jimmy,” she said. “Let’s go in.”
By this time the color was mounting to Jimmy’s cheeks—And to add to his embarrassment he only had 35c besides the dollar—not enough for the three fifty-cent tickets.
He felt for some extra change. The crowd was pushing up around him and Mary, and some one shouted, “Move on.”
Jimmy would have “moved on” gladly, had he been able to.
“Cough up, sonny,” shouted the gate keeper, “or out you go.”
“Well, Jimmy,” said Mary, sensing the situation, “pay for yourself twice—I’ll get my own ticket.”
Jimmy did. It was the only thing he could do. The crowd giggled and the gate keeper laughed uproariously.
“That ought to cure you of ‘sneaking in,’ sonny,” cried the gate keeper.
Shall we add here that emphatically, it did? Jimmy was cured, permanently of “sneaking in.”
Improvement Era v28 n10,
Baseball is, of course, just part of the setting for this story—it could have just as easily been another sport or for-pay event and not changed the story much. So, the choice of baseball says more about the audience, the author and their motivations than the story itself. I assume that Perrins simply chose the sport that would attract the most attention from his audience.
Perhaps most interesting is the topics for discussion that can be found in the story. Yes, Jimmy had to pay for his previous error, but we might also ask what other reactions might he have had. I suspect many people today would deny the error, or get angry with the gate keeper, or both. In a way, I don’t think the story rings true any more because I think most of those likely to sneak in to a game would get angry, and refuse to accept the gate keeper’s requirement.
In a sense the gate keeper’s way of handling the situation is also interesting. Is he purposefully shaming Jimmy? Should he have called the police instead? Is he too harsh or too lenient?
And what about Mary? How should she handle the situation? Is she right to pay for her own ticket and get Jimmy out of a jam of his own making? Should she have left?
While the story is not great literature by any definition, the situation it describes is certainly not unknown to all of us in other forms.