One Pack. No Turning Back.
Number of miles driven today: 371
Total miles driven on road trip: 3,401
Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Starbucks.
Number of days on trip won by Starbucks: 15 out of 15
Cheapest gas I saw today: $2.32
Number of states visited overall: 6
Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 4 (Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas)
Number of blue states visited overall: 2 (California, New Mexico)
Population of Camargo, OK: 178
Population of Camargo, OK that know Don Carman: 178
Number of years that Bob Ward, Carman's baseball coach, served as mayor of Camargo: 37
Number of people that voted for Bob Ward during those 37 years: 0
I thought I grew up in a small town. Then I visited Camargo, OK.
Waking up this morning in my sticky Econo Lodge in Elk City, I called my primary contact in Camargo, Bob Ward, who coached the seventh player in the wax pack, Don Carman, during his teenage years playing American Legion ball. Carman, who I will see at his home in Naples, FL next week, had given me Ward's info and said he was someone I needed to talk to. "He was a father figure to me," Carman wrote. Like Randy Ready, Carman's dad had passed away from a heart attack when he was a kid.
I called the number Carman had given me, and Ward answered, speaking in a deliberate but strong voice with a potent Southern drawl. We made plans to meet, and I asked him for his address, priming the Maps app on my smartphone to provide the route.
He laughed a hearty laugh,a spontaneous, genuinely tickled laugh. What was so funny?
"We-el," he began, his drawl adding syllables, "you don't need no address. Just drive straight to the north edge of town and my house will be the last one on the right. It's the only house with the garage down below. There are three cars in the driveway, two of them are white. You can't miss it."
As smart as our phones are, I don't think typing "lower-level garage last home on right three cars two white Camargo OK" would do much good. I'd have to go old school here.
Ward's directions were spot-on. Driving up the 34 North, I saw the "Camargo" sign designating the town, blinked, and found myself right in front of the Ward homestead. There was the lower-level garage. And the three cars.
Ward and his wife Sharrie welcomed me into their home with the kind of hospitality that still persists in small-town America. I sat with Bob in the living room, opposite a fireplace mantle with framed portraits of all their grandkids. A candle sat burning on a coffee table along with a cross, a bible, and an oversize book called "Between the Testaments" open to today's reading.
After taking me through Carman's development and ascent to pro ball ("he'd just blow your shorts off, boy"), Ward took me out to his den, overflowing with puzzles (Sharrie's passion) and yellowed baseball photos. In a stack of old photo albums with masking tape labels, Ward found one marked 1978 and showed me clippings from Carman's best year.
He then led me out to his car for a driving tour of Camargo. Averaging 5 mph, this tour took all of 6 minutes.
Climbing into the front seat, Ward cleared several towels and papers for me, including a pouch of tobacco.
"You can't be a good baseball man if you don't have some chew," he said. I reached for my seatbelt and noticed the walls and inside of the door completely splattered with old tobacco juice.
Ward's driving tour was mostly a tour of the past--here's where the Carmans house used to be (now a vacant lot overgrown with weeds), here's where he went to school (long shuttered), here's where the movie theater was, and the train depot, and the restaurant...
I longed to see the old Camargo, the one that had enough activity to sustain a hotel and some commerce. But now, the main attraction is a grain elevator, the only commerce a Blackhawk Quik Stop, named for the defunct school's mascot.
After Ward and I parted ways, I spent some time poking around town, taking pictures, writing notes, and undoubtedly arousing suspicion. You don't come into Camargo with California plates and a fancy camera and not get noticed. I felt watched the whole time I was there.
But standing on the mound of ruin that was once the Carman homestead, I could understand the setting in which Carman willed himself to become the man that made the Major Leagues. Everyone I spoke to said it was Carman's work ethic and attitude that got him there. In a town free of distraction, carved into the Great Plains, and with little material wealth, Carman could focus entirely on his singular goal: playing professional baseball.
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Day 15: Elk City, OK to Lowell, AR, 7.3.15