At 6:30 nearly every morning, Alfred Pendleton drives from his home in Oxnard to the local coffee shop four miles away where he and six or seven cronies chug java and chat sports.
Armed with the day's newspapers and the previous night's sports news, the men in the cafe confer over the rise of the Dodgers, the repeat of the Lakers and the state of the Angels. Occasionally, they slip into the past. For instance, Pendleton, whose summer league Dallas team played the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs in 1938, once faced the legendary Satchel Paige. Paige, Pendleton said, struck him out. Pendleton was only 15 years old.
"I didn't know what happened," Pendleton said. "The dude was swift. He had a side-arm that looked like it was coming from third base. I closed my eyes, I think. I did manage to get a foul. Then I said to myself, I'm not getting that close again."
He likes that story.
Almost always, however, the conversation turns to the St. Louis Cardinals, their box score and their young third baseman. Pendleton's son, Terry, is a big leaguer, and that does not go unnoticed.
"One or two of them give me a bad time if Terry has a bad night," Pendleton said. "They say, 'What's wrong with that boy? He can't hit the ball. What's he hitting? .286? He should be hitting .316.'
"Look here, boy, this is how to do it."
Pendleton, 64, laughed hard.
Several days earlier, Terry Pendleton was giving an interview in the visitor's dugout at Dodger Stadium, when a stray baseball scooted down the dugout steps and just under his outstretched left hand. Dodger Coach Joe Amalfitano stared in mock disbelief.
"That never happens when you're standing over there ," Amalfitano shouted while pointing to third base, Pendleton's Gold Glove domain. "What's going on?"
The players in the dugout roared with laughter and Pendleton doubled over. "Easy, Joey, easy," he responded. Amalfitano, however, would not let it die.
"Didya see that?" he asked Pendleton's teammates. "One just got by Pendleton. Didya see it? I can't believe it."
"Easy, Joe. Oh, man."
Pendleton, 27, laughed hard.
Pendleton, it would seem, would have little to chuckle about this season. After last year, when he batted .286, drove in 96 runs, hit 12 home runs and displaced Mike Schmidt as the National League's Gold Glove third baseman, Pendleton went into this year's spring training with a sore arm. He was reduced to a designated-hitter role through most of the spring, then pulled his hamstring early in the regular season. After two weeks of rest, Pendleton came back and tore the hamstring.
He has missed 44 of the Cardinals' 86 games. St. Louis is 14 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Mets in the NL East. Pendleton is batting .266 with 3 home runs and 22 RBIs.
"That's really hurt our ballclub as much as anything," Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog said. "We've needed every bat in the lineup we could get and especially couldn't afford to lose his."
The Cardinals also miss Pendleton's defense. His range and athleticism complement that of shortstop Ozzie Smith, the man against whom shortstops are judged. Smith said Pendleton's absence has added to the Cardinals' woes and detracted from his own comfort. Utility player Jose Oquendo has been filling in at third base.
"Anytime you have the same person working with you, it changes things because you learn each other's range," Smith said. "It's just not the same. You have the continuity and then it's gone. And that's not to say Jose didn't do a super job. He did, but it's not like having your regular people in there every day."
Pendleton came off the disabled list June 24 but has not fully recovered. His hamstrings are still tender and the fear is still there.
"It's a situation where I just don't know," he said. "I feel great now, but up here I'm just not at the point where I'm going to hit the ball and bust out of the box and try to go for two. I just don't feel that good. The last time I ended up blowing it out.
"It's been that type of year."
Times like these are known by the Pendleton family, which has lived in Oxnard since 1969, as "temporary setbacks." And, with Terry, they started early when as a 9-year-old he had his first try at organized baseball. He went hitless for that first season.
"I was the worst," Pendleton said. "I was the kid playing right field for two innings. That was me."
Pendleton was unaware at the time, but it would be his first of many temporary setbacks in baseball. He handled it as most 9-year-olds would.
"He would come home crying. Oh, would he cry," Ella, his mother, said. "And there was nothing you could do about it, just let him cry it out."
Pendleton spent the winter bouncing a baseball off brick walls and talking anyone he could into throwing the ball so he could hit it. The following season, Pendleton was the all-star shortstop. It was that easy. Temporary setbacks, it seemed, don't stand much of a chance around Pendleton.