The Slavic League

For as long as young Villem could remember, hunkeys had occupied the lowest rung in Punxsutawney’s social pecking order.  The Italians had their various business enterprises; the Irish had their legions of bishops, monsignors, and priests; and the Slavs were miners known by the pejorative hunkey.  Vil’s father, Juraj Oddany, dug coal, as did two older brothers who quit school after the eighth grade to help feed the family’s 14 mouths.  It was a hard life—physically demanding, yet a far cry from the old country’s coercive Magyarization.  Life in America was full of simple pleasures—like the Slovak Club on Number Five Hill, with its fine wood bar and shuffleboard in the basement; groundhog hunts; and baseball.

The story of how Vil came to play for the townie team, the Punxy Electrics, is brief.  He and his friends spent their summers playing pickup games in a grassy lot on Five, calling themselves the Aggies.  It was tradition in the small mining towns of Western Pennsylvania for the mine super to offer a job to a family if a son was skilled at baseball.  Vil was just another “dumb hunkey” to the townies.  But he was a good ballplayer, and that was good enough for the Electrics, a team with its own legacy to defend.  In the mid-1930’s, the Electrics defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, a major-league team whose roster featured Paul...

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