Summers can often be unbearable in Weir, Miss. The humidity begins to suffocate not long after the sun rises. In that weather, the loggers waken at 5:30 a.m. and head to work. It is an often unpleasant job, hard work for sure, with little rest and no glamour. Each day these loggers strap on their heavy boots, pack their lunches and grab their chain saws to perform tasks that have been done in Mississippi for almost 100 years. They cut trees that will be used for lumber or furniture. It is a way of life. For many it is the only way of living.
At age 15, Weir's own Roy Oswalt joined these men during one of those unbearable summers. His father, Billy Joe, had been a logger almost all his life and it was natural that young Roy would follow. Roy was a terrific athlete and his work with the chain saw was impressive, but it took a toll, and often he fell exhausted into bed when he arrived home. On the weekends, when Oswalt's friends wanted to spend time doing things teenagers do, Roy almost always declined the invitations.
"I was so tired I had to stay home," he said.
Oswalt continued working as a logger for two summers, and though it was not enjoyable, it taught him that hard work is necessary to survive. There is no shame in hard work. His father had raised a family while doing it and the entire small town had preached about it.
"Growing up and seeing him work all day long, it meant a lot to see the effort he put forth for his family," Roy said of his father.
That was true of most families in Weir. So this is who Oswalt is: the son of a logger and the pride of Weir, a town of about 500 people that has no McDonald's, which perhaps says more about the town than anything else.
"I think where you're from is a large part of someone's makeup," Houston third baseman Morgan Ensberg said. "It gives you an idea of something about the person."
Oswalt takes the mound for the Houston Astros on Tuesday in what perhaps is the most important game of the season. His Astros trail the Chicago White Sox, two games to none, in the World Series. Oswalt has become their last hope, really, and perhaps that is a good thing. There may be no better pitcher in the postseason. But more importantly, Oswalt has something going for him that no other pitcher in the majors has: not a stellar fastball or a looping curveball -- though he has those, too -- but Weir.
"I grew up in a small town where you know everyone," Oswalt said. "I've been told all my life that I come from too small a town to compete with some of the guys that competed in a higher level growing up. And that kind of drove me through college and drove me in the minor leagues, because I got to face all those big 5-A [school district] guys in the minors."
Teammates laugh at how much Oswalt talks about Weir. Oswalt said he has no choice.
"They all want to hear about it," Oswalt said. "Their day of hanging out was going to the mall. Mine was going hunting and fishing."
Ensberg recalled how one time Oswalt talked about fishing with dynamite. According to Ensberg, and it since has become part of clubhouse lore, Oswalt said he and a friend would throw a stick of dynamite in a pond, and the explosion would zap the fish and make them easy to catch.
"The guy fishes with dynamite," Ensberg said. "That should encapsulate the guy."
Oswalt simply smiles and disputes the story.
"You're really not supposed to do that," he said.
Instead, Oswalt said he simply used the dynamite, which he acquired legally from the friend, to blow up a beaver dam that had prevented fish from coming into his pond. That is Weir.
"It's a place where no one really cares what you do," Oswalt said. "You can be a ballplayer. We have a lot of guys that just have regular jobs. Everyone is treated the same, that's the reason I like going home. I can go to a Weir football game and everyone comes up and speaks to me just because they haven't seen me in awhile. They don't come up and speak to me because I was on TV the night before. That's why I like going home."
On days when the temperature gets to about 100 degrees in Houston, Oswalt often thinks of Weir, of those logging summers when the humidity made it almost difficult to breathe. Oswalt carried a chain saw in that heat and nothing could seem more difficult than that. It was brutal, Oswalt remembers. Not even a start in perhaps the most important game of his career will make him change his mind about that.