Outside the Foul Lines - Book II

by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

Better Ball

My coaching stint with Kane and the freshman infield lasted three days before Coach Bell sent word I should report to the varsity field three days before our first game. He asked me what I thought of Kane and I told him. He didn't seem surprised that I didn't regard him as shortstop material. The subject of his hitting didn't enter our conversation. He thanked me for my service and I went back to my infield to get ready for our first game.

When the regular season started, I was ready with an excitement that I could hardly contain. We'd gotten the opposition out in a one-two-three inning. I placed my glove on my spot on the bench, going to the bat rack, I selected a bat. Andy stopped me, pushing the bat back into the rack. He reached to the other side of the rack where the best hitters kept their wood, so some bozo didn't grab it and end up breaking it for them.

Once he retrieved his bat, he handed it to me and smiled before sitting back down on the bench. I watched him until he sat down and nodded for me to go ahead. I got a feeling from his bat that I never got out of the ones I picked. I thought about breaking it and decided that wasn't going to happen. I looked back at Andy again and turned to head for the plate.

Passing Coach Bell on my way to take my swings, he had some advice for me.

"Good eye out there, John. Make that pitcher work."

I smiled and nodded, which is what I usually did when Coach Bell said something that required no resply. I took my practice swing off to the left of the plate.

Standing in the batters box with the bat at my side, I set my feet and moved some dirt around under them. I gazed out to the mound, took two practices swings, and I was ready.

The pitcher glared past me, shaking off whatever the catcher signaled and as I waited for the first pitch of my season, he took a full wind up and let go of a ball that broke over the outside of the plate. My bat came off my shoulder in a smooth easy swing. The sound it made on the ball told me it would get out of the infield. I was on my way to first. My entire team stood, looking toward the outfield. By the time I crossed first base the crowd roared its approval. Rounding first base and heading for second the outfielder was standing with his back to the infield looking out beyond the left field fence.

It was not only my first homerun of the season. It was my first homerun ever. My heart's pounding and the energy in my body seemed to burst out through my legs. Rounding third base and heading for home, I wanted to keep circling the bases. Andy was waiting for me at the plate, Chance and Wertz were waiting behind him and they escorted me back to the bench. It was the first time anyone celebrated my batting.

"You been holding out on me, Dooley?" Coach Bell asked with a serious tone in his voice.

"No, sir," I said in all seriousness.

Players came to where I sat and slapped my hand. The season had started.

We led 1-0.

Brooks grounded to second for an out. Chance hit the ball between first and second for a single. Monty hit a double with Chance stopping at third base. Andy hit the second pitch for a homerun. We led 4-0 after the first inning. Coach Bell never got up or said more than a couple of words to communicate his approval. We were literally off and running into my sophomore season.

I came up in the third after our pitcher struck out on three pitches without taking the bat off his shoulder. I walked on four pitches and took a smaller lead, knowing the pitcher was keeping a closer eye on me. Brooks hit a fly into short right field. Chance squirted another single over second base and I dashed for third, sliding in safe but the centerfielder didn't make a throw to third. Monty was hit by the second pitch and the other team's coach was up and ready to change pitchers, signaling for a left hander as he strolled slowly to the mound.

We had bases loaded, two out, and Andy was coming to the plate. Bringing in a relief pitcher would mean he was cold and sometimes it took a few pitches for them to find the plate and get into a rhythm. I was vigilant at third but the third base coach didn't want me straying very far down the third base line; getting picked off for the third out with bases loaded would be seen as a bonehead move.

The relief pitcher took a few throws to the catcher and the umpire called, "Play ball."

The pitcher didn't wind up and he delivered fast balls with little time wasted between pitches. Andy took practice swings between pitches but the first two balls were outside and low. On the third pitch the pitcher found the plate, getting it right over the center, allowing Andy to reach the ball. His swing was a thing of beauty. He rocked back on his heels while the bat was finishing the roundhouse swing.

I knew when the ball leaped off his bat it was a homerun. This was how you played baseball. Chance and I waited for Andy and escorted him back to the bench. Coach Bell was standing to shake each of our hands. His mostly stern focused expression that indicated he was seeing beyond most things going on around him eased in the moment. He clapped his hands before sitting back in his corner chair.

We won 9-1.

I must admit the celebration was larger than winning a single game. We'd not had a good season the year before and this was nice. We had performed like the well oiled machine. All the elements were in place on that first day. It remained to be seen if we could pull it off on a continuing basis, but even if we couldn't, we could dream of a dream season.

The locker room was filled with screams and shouts and even some spontaneous dancing, or at least that's what I think it was. The guys were all excited and there was back slapping and well wishes all the way around, except for Monty, who showered and left before I got my cleats off.

Coach Bell made no appearance once we left the field; he let us have our moment in the sun. It wasn't like we had a lot to celebrate the season before. We won games the year before but we were never winners or winning. There is an attitude that comes with being a winner, and we'd never had it. As high as we were over winning the first game, we knew a season one game did not make. We wanted to laugh and feel good about ourselves for as long as we could. We were young and winning was something we wanted to celebrate.

We won our second game 5-2.

Monty and Andy hit back to back homers in the fourth. I'd gotten on earlier in the inning on a walk. I singled in our half of the sixth and Chance hit a double. I scored. Monty hit a double and Chance scored. After two games I was batting an astounding .500. I'd scored four runs and knocked in one run.

The exuberance continued as we accepted our jack rabbit start as a sign that we weren't the losers from the year before.

The next three games were away. We won 3-2, 6-0, and lost our first game in a pitching duel 2-1.

You can't win them all in baseball. There are too many games and too many factors that will from time to time break against you. That was Coach Bell's message to us the first time he spoke to us after a game that season. He was relaxed and unemotional after the loss. We had four wins and one loss to show for our season.

I was flying high and so was Andy. We had more difficulty buckling down when it came to studying. Hitting the books wasn't nearly as much fun as winning baseball games. Even attending class made me restless and my attention span was zilch. Baseball was on my mind 24/7. Times were good and life at school couldn't have been any better.

The excitement that came with the new baseball season didn't diminish my relationship with Andy. It was about the only thing as exciting as our games. Once we'd done what studying we'd plan to do, invited Chance and Wertz out of our room, and closed and locked the door, Andy and I ended up in one another's arms. This was a comfort I looked forward to every night.

It often started near the door and we'd be out of our clothes by the time we reached my bed. I liked it when I sat on the side of my mattress and he stood in front of me, leaning his arms on his bunk as he watched me give him head. Andy was particularly susceptible to my oral examinations of his fast swelling prick. He moaned and groaned and moved one hand down to feel my face. I'd devoured as much cock as I could. He couldn't use both hands because he'd fall down if he moved the arm that was holding him up in front of me.

With a precipitous bend in his knees I knew it was time to get off the throbbing part of his anatomy or risk cutting short the first part of the evening frivolities.

I'd stand up and we'd kiss and make out until we were both at a fever pitch. I'd end up on my stomach under him as he let me have it from behind. Andy was a homerun hitter in this activity as well. He took his time, changed speeds, even pulling out to lie quiet across my back if he came too close too soon.

He advertised it when he reached the point of no return. With grunts and groans the pending eruptions grew near. He held his arms out straight, keeping his cock engaged but picking up speed as he watched the entry and withdrawal that came with each thrust. The snorts meant he was pumping out the heavy duty cream he produced from such a union. He'd continue holding himself up after completing the mission.

After regaining some self-control, he'd collapse across my back easing his cock free of me. The first time he asked me to do the same thing to him, I was surprised. Andy had started off wanting to get off as often as I'd take him there. I suspected a reluctance to give himself up to the lust I brought out in him, but slowly he'd advanced and wanted to give as good as he got.

The first time I broke through that tight velvet ring, he groaned from the shock of my entry. I hesitated, fearing I'd hurt my love, but in a moment or two I was the one humping away and he was as excited by this as by anything else we did. He pushed back hard and wanted more, harder, faster. Andy was discovering how to let himself go. All the limitations and doubts he had seemed to fade away as our exploration of one another knew no bounds. These were intense times filled with emotions and wonderful feelings.

Then there was after the loving when we held each other. We were fast and furious in our love making, during the holding and kissing that came afterwards, once we were drained of our lust. It became a gentle tender affair. All we needed was found in one another's arms. While I probably was getting less sleep than I'd ever had, I slept better than I'd ever slept before. My world came into perfectly harmony.

Andy was doing better in his classes. He was hitting a ton and Coach Bell moved him into the cleanup spot in the lineup and Monty was moved to bat fifth. You couldn't read Monty no matter what happened. There was no reaction but I was certain he didn't like it. When Chance and Wertz came into our room to celebrate the promotion, Monty walked past the door, scowling in on us.

I'd been friends with Chance and Wertz from my freshman year. Their excitement over Andy's elevation was about their being my friend and accepting Andy as part of our club since he was my roommate. It wasn't meant to insult Monty, but I wasn't sure he didn't take it that way. The cleanup hitting spot went to the best slugger and Andy was outslugging Monty by more than a little the first five games.

If you looked at the game objectively it was the move most coaches would make, wanting to take advantage of a hot hitter, batting him at a time most likely to have men on base. Coach Bell also had a lot invested in Andy and Monty was the new kid on the block. He'd started out in the cleanup spot, because that's where Coach Bell believed he belonged. After the first few games Coach Bell wanted to reward Andy for doing a fine job. Coach Bell was about playing good ball and he only did what he thought would end up improving his team. While he was making moves that got my approval, he was the coach and I'd approve of almost anything he did. He knew a lot more than I did.

Once again I decided not to sweat the little stuff. The team was mostly a team and any time you put a couple of dozen guys together in a team activity, you'll have some disagreement about how things should be done. I had too much to do to worry about what Coach Bell thought was best and this change certainly made Andy happy, although I didn't like Monty's reaction.

I tutored Monty twice a week for two hours at a time. Andy usually left the room before Monty came. If there was rancor between the two of them I didn't see it. Neither of them ran the team so feeling angry toward one another was silly. Monty continued to just get by and it's all anyone cared about. No one asked me what I was doing or how I was helping him with his studies. While Andy and I studied together every night, I felt funny about continuing to be paid for something I'd gladly do for free. Once again I didn't question the powers that be and was grateful to be putting money in the bank.

We won games six, seven, and eight without breaking a sweat. We sat on top of our league two games ahead of last years champion who we'd beaten 4-2. We were clicking on all cylinders.

Andy continued hitting over .500 and the opposing pitchers weren't likely to walk him, because odds were Chance would be on base twice a game, me once, and with Monty batting right after Andy, a pitcher wasn't going to walk Andy to pitch to a man who was hitting nearly as well as Andy. Putting men on base was never a great idea but doing it in front of a good hitter was folly.

While Monty may not have liked his demotion in the lineup, it didn't change the way he played the game. He was good and he gave it his all. He never said a cross word to me and except for occasional nods, even when I tutored him he rarely had much to say. It simply wasn't something I gave much thought.

Coach Bell continued to say little, preferring to keep an eye on all aspects of his team and let us do our talking with our bats and the pitching that had suddenly come into its own. We were getting good performances from all our pitchers in most games. Most of them were seniors but there were several promising juniors who would be back the following year.

I felt like the infield was finally set once Morgan came up to play first for good. The rotation of players in my infield stopped and the lineup was set. I'm sure the first base position, the only one in the infield that had been left in doubt, worried Coach Bell as well. Morgan was young and a little wild, but he was steady on most plays. I understood how he felt, being a freshman, and I encouraged him as much as possible.

I expected Kane to be the first freshman to come up because of his bat, but we were hitting better than anyone expected, so leaving Kane to figure out what to do with his glove for another few weeks wasn't going to hurt our momentum. Knowing Coach Bell had some idea about him playing shortstop had me happy about him staying with the freshman team.

I wondered if this is what Coach Bell was working toward the year before when he called me up from the freshman team. The season was more than half over and State wasn't going anywhere, barely playing five hundred ball, when I joined the varsity.

He wanted Andy to be a better fielder. He wanted me to gain experience at shortstop. He knew Chance and Wertz would be ready this season. He went out to picked up another heavy hitter from a two-year school. These were all long term moves meant to elevate his team out of the mediocrity we were in the previous season.

Each of these moves might be seen as accidental coincidences, but if you put it all together Coach Bell was building himself a team position by position. He was a year ahead of where his team was and his plans seemed to be paying off.

We lost the ninth game of the season 5-1 and our bats went cold. Their pitcher one hit us, adding insult to injury. The hit was a Monty Kristoff home run. I walked once and that was the extent of our offence. I wondered if we were done winning. We had lost to a fifth place team in our league. They had one good pitcher who had won two of the three games they'd won. Unfortunately one of the wins was our second loss. We were still on top of the league by two games.

I walked the next game my first at bat. The pitcher was wild or I'd have been able to tag him for a hit. Brooks did and we had runners on first and third. Chance cleared the bases with a double. Andy struck out but Monty hit another homer and we were off and running again, winning the game going away.

I was still batting over .300 and the team was 8-2; we led our league by two games. Coach Bell made no changes and he asked for no more than what we were giving him. On the bus ride back from our second loss he'd said, "We'll get 'em next time,"

And we did 7-0 the following week. We avenged a loss we should never have taken and we did it in front of a large home crowd.

The excitement for me had increased. We were having the season of a lifetime and I wanted to enjoy each and every minute. I had two more years when I'd be able to play ball and I wanted to make the most of both of them. Andy only had one more year of college ball and he wanted to make the most of it, but he was going to go on to the minor leagues. Most of us knew Andy, Monty, and Chance were all premier players and could keep playing long after they put college behind them.

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