Outside the Foul Lines - Book III

by Rick Beck

Chapter 1

Captain John

Editor: Gardner Rust

© OLYMPIA50 2008 all rights reserved

For David

Junior Season

Andy spent two weeks at my house the summer between my sophomore and junior years. He seemed totally comfortable and we settled in there almost as easily as we did at school. My parents had never crowded me as long as I didn't require attention by acting like a fool.

By the time I was in high school I knew how to keep my space free of parents. I took care of my chores, worked hard, and spent a respectable amount of time in activities my parents enjoyed with me. Once I was on the baseball team they, and especially my father, were delighted I was part of a team. As I grew older they were even less likely to pry or ask questions they knew they didn't want answered.

Andy invited me to his house, with much prodding from me, before we reported for summer practice at State. The thing that still sticks out in my mind was the back screen door, the one with no screen in it. With it being summer, the backdoor stayed open. Each time we went in or out it banged.

There were three other kids, close copies of Andy, long, lanky and light haired. His mother was well rounded and the skin under the back of her upper arms flapped while she dished food out of the pots on her stove. Andy's father was tall and thin and was mostly gone, although he was there for Sunday dinner before I left, but he disappeared soon after and I didn't see him again. Andy told me he sold used cars and business was bad so he worked all day every day.

There was a big change in Andy, when we were at his house. We did find private time, which was important because I was always stiff around Andy. I think his smell excited me and there was no doubt looking at him did. We had to wait until late, but he thought that would be best, and except for once in the woods behind his house, this was how we satisfied ourselves.

Andy was more talkative on his own turf. There was always a tension in him at school. If he wasn't worried about his grades, his performance, or our teammates, he was worried about his mental health and each ache or pain he thought he felt. At home his brothers and sister seemed happy to have him around and he was always adjusting this, fixing that, or showing his brothers how to reach the next level in the latest video game.

It was while at his house that Andy told me of his dream to make it to the Bigs and buy his parents a new house. He knew his brothers and sister would probably be gone by then but at least he could take care of his parents. I'd never taken baseball that seriously and there was never any thought of buying my parents a house. We had a great house in a good neighborhood and my parents were happy together.

Trying to give them things never entered my mind. They'd seen their duty as raising me the best way possible. I felt they had done a fine job. There weren't great volumes of cash for each of the latest gadgets that came down the pike, but the house was paid for and so was the car by my junior year at State.

I'd managed to keep them from borrowing money on the house to send me to school and I put my mother's appliances in good working order each time I was home. I'm not sure what they'd say if I came home with the idea of buying them a 'better' house or anything else, but we had screens in our screen doors and glass replaced the screens when the cold weather came.

It took three days for Andy and me to get around to talking baseball. It was then that Andy realized he was a senior and this would be his final season at State. It wasn't that he'd never thought about it before but it was here and after this season his life was going to change. He worried he'd lose his hitting ability and he wondered if he could go back to being a lousy fielder, even though he knew we'd solved that problem.

It wasn't something I'd given a lot of time to either. I was going to be a junior. I had plenty of time left, except the time I had left with Andy suddenly seemed short. That meant looking at my junior year as a turning point. Even when Andy proposed he'd flunk out on purpose so he could stay with me, it was poorly thought out.

We didn't want to face the fact we were going to be separated at season's end. Andy was going to have offers from minor league clubs and perhaps an incentive from the major leagues. He'd come out high in the college draft and would have a team before graduation.

Even if there was a way for us to stay together, it would cost him dearly. There were too many ball players to waste much time waiting for one to respond to an offer. Andy was good but he wasn't the kind of player you built your team around. He was a nice power hitting addition to any lineup but you could say the same for a couple of dozen other guys who'd be graduating at the same time Andy did.

He'd been looked at during his junior season but didn't file a declaration of intent to make him available in the draft. After a certain point in the season the scouts and recruiters moved on to watch someone who was declaring for the draft. They'd be keeping an eye on Andy all season.

It was hot by the time we got to State. The practice uniform was shorts and T-shirts. We spent much of our time near the water fountain and drinking energy drinks. The infield was a dustbowl from too little rain and the grass was more brown than green. The first weeks were mostly spent indoors, exercising to readjust our bodies to the conditioning Coach Bell insisted we achieve.

The past season was frequently a topic of conversation, even when we all agreed what was past was past. Having built a full head of steam by the end of the season, we were everyone's favorite to make it to the NCAA championships. Our sudden demise left us unfulfilled as a team. I was aware of Coach Bell's disappointment, but he wasn't given to discussing previous seasons, once we were engaged in this one.

Coach Briscoe didn't seem to hold my lapse from the previous season against me. As we scrimmaged, I found myself hopelessly taking control of the infield, even before I was told to do so. Old habits were difficult to break. The other players accepted it as routinely as I did.

Chance would have been the only one who had the right to challenge my authority, but he didn't. Chance was playing a larger game our junior season. If he batted as well as he had his sophomore season, he'd be almost certain to be taken in the baseball draft if he signed a letter of intent to come out early.

His goals were to hit over .350 and go error free for the season. While the error free ambition was impossible, he'd likely hit between .350 and .400 if he stayed healthy. Having me as the shortstop assured him there would be no surprises thrown his way. We knew each other's every move and we worked together smoothly.

By the time classes started we were back to meeting three days a week for exercise and this allowed us the time to regain the weight the summer heat melted away. Coach Bell's team meetings were routine. He advised us that graduating seniors only cost us at two starting positions and two starting pitchers. The team was almost all juniors with the exception of Andy and a few sophomores, including Al Kane.

The assumption was that Andy should be one of the two captains, which suited me fine. When Chance put my name into the mix, I felt awkward. When Coach Bell stood directly behind me during the show of hands, my election was secured. Wertz was also elected. Because of the high number of juniors on the team, we ruled. Andy was disappointed and this created tension with us living in the same room and with me tutoring him.

The larger issue didn't make it any easier. Andy was our cleanup hitter but angry and disappointment about his team's rejection. I tried to explain that the numbers were against him. Saying I didn't want to be captain would have only made matters worse, but in some strange way I did want the post. Coach Bell's endorsement excited me. I didn't like that it upset Andy, but I couldn't find a way to reason with him.

We were a few weeks from the start of the regular season and all was not well in paradise. I kept a low profile but I found myself in a position of needing to talk up the team each day. Wertz spent a lot of time nodding when I spoke. The idea that we were going to pick up where we left off the year before was popular, but we'd lost pitching strength and relievers. We were easily out-batting the competition and this made up for our pitching shortcomings.

Coach Bell was as taciturn as ever. He seemed to be deep in thought most of the time. His shouts of encouragement still came at the appropriate times but when he scolded us for dogging it, his past intensity was missing. I waited for him to call me aside for a fatherly talk about how he wanted me to captain his team, but we were ready for the regular season and Coach Briscoe was the one most often offering opinions on who needed what in the way of work.

For some reason Jim Bale was tagged to pitch our first regular season game. He was agonizing to watch. Each time you thought he had to be ready to pitch this time, he stepped back, dug, paced, rubbed up the ball, stared into space, and only then did the batter get a pitch. Perhaps he thought he'd catch them off guard or after they had gone to sleep.

In the first game I hit two singles, walked once, and scored two runs. We won 6-0 and Bale one-hit the Bolton Indians. He also gave up four walks and hit a batter with a pitch. The game was so long I'd been starved by the fifth inning and I'd lost my appetite by the time the game was over. It had been a coolish afternoon with brilliant sunlight and at least we weren't roasting or freezing while he toiled on the mound.

Andy went hitless. He repeated this feat in each of the first four games. He'd been walked any number of times but his tailspin had infected his play. I wasn't certain he wasn't sabotaging himself consciously or subconsciously. Coach Briscoe benched Andy in the fifth game, putting Al Kane in the cleanup spot.

I bristled, even with Kane in right field. I didn't like him. Putting him in to substitute for our biggest power hitter was an insult. When I expressed myself, Coach Briscoe suggested I might keep my mouth shut if I didn't want to ride the bench. Coach Bell said nothing and that was the first clue that Coach Briscoe was now the coach.

The night after our fifth win in a row, and with Jim Bale slated to pitch our next game, I decided to give Andy a piece of my mind.

"When do you plan to get with the program?" I asked.

"What program? I'm passing," he answered without answering the question.

"Why? It makes no difference if you throw your career away. When I met you, you were all baseball and now you've got your head up your ass."

"Look, Do, you don't know everything. I'll be fine."

"With Kane batting in your place? He's hitting .400. He can't carry your jock."

"Leave me alone. I'll be fine."

"The scouts are going to start looking for prospects. You aren't going to appear all that impressive sitting on the bench."

"Oh, shut up," he objected, standing up and starting out the door.

"Andy, you need to get busy," I said, following as he walked down the hall.

"What's a matter, your daddy going to spank you," Al Kane said sarcastically as he happened upon the scene.

It was only one punch but Kane went down hard. Two other guys in the hall applauded the knockdown. Andy stood over him with his fists clenched.

"Get up," Andy ordered, and Kane squirted away from him, realizing this wasn't the time to poke his adversary.

"All right," Chance said. "I've been wanting to hit that sucker forever."

Andy walked away. Wertz stood at his door shaking his head after the fisticuffs were done. We knew it would be a topic of conversation that would definitely get back to the coaches. Kane wasn't one to let loose of something that he could use for his advantage.

Andy came in long after I was in bed and he climbed up into his own bunk for the first time that school year. I don't think he'd ever put sheets on under the blanket that was always nicely made up, since its only action was storage of books or jackets. I didn't let him know I'd lain awake until he returned to our room.

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