Outside the Foul Lines - Book III

by Rick Beck

Chapter 2

Clean Up

With me up and ready to hit my first class, Andy climbed out of bed and threw his arms around me and planted a big fat sloppy kiss on me. I was ready to forego the class and drag him into my bed, but I really needed to stay focused on keeping my grade point average as high as possible.

"I love you, Do. I don't know if I can live without you."

"Andy, there's no other way. I've got another year of school. You've got your family and your dreams to think about and you can't give that up because we love each other. We'll work it out but you've got to get yourself into the game or all your dreams are going to disappear. Then, for the rest of our lives you're going to blame me for making you leave baseball. I'm not letting that happen. For one year we'll be a part. I'll visit you during the summer and after the season we'll be able to see each other. Before the end of your first full season we'll be back together."

"I would never blame you if I can't make it. I don't want to leave you."

"You'll make it, Andy. The scouts are creaming their jeans over your bat and it hasn't even shown up this season. You've got to show them what you got."

"What if you go to another team?" Andy thought. "What do we do then? We'll be away from each other even longer."

"I'm not going anywhere. Yeah, I'm hitting a little better this season but I'm never going to get any attention with you, Chance, and Wertz around. The scouts can smell the talent on our squad. They're in the stands every game now. They ain't looking at a skinny shortstop batting barely .250."

"You've seen them? The scouts? They're watching me?"

"Coach Bell knows all of them. He points them out in the stands and calls them by their first names. He knows what each is looking for and you are at the top of their wish list."

"You're just saying that to make me feel better."

"I'm saying it to make you feel better and because it's true. You'll go in the first or second round. Coach Bell says you're a sure thing and I wouldn't bet against him. You've got that long easy swing that generates so much power. Coach Bell says they can't get enough of a sweet swing like yours."

"Don't leave. Let's do something. I don't want you to go," he said soulfully, pulling me back toward the bed.

"You don't know how tempting that offer is, my love, but I've got to keep my head in my studies. We've got all night tonight and neither of us have an early class tomorrow morning. We can stay in bed together."

"I don't want you to leave. I don't want to leave you."

"I don't want you to blow the best chance you're going to get. You need to put your head down and go for it, Andy. You'll be in the Bigs in a couple of seasons and you won't even remember any of this. You'll leave your mark on the game, but not if you let things you have no control over get in your way. I love you and I won't let you fuck this up."

"You really think I'll make it to the Majors?"


"What about us, Do?"

"I'll finish school, get my degree, and I can work somewhere close enough to you that we'll be able to be together as much as possible. It'll be hard during the season but the off-season gives us plenty of time together. For now you need to put baseball first."

"How am I going to live without you? You've been there to back me up since your freshman season. Aren't you going to miss me?"

"Every minute, but then I'm going to finish what I'm doing, Andy. I can't stop living because you're playing ball somewhere I'm not. We'll figure out how to get back together but it's time for you to show them what you've got. We'll fit the rest of our lives in around your career."

"I know you're right. I've just never loved anyone this much before."

He kissed me again like we were separating tomorrow. I was late for class but it was worth it. I'd finally put it all together at a time when I had his full attention. I didn't like it either. It hurt to say the words out loud, but it made sense and I had to help Andy to see what he needed to do.

Getting him back into the lineup so he could shine wouldn't be easy now that he'd gotten into it with Kane. Andy was the least likely person to get violent, but Kane was the kind of guy that could bring the worst out in anyone. Chance hated him and Wertz was just as vocal as Chance about the arrogant Kane.

To show how much I knew about baseball and the coaching of same. Andy was back in the lineup for the next game. No one ever asked me what went on between them in the dorm that led to Kane being decked but they'd asked someone and Kane was tagged with the loss. He sat solemnly at the end of the bench with no one sitting near him. The guy did have a way with people.

I guess Coach Bell knew better than to ask Andy's roommate about what happened but whoever told the story cleared Andy of any guilt. With Andy being as mild mannered as he was, it wasn't hard to believe that Kane asked for what he got.

Everyone liked Andy and someone must have told Coach Bell that Kane got what he was asking for. Kane was about as popular as a snake when we all needed to be playing together. If there were suspicions about my relationship with Andy, no one said anything to me. This renewed my belief in my team.

Jim Bale was taking his third start the game Andy took charge in his cleanup hitting role. Bale was 2-0 and had pitched a one hitter and a three hitter. At the time we were the only undefeated team in our division, although Bradfury and Greenwood had only lost once. While we didn't have nearly the depth as the year before, especially in pitching, we were still a force to be reckoned with and we were all ready to play when the next game rolled around.

Bale struck out the side in the first inning in only fifteen minutes. By the time I came to bat I was yawning. They couldn't hit the guy but he put me to sleep. I walked on five pitches. Pierce, a solid first baseman, hit a lazy fly to short centerfield for an easy out. Chance bunted me to second and nearly beat it out for a hit. With two outs Andy came to the plate.

I watched his practice swings and I knew he was back on his game. To prove it he parked the first pitch over our centerfield fence. I knew by his swing, he'd caught all of the ball. His first hit of the year was a keeper. The team greeted him with great enthusiasm, after I greeted him first. Andy was no longer out of sorts. He smiled widely and his team gave him high fives once he got back to the bench. He looked like a conquering hero.

I singled my second time at bat, Chance singled me to third, and Andy hit his second home run of the season and the game. He hit a solo homer in the fifth and Bale pitched his third complete game with a two hitter that took just short of three hours and twenty minutes. We did do a lot of hand shaking and back patting, so the long game wasn't all his doing.

Coach Briscoe came down the third base line to greet Andy after his third homer of the game. Kane continued his isolation at the end of the bench, ignoring him. Coach Bell stood up and patted Andy's back as he passed to take his place on the bench. Coach Bell kept standing uncharacteristic for him, applauding Andy's powerful bat. He'd later point out two mid-western scouts who were there to look at Andy. It was good to see him back in form.

We were on a roll with six straight wins and leading our league. Without last years pitching we were going to get beat but being undefeated elevated all of us as Andy's bat came to life.

At the end of the game there were some pictures and a reporter cornered Andy to ask him about his hitting. Andy posed with his bat as the photographer took pictures. The scouts stood off to one side listening. I'd recognized one as a scout Coach Bell pointed out to me the year before. He seemed to hang on each of Andy's words. They nodded at Coach Bell as he headed for his office. We seemed to be destined, but I wasn't sure for what.

"You hit seventeen homers last season, Andy, do you think you'll match that output this year?"

"Sure," Andy said with an 'ah shucks' innocence in what he saw as fact.

"You haven't been hitting. What do you attribute that to?" the reporter asked, as I stood behind the backstop trying to hear.

"I had some personal issues to deal with. It's all behind me now. I'll be okay. I want my senior year to be memorable."

Yes, he did. Andy was back and it gave the entire team a lift. He was our most important hitter and with us winning at home and on the road, we were being watched by the better teams we'd need to beat to make it to the NCAA Championships. The team was high spirited and confident and we were having fun.

Jim Bale wiped his runny nose, stared out through his thick lenses, and didn't have much to say about three straight shutouts. He dug at the dirt with his toe as the reporter tried to pry answers out of him about his sudden success. I watched the scouts squeezing closer to take in each of his word.

The one thing scouts salivated over more than a power hitter was a good pitching prospect baffling batters. Pitchers were allowed to be eccentric and Bale's antics on the mound were dismissed as part of his style, according to the article in the paper. They made Bale sound like an offbeat trophy found in the wild. We all passed around the article until the paper wore out.

Bale was an unlikely hero but he was our hero and we'd begun to gather around him to offer our praise. He didn't know what to make of becoming the center of attention on the days he pitched, but he smiled and took it in stride.

We won two more games in a row before being beaten for the first time by the cellar dwellers. Andy still homered and he hit the ball well every time he came to the plate, bringing his batting average back to respectability. This added confidence and he seemed to settle into the season without the worry that had stopped him in his tracks the first few games.

All of our starters were doing better than expected and the relief pitchers hadn't been tested because of it. Then, after going 8-0, we lost our second in a row. Bishop State was a pushover who beat us 3-1 and Bridgefield College beat us 9-4. The only bright spot being Andy's predictable home runs.

The opposition walked him when they could, but often there were two or three of us on base when Andy came to bat. With Wertz and Kane coming to bat after Andy, walking him wasn't smart most of the time. Before long Andy led the team in homers, runs batted in, and runs scored.

By mid-season we'd gone to 10-4 and I was batting .262 after fourteen games. I'd never been more confident. Andy wasn't the only one having a good season. He had hit ten homers in the nine games since he'd hit his first homer. The amount of attention he got increased with each game.

There were two homers in game fifteen, Andy walked twice, and batted in five runs. Both Andy and Jim Bale appeared on the front page of the school paper yet again. Bale was the winningest pitcher in the league and Andy had leaped into the home run and runs batted in lead, but as good as they were, Bale and Andy weren't going to be the biggest baseball story my junior season at State.

As good as we were doing, we were in a tie with Greenwood for the division lead and Bradbury was close behind. Only one of us would make it to the NCAA tournament, but as closely as the school watched to see if we'd finally make it, that wasn't to be the biggest story that ended up captivating the school for the final part of the school year.

I hadn't seen it coming even though Coach Bell had given me a heads up on the possibility of trouble. Having complete faith in Coach Bell, it never occurred to me that he could be mistaken on something he did. He was well prepared, rarely changed his mind about a player or a game plan, but no one is infallible.

Going into the final quarter of the season, we were still in a dogfight and all our minds were on doing the best job possible on the field. With both Greenwood and Bradbury in the middle of the league championship battle we couldn't afford to become distracted. At 18-6 we'd be untouchable most seasons but with 8 games left we couldn't shake our competition.

It was Steve Phillips on the mound for game twenty-five. He was pitching in his first start as we went up against Bradbury, who had a shot at taking us out of the competition each time we played. We were on the stretch run and every loss made the road ahead that much more difficult. We'd led the league all season, but we'd failed to seal the deal.

Our pitching staff was thin to begin with and sore arms and tired pitchers had given their all in every game, keeping us in the lead, but the inevitable need to rest them had us pitching pitchers who weren't starters. We had to go with what we had and Steve was our long relief pitcher who hadn't lost a lead so far, but he'd never started a game before. He was good for three or four innings if needed, but we'd need that and more to keep Bradbury's bats at bay. Like the starting rotation, our relief pitching was limited and we couldn't afford to use them all up and get caught flatfooted in the next game.

Coach Bell wasn't in the habit of getting caught flatfooted. He was always in control and never showed surprise, unless it was good surprise, and then a big smile would cover his face as he let you know you'd done okay, but mostly he stayed out of our way, letting us play our game, making moves only when necessary. He had a total grasp on who each of his players were and what he could expect from them.

Heaven help you if you let him or the team down.

As I recall, I was in a good spot. We weren't in any trouble as of yet and my game was as good as it had ever been. My friendships and interactions with my team were solid, except for Kane, but he was just a guy who sat on our bench and took the field with us. Mostly I ignored him.

Andy and I had found the proper passion for baseball and each other. Everything seemed to be going in our favor and no one suspected the change.

The breaks in our routine came all at once. Phillips was taking his first start, but the fact Coach Briscoe was sitting in Coach Bell's chair at game time wasn't good. Coach Briscoe didn't have much to say to me since I'd walked out on his practice session the day after Money broke his arm. I didn't need to communicate with him, because I communicated with Coach Bell.

Coach Briscoe was someone I listened to and dismissed as a cranky want-a-be that was jealous of Coach Bell's relationship with his team and the ease with which he did his job.

As we came back to the bench to let Bradbury warm up before the game, seeing Coach Briscoe still sitting in the Coach Bell's chair was wrong.

"Where's Coach Bell?" I asked, hesitating as I took my seat too close to where Coach Briscoe sat.

"Don't worry about it," he growled, dismissive of the inquiry as he watched the field.

I checked my gear, put my shin guards and batting helmet in their proper place so I could grab them as quick as we came off the field, once we got Bradbury out in the first inning. I liked having everything in place because I batted first and it took me a minute to get geared up. The umps didn't like you to take too long getting out to the plate. You were expected to be ready by the time the pitcher finished his warm up throws.

Before long it was game time. There was no Coach Bell.

Phillips walked the first batter and he seemed uneasy, as he rubbed up the ball between pitches. When the second batter hit a grounder to my left, I was all over it, flipping it to Chance, who finished the easy double-play with a perfect throw to Pierce at first. We got out of the inning on a strikeout and Coach Briscoe was still sitting in Coach Bell's place when I got back to the bench. I didn't like it. Coach Bell had said nothing about being late. He should have been there.

I wasn't sure what to make of it but as I put on my plastic shin protectors before batting, I was aware of it and how it unsettled me. Coach Bell addressed us as the head coach but he was often absent at practice. Even when he was there he seemed absent at times. He'd always been in his chair for games. He was always there when we needed him. Where was he?

I didn't like it because Coach Bell was already so laid back it was almost like he wasn't there, unless we screwed up. If you did something stupid or made a bonehead play, he was all over you. He took it behind closed doors and refused to embarrass you in front of your teammates, but he let you have it.

I'd noticed the Bradbury pitcher was new to me. Maybe they were resting some of their starters as well? I figured this guy was probably a sophomore and maybe a relief pitcher I'd never faced. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the baseball hitting the chain link in the backstop. I watched as I tightened my shin guards. Another ball sailed over the catcher's glove as he leaped to stop it, but it jangled the chain link a few feet behind the umpire and just above his head.

The umpire glared out at the mound after picking up the ball. He checked it for flaws before throwing a perfect strike at the pitcher. The ump had a pretty good fastball.

The catcher stood to give his pitcher a bigger target to aim at as he continued to warm up. The umpire spoke to the catcher. I selected a bat from the bat rack, concerned about the activities at the plate. Another pitch hit the backstop jangling more than the chain link as I moved toward the plate.

Where'd they pick this guy up, the parking lot?

The next ball bounced in front of the plate and rattled back around the wooden bottom of the backstop.

The umpire picked up the ball and threw another strike back to the pitcher, showing him how it was done.

This guy wasn't going to last long, I thought, swinging the bat to stay warm, waiting for him to take all the warm up pitches he needed.

I was in no hurry.

But Before chapter 3 begins, I want to mention:

Ten years ago today, on October 6, 1998, THE WORLD watched and waited for news about a gay college student fighting for his life in Wyoming. Ten years ago this week Matthew Sheppard died, breaking the hearts of gay men everywhere. Rest in peace, Matthew, we will not forget.

As I prepare Outside the Foul Lines for another release on new and exciting websites, it's been over twenty years now, since Matthew left us. He hasn't been forgotten, and the national awareness of his murder helped people to see Matthew, and LGBTQ people, as human.

There was a lot of death necessary before LGBTQ people were seen as regular people. These are the people I write about. They go to college, play ball, and love each other, like everyone else.

Never forget the price that had to be payed to get to where we are. We had to fight, and some of us died for the LGBTQ cause. Any gains we've made, gay marriage, will need to be fought for, because the people who hate us, the people who wish we'd all die, haven't gone anywhere.



Thanks to Cole Parker for adding depth to the concept in this chapter.

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