Outside the Foul Lines - Book III

by Rick Beck

Chapter 4

Final Bell

Someone was talking to me but his voice seemed so far away I couldn't understand the words. There were more people and more faces but I couldn'ttell who was who. I felt like a television must feel once it loses the signal. I knew I was picking something up but it was blurred and the picture kept rolling up and down and from side to side.

I didn't know where I was and I didn't know where they were. There were too many of them and I wasn't too clear on what was going on. I should have been going to first base. I did know that much, but this had become a strange game.

That's the way it seemed for a while. There were more faces, different faces, and then I was in a cool dark room, where I began connecting all the pieces. It was like waking up from a bad dream and not knowing what was real and what was part of the dream. I was pretty sure this fog had something to do with the baseball I was unable to escape at home plate.

Man, it felt more like the pitcher had hit me with the bat. I winced when I remembered the sound the ball made before checking to see if all my body parts worked. They all moved accordingly. Except for my headache, there was nothing unusual but a sliver of light that forced me to squint once I became aware of it. When I turned my head, I saw Coach Bell with two fat fingers holding a single slat in the window blinds open so he could gaze outside.

"It hurts my eyes," I said.

"Ah, had enough sleep?" he asked. "I had them bring you in here to get you out of the traffic."

"Jesus, my head hurts," I revealed, rubbing my temples. "Did we win?"

"John, you just got beaned with a pitch. Don't you want to know about that?" Coach Bell quizzed.

"Yeah. Sure. Did we win?"

"Yeah, 5-0. They never got their bats going. They finally pulled that damn pitcher and we scored three in the sixth."

"Good," I said satisfied. "Where were you," I objected, realizing I'd spent the game checking the bench to see if he'd finally shown up. "Coach Briscoe doesn't inspire us the way you can. When we check the bench we want you to be there."

"That's why I'm here. I wanted to talk to you before I left, John. How do you feel?"

"I've got a headache. What did he hit me with, a brick?"

Coach Bell reached for something on my bed stand. He handed me my batting helmet. Just in front of where my ear would have been was a neat baseball sized splintered indentation.

"Will they make me pay for a new one?" I asked, tracing the indentation with my finger.

"Very funny, John. You must feel okay?"

"I have a killer headache. How long have I been here?"

"An hour. I had them give you a room so you weren't in all that confusion downstairs. I wanted to talk to you in private."

"College Hospital?" I asked. "What about?"

"Yeah, you may have a concussion but the x-rays didn't show anything. They'll give you more tests to be sure, but they said they didn't see anything. You got your bell rung."

"So, when can I get out of here?" I asked.

"They'll probably want to do the tests tonight if they can. If you feel like going back to the dorm after that it should be okay. You've got Andy, Chance, and Wertz downstairs waiting to find out how you are. They're still in their uniforms. They came right from the game. I told them to go get a shower but you kids are all hardheaded as hell. I guess they'll be there to escort you back to the dorm."

"My parents?" I asked. "Do they know?"

"No, I'll call them if you want me to. It might get to the news. It'll be a big story in the school paper, after they did that spread on 'Dooley to Chance' last week. It'll be a follow up they can't resist, but it has a happy ending."

"Let me call them. That way they'll know I'm okay. Can I get up?"

"Let me check, John," Coach Bell said, going out into the hall.

"Turn on the light," I said as he came back in the room.

"Yeah, there's nothing to keep you in bed."

"Ah, Mr. Dooley," a nurse said as she came in the room. "We can do the MRI right away and have you out of here in no time at all. How do you feel?"

"I have a headache. I feel like I've been hit in the head," I explained to her as she looked at me curiously.

"Oh, of course, I'll have a prescription to help the pain once they've cleared you to go home. I'll send someone up with a chair to get you to where you need to be. I'll tell your friends you'll be along shortly. Are all your players this cute, Coach Bell? I might become a baseball fan if they are."

"I'm afraid all I look at is how they play baseball. You'll need to draw those conclusions yourself, Maryanne."

"So, where were you?" I asked, realizing the only shoes I had were my cleats.

"It's why I'm here, John. I'm not in any official capacity with State, but I was hoping to find a way to talk to you. As far as anyone else is concerned, I'm here out of concern for one of my players."

"You're still my coach. What's with the subterfuge?"

"No, I'm not, John. I'm leaving State. You'll read about it in tomorrow's school paper. Look right beside the story about you being knocked out of today's game. I made an agreement so the school isn't forced to forfeit any post-season opportunities you boys earn or scholarships and I agreed to slip away quietly."

"I just got hit in the head, Coach. You've got to go a little slower. What are we talking about?"

"They've been looking at my association with the team that signed Monty so he got the rehab he needed last season. We talked about it being a bit over the line because I called people on a minor league team on Monty's behalf. I went to school with their General Manager. It has the look of impropriety. We all knew Monty was leaving after last season one way or another. I merely sped up the process but what I did broke the rules. No harm, no foul if I walk away without comment."

"Coach, we're winners because of you," I argued. "Coach Briscoe doesn't have any appreciation for who we are beyond the baseball field. He can't handle us the way you do."

"No, John, you're wrong. You're winners because of you, and Chance and Andy. I don't do anything. I apply motivation when it's needed, but you boys are as good a team as I've ever coached. I never got to a championship with you, but you men were as close to champions last season as I can ever hope to be.

"What happened to end it was beyond anyone's imagination. If we'd had a few games to adjust to Monty's leaving, we may have been able to recover and make it into the NCAA Championships. It wasn't meant to be. There was no time to regroup and that's so much history.

"That wasn't me. That was all you men. You put your heads down and pushed yourselves to the limit. I stood back amazed at how you performed under pressure. You played each game to the best of your ability. You were champions to me. You showed them how it was done. It's how champions play. It's how I expect you to play the rest of the season."

" "I never felt any different, Coach. I play it one game at a time because it's how I see it. You let us have the room to do that. You didn't put pressure on us or ask for anything we weren't ready to give you."

"You and Chance are two of the finest infielders I've ever coached. Watching you grow has been a pleasure for me. That's why I've spent so much time keeping you in the game, John. You both need more seasoning, experience under pressure, but you've got everything you need.

"Your bat presents a challenge, but you're improving. With how the game is played today, a team might want you for your glove work. I'm just sorry I've got to leave before the job is done.

"It's not easy leaving State, but things are the way they are. Life is what it is. I knew the rules and I got caught doing something for one of my players that broke one. I did it for all the right reasons, but opposing coaches don't care about good intention. Monty needed to be in a first-class facility to make sure his arm healed properly. I couldn't standby hoping he'd get it right on his own. I knew the General Manager. I called to ask him to offer Monty a contract. I knew better and I'm not sorry. It was the right thing to do, but like you must follow the rules, I'm even more responsible for setting an example."

"Didn't you tell the school that?" I asked, concerned for him and our team.

"No, John, that isn't the issue. The issue was I did what I was accused of doing. That's what I told them I did. It's best I take the hit rather than have my team take it. I didn't ask you what I should do. What kind of coach would I be if I put myself ahead of my team? I was allowed to secure certain concessions for my agreement to leave quietly. It is the main reason we needed to talk.

"I've signed your letters and it guarantees your scholarship and room and board through your senior year. It's a little early but I wanted to do it to bind the school no matter what happens. Coach Briscoe is not your biggest fan, John. He's going to make it hard on you. You know why. He holds a grudge and he thinks I've been protecting you. Keep your head down and don't let him get under your skin."

"That's what makes you a good coach. You don't hold grudges or base your decisions on your personal feelings. You're about what's best for the team and Coach Briscoe isn't. You can't convince me he doesn't have a hand in this somewhere?"

"As far as I'm concerned, he can't afford to take you out of the infield. Chance and you are a well oiled machine. You're too important to the team and he knows that. Whether or not he is behind how I was asked to leave, we'll just say it doesn't matter now. I can't do anything about him. He's the boss but he can't undo your scholarship if you keep your grades up and show up to play every day and every practice. "He can't take your spot away, but I want you to give him your best. And remember, I'll be keeping my eye on all of you, even though I'm not going to be with you. I still have connections to the program, even if I'm not here with you. Don't let me catch you boys dogging it or you'll hear from me."

"Where will you go?" I asked.

"I'm not without offers. Last season didn't hurt me at all. I'll land on my feet and you'll hear about me one day. I'm really not able to tell you any more than that. I'm not even supposed to be talking to you now. My official duties have been terminated. I was watching the game. As captain I was looking for an opportunity to talk to you. This wasn't what I had in mind but it will do. They don't want me talking to the team so you can pass the word. You don't need to tell them how you feel about the change. You're still in a battle in our league."

"You mean Briscoe doesn't want you talking to us?"

"Coach Briscoe! Don't go making it hard on yourself, John. It's his team now."

"I don't want to play for another Coach," I complained.

"You're a baseball player, John. You don't get to pick the coach. Just do what you do and don't worry about who sits in the coaches seat. You've got nothing to worry about. Coach Briscoe knows you're the shortstop. You might miss a couple of games with a headache, but who is going to replace you?"

There was a handshake as the chair came in the door to take me for an MRI. Coach Bell smiled at me as I looked back over my shoulder while the nurse talked to him. I felt like a child who was seeing a friend for the final time. Everything was happening too fast for me to process it all. I still wasn't feeling any too hot from my introduction to the beanball. Coach Bell's visit had certainly gotten my mind off my headache. I didn't like it. I didn't like Briscoe. I didn't like how it made me feel. Baseball is relatively predictable. You may never know who will win or lose when you take the field, but the pitcher would pitch, the hitter would try to hit him, and the fielders were there if he did.

This news had changed everything I knew and trusted about the game. It's predictableaspects had been turned upside down. With a handful of games left in our season it was like we were starting over. It was like spring practice was just around the corner. The unknown was far greater than the known.

I did want my final year at State and Coach Bell made sure it was going to happen. I'd bite my tongue and keep my mouth shut. We'd be well into the second semester next season before Coach Briscoe would become a serious issue. I'd do what Coach Bell suggested for the remainder of this season. It wasn't going to be easy.

It took another hour for me to be poked and prodded and have my brain examined. I felt like shit and what was on my mind made me uncomfortable, but I was ready to get out of there by the time they wheeled me toward the door.

My three teammates were waiting for me as I came into view. They all stood at the same time, looking a little like road kill. I couldn't help but wonder how I looked.

"Can you walk?" Andy wanted to know, as he held out my tennis shoes from my locker.

"Don't be silly," Chance answered. "They wouldn't be releasing him to us if there was anything wrong with him. Besides, he got hit in the head. Nothing to worry about there."

"Thanks, Chance. I love you too. I have a fond attachment to my head."

"Hey, Do, can you play the next game?" Wertz asked, getting right down to his main concern.

"I've got a headache and I'm hungry. They're trying to starve me in this place," I complained as I pushed myself out of the chair, once I tied my Shoes. I handed over my cleats for Andy to take.

We headed for the door.

They told me who else had been there.

I reminded them I was hungry and immediately got a pain in my gut.

Coach Bell was gone.

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