Outside the Foul Lines - Book III

by Rick Beck

Chapter 5

One Big Headache

Baseball wasn't in my blood. It was part of my game plan in becoming educated. With Andy and Chance, and even Wertz, baseball was in their blood. It was who they were not just what they did, but I couldn't tell them my feelings, because what I did impacted each game and had an influence on how they were seen. Becoming champions required an entire team effort. You couldn't be a champion without all the pieces playing together on that level. I was sure I gave each game all I had and it didn't need to be in my blood the way it was in theirs.

Championships might be won with consistent play throughout the season but they were lost in an instant. A bad throw, a muffed grounder, a poor pitching performance in a key game and a championship skips just beyond your grasp. Woe it be to the player who costs his team a championship, but every year someone does.

I didn't see Coach Bell's departure in baseball terms. He'd done something I don't think coaches do all that often. He took me, a player, into his confidence. He spoke to me man to man, not coach to player.

Oh, he did speak to me as coach to player, but when he did, it wasn't the kind of attention I wanted. Coach Bell could separate Do the ballplayer from John the person. Sitting in his office long after practice or a game wrapped up, he spoke to me of a larger picture, even reflecting on my future.

It wasn't the way I saw most coaches treating their players. It now became unclear why he confided in me and not Chance or some other more complete ballplayer. Coach Bell was an instinctive coach and I'd probably never know what motivated him to tell me about the inner workings of the process of coaching.

In this way I saw my loss as greater. Coach Bell brought me along from the earliest days of my baseball career at State as of I belonged there, when I wasn't sure I did. He'd treated me like someone special, when I didn't feel special or even think I'd get much beyond the role as a mop up shortstop who came in to protect leads in the later innings of big games.

Coach Bell changed who I was as a person as well as altering my life as a player. I saw baseball in far broader terms than before. I no longer viewed my hitting first when thinking about my role. It had always been the first thing on my mind before. I wasn't a good hitter. I still wasn't a good hitter, but I was a smart one.

I carried a pride I didn't have before. I felt important to the team. My role as leader and hard worker was bolstered by my mention in the school paper. There was something nice about the words Captain John Dooley. Then, there were articles about Dooley to Chance, State's 'golden infield combination.'

It had all happened without much notice for me. I was too busy playing to notice my progress. There was too much to do to worry about where I was at any given time. It wasn't until Coach Bell was gone that I found myself concerned about my future in baseball as well as my scholastic future.

There wasn't any drama in Coach Bell's coaching style. What he did took place within the confines of the baseball diamond, but his actions resulted in an extended appreciation for the game, at least in my case. He was a focused man of few words. It was easy to forget he was coaching if all went well. Everything had gone very well over the last two seasons. His pride in us was obvious. Our loyalty to him was automatic.

Coach Bell stopped to speak to the guys that came to the hospital after I was hit by the pitch. Coach Briscoe had called them together after the win and told them Coach Bell had resigned. He offered no details and didn't state the obvious. He was coach now and he didn't feel it was necessary to explain anything to his players.

As we went to eat they told me what Coach Bell had said. I didn't add anything to the conversation. Hearing Coach Briscoe had taken charge left me without hope it was all a dream, or nightmare, induced by being beaned.

We got burgers and fries and I carried half of mine back to the room. My stomach said I was hungry but my headache told me my stomach didn't want all that grease and fat in it. I wasn't all that certain it was merely the headache putting a crimp in my appetite.

I would reveal some of the details Coach Bell gave me over time, but only when it seemed appropriate. Coach Bell hadn't told me to straighten it out with the team and I took it to mean the things he told me were for my consumption to be used only as I deemed appropriate. I didn't want to dwell on it with his departure being so new.

I did want my final year at State and Coach Bell made sure I'd get it. 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.

For the remainder of this season I'd do what Coach Bell suggested and not make any waves. It was another piece of information I wouldn't share with my teammates. I was happy to have the guarantee of a senior season but not so much I wished to brag about it. That would be something I never told any of my teammates.

I felt like shit once we were back in the privacy of our room. I had more on my mind than was comfortable. The headache stayed constant. I was not to sleep soundly and the medication to help with the pain went to Andy with the instructions that I couldn't have any until the following day and then only as instructed. There was no point in arguing with Andy about it. He took such instructions seriously and not even I could persuade him that the instructions didn't apply.

As soon as we got inside the dorm room door, he threw a lip lock on me like there was no tomorrow, which revealed there were certain advantages to getting hit in the head. I may not need those pain killers after all.

It was passionate and reassuring, since Andy wasn't always amorous. That's not to say sex wasn't centermost on his mind much of the time. Once he let me know how glad he was to get me back in relatively good shape, he backed off, explaining I wasn't supposed to get too excited or go to sleep.

"That's one way to keep me awake," I assured him. "I'm not supposed to sleep soundly. That doesn't mean I can't sleep."

What was typically an invitation to at least a half hour of passion ended abruptly.

"Was it something I said," I said.

"You didn't say anything," Andy responded.

"No, it's difficult to talk with your tongue in my throat. That's not to say I didn't like it there."

"That's not funny," Andy rejoined unsympathetically.

"What's not funny is your going over there to sit. Your tongue isn't that long," I said.

"Do, I've got my orders. We've got all day tomorrow and all tomorrow night to make out. You need to rest."

"No, we don't. I have classes all day tomorrow."

"See, it's always about classes and you've got to study. You just want to aggravate me because we can't do it."

"No, I'm trying to get you to bring your tongue and your other most exciting body parts over here."

"You have to rest and not get all worked up."

"No one said anything to me about not making love to you. Who were you talking to?"

There was a knock on the door and Andy stood to rearrange himself in his pants, sitting down as I got up to open the door.

"How you feeling, Do?" Chance asked, looking around at me standing behind the half-open door.

"Oh fine, I guess. You haven't asked me that for… maybe five minutes."

"When Andy gets tired he can come get me, and Wertz will take a shift. That way if Andy falls asleep you don't go into a coma or anything weird like that."

"Oh, why not," I said, realizing the idea of having a fabulous fuck with Andy was going out the window.

"Okay, Andy?" Chance asked, looking toward Andy.

"Yeah, I'll take the first watch. I'll get one of you around mid-night."

"We're playing cards in Wertz's room. Just come in when you need us. We're going to stay up all night anyway."

"Beer?" Andy asked.

"Shhh!" Chance said.

"We don't have much time," I said, as soon as Chance closed the door.

"The doctor told me you should rest," Andy said. "You've got to go back over to the hospital tomorrow morning. They want to check for anything unusual."

"Don't remind me. Besides, I've got a headache."

"Yeah, right," Andy said with a smirk.

"You've got a headache and I've got a pain in my ass."

"Fine way to talk and us still dressed."

Our worlds were about to divide. Being beaned by a pitch served as a reminder we weren't going to be together much longer. This made Andy protective as well as attentive, but time was passing. I can't say I minded either, but that night we had to cool it with Chance and Wertz lurking.

It was nice to know they cared beyond baseball. Life was a peculiar mix of realizations and missed opportunities. I was glad I didn't miss this one, but I wasn't getting hit in the head again to see if anyone really cares.

The feeling that none of the teammates I'd been closest to would be there to see me through my senior season was never stronger. With Coach Bell gone Chance and Wertz would have even more incentive to forgo their final baseball season at State. I had no confidence Coach Briscoe could entice them into staying. Chance had cut way back on his classes as a junior and Andy and Wertz took the athlete-friendly courses meant to keep them eligible.

I'm not certain if I slept soundly or not with all the thinking I did. When I got up at seven to have the time to stop at the hospital on my way to my first class at nine, Andy was sleeping soundly in his bed. Chance slept in the chair beside the computer and Wertz was asleep in the corner. I didn't wake any of them, slipping out a few minutes after my alarm went off next to my head.

I'd made it through the night with my headache still there. I took the bottle of pills out of Andy's shirt pocket, popped one, and put the bottle in my shirt pocket. I knew he'd worry about having lost them but I didn't want to disturb his sleep.

It didn't take long for a nurse to escort me back to see one of the emergency room doctors. He flashed a light in my eyes, asked me about my headache, which hadn't changed. He said I should return in the morning unless the headache got worse or there was anything unusual going on, then, I was to return immediately. Whatever he was looking for he didn't share with me.

"Can I play?" I asked before heading for class.

"Are you taking the pills?"

"Yes, sir. I took one before leaving the dorm."

"No, you can't play. You keep taking the pills and maybe next week you'll be well enough to play," he said, writing something on the folder with my name on it.

"We've got two games before then," I complained. "I'm the captain of the team," I argued.

"You can travel. You can sit on the bench. You can't do either in uniform. You're a civilian until we say otherwise. I'll call Coach Bell to let him know your status."

Good luck on that one. I wasn't sure how to handle my disability. I wouldn't have played with my head pounding, because it was distracting, but I didn't figure to have a headache for a solid week.

"Ho! Ho!" the nurse said as I headed for the door.

"Is it Christmas already?" I answered.

"Very funny. Pills?"

Reaching into my pocket I handed them to her.

"Don't look so glum. You'll be okay. One every four hours if the headache continues. No more than that. If they don't help with the pain, you come back in. I'll be here until eight tonight."

"Every four hours," I repeated.

"You're a wicked bad shortstop, you know," she said as I began to walk away.

"Yeah, who told you?" I asked without being convinced.

"I played baseball in college. I know a good shortstop from a slouch. You can play on my team any day."

It was nice to be complimented away from the baseball field but I'd have rather she said, 'play ball.'

I may as well have skipped my first class. It was all review for finals, but I continued thinking about baseball and Coach Bell. I needed my grades more than ever and slacking off wasn't a good idea.

I was starved by lunch and decided to head for the cafeteria. Andy came over with his tray loaded down and dropped in the seat beside me.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"You've got enough food there to feed the third army."

"I do not. Maybe it's a little too much. Too late now. You can have some."


"So what?" he snapped.

I glared at him.

"Oh, Briscoe had his panties all in a bunch because we went over to the hospital yesterday after the game."

"You told him Coach Bell was there," I said harshly.

"So what?"

"Coach Bell wasn't supposed to talk to us, Andy."

"Yeah, I know."

"You don't think Coach Briscoe is going to tell the Regents that he talked to us."

"He didn't talk to me. I talked to him, okay? He came to make sure you were okay. Okay! What would they expect our coach to do? He was worried about you."

"It's too late now. I don't know what the agreement is. I only know what Coach Bell said. Don't worry about it. Coach Bell is gone. It's a whole new ballgame."

Between bites Andy processed what I had to say.

"What did the doc say?"

"I'll be out of action for a week."

"A week?" Andy said.

"Two or three games," I calculated without remembering the exact number of games.

"The season is almost over, Do. We need you in the infield."

"Porter can play shortstop," I realized. "He's not bad."

"Ike? He hits like a girl," Andy protested.

"What do I hit like then? He's better at the plate than I am."

"Maybe he is, but he can't cover the field you cover. He'd rather strike out than walk."

"He can catch the ball and he knows where to throw it once he does. He'll be okay. It'll get him some game time, which will be good for him."

"He's a sophomore," Andy complained. "We're heading for a championship season and we don't need any sophomores."

"I was a freshman when Bell called me up. You didn't seem to mind much then."

"Yeah, but Ike isn't as cute as you either," he said casually as he ate on his chicken leg before looking around to make sure the comment hadn't gone too far.

The chicken leg left a grease slick around his well-shaped lips and he smiled to himself as he chewed.

We left it at that. Jeff Henry was on the freshman team but I wasn't sure he played shortstop. His brother trained me to play that position. If he taught Jeff I was in serious trouble, because if Jeff hit anything like Bobby hit, he'd be in our lineup next season.

I should have gone around to say hello and find out what kind of player he was before now but I didn't know him and he didn't know me and it was just another missed opportunities.

I suppose I was too wrapped up in what I was doing to check on him. The fact Bobby Henry taught me everything I knew didn't mean I was responsible for his kid brother. It was one of those things that hadn't entered my mind before the entire season was suddenly up for grabs and out of my hands.

I had no feeling for what Coach Briscoe might do. Our season was coming to a close one way or another. I figured I could make it for the rest of the season and simply stay clear of Briscoe. My senior year would be a piece of cake, even if Jeff Henry was as good as his brother. Except without Andy, Chance, and Wertz, it wouldn't be as much fun.

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