Outside the Foul Lines - Book III

by Rick Beck

Chapter 6

Bench Jockey

We were in the middle of a dogfight to be the team in our division to get to the NCAA Championships. If we didn't I'd get the blame from some of the players. One of the wheels had come off of Coach Bell's well oiled wagon.

I was probably being unnecessarily negative, but we had stumbled last year with a better team. It was all gravy the previous season. It was as if we were destined, but an injury to a key player finished us.

I'd never gone so far and my team had never come so close in my baseball days. I'd never felt the same about this years team. We were good. We played steady baseball but the memory of what happened one season before kept me from getting ahead of our next game. Now I didn't know when my next game would come.

Being on the bench would be difficult. I didn't often get to watch baseball, especially from that vantage point. I'd come up to the varsity on an injury to the shortstop and I never got sent back to the freshman team. I had never sat on the bench while my team was in the field, save once or twice when Coach Bell pinch hit for me in a game we had under control.

Now I knew how the shortstop I replaced felt. I didn't even remember his name. I'd come up and took his position. Did he get drafted by a club? Did he quit playing after graduation? Details I'd never considered before I got hurt. For a brief period I entertained the idea I might get picked up by a minor league team. That prospect seemed remote now. I hadn't spent much time considering playing ball after college. I was a realist.

My days would be spent studying and attending the reviews in classes where I needed little review. I could do it on my own if I wanted. I thought about dragging Andy back to the dorm with me where I'd help him work off some of the extra calories he'd consumed at each meal. He still hadn't gotten around to telling me what was eating at him as he tried to eat the cafeteria out of business.

Andy's funk about Coach Briscoe's panties being in a wad had him deciding to take off his two classes of gym that afternoon, where it was more likely he'd run into the coach. I sat watching the pile of food in front of him diminished. I could see him at thirty weighing three hundred pounds, but I didn't add to his depression by mentioning it. I'd seen him eat similar amounts at times and the boy never gained an ounce.

When I said I was retiring back to the dorm, he quickened his pace of consumption, and he was right behind me as I hit the exit. As quick as we were inside the room we were stripping out of our clothes and trying to make out simultaneously. I didn't have any trouble with the maneuver and any thought of droping in on one of my classes was gone for that day.

This was also a wonderful solution to everything that was on my mind. Anytime Andy slowed down to talk, I threw a lip-lock on him. This being instant assurance he'd be too preoccupied with me to contemplate his problems. It did wonders for my frame of mind as well, and the pills I was taking made sure my headache never broke through our passion.

I delighted his every corpuscle and he furnished a similar amount of enthusiasm for my own. We didn't talk about baseball, Coach Bell, or my injury, but they were the things that seeped into my mind when there was a lull in love making.

Andy started our impending breakup funk along about this period. It was in his sad eyes. He'd push himself up and look down at my face, looking a bit like a puppy you'd just scolded. As quick as I went back to kissing on him, the mood would pass and the passion returned but he held me tighter than ever before.

His solid warm body felt wonderfully in tune with my own. We rolled, moved, and reached new peaks as our lust for one another kept us bound together. Even when it was time to think about something besides the love we shared, we didn't. It just wasn't going to happen on this day, and we didn't even get out of bed for dinner, which was a major statement about how deeply he loved me as the room grew darker and darker.

The next morning I trekked back to the hospital and I sat waiting in the dimly lit room listening to the sounds of a busy hospital emergency room. I wondered if I might find Andy still in bed if I went back to the dorm instead of to class. I thought he'd need to get up for breakfast as we'd played dinner time away the night before.

The doctor kept flashing a light in my eyes. He'd flash it in one eye, quickly taking the light away, repeating this numerous times in each eye as the examination continued. Undecipherable sound affects went with this exam. The light he used did the same thing as the light from my monitor. Close up items blurred on the screen causing my eyes to water.

"How many fingers?" he asked, holding up three fingers with more sound affects.

More light flashing, followed by more finger counting. I was getting good at it. He seemed less than impressed, writing things as he went along but failing to share with me until we were almost done. This seemed way easier than my finals.

"How many fingers now?" he asked, with his hands in the pockets of his lab coat.

Hey, what kind of monkey business was he trying to pull?

"None," I objected strenuously. "You've got your hands in your pockets," I complained, seeking to make him aware of this oversight.

"Well, Mr. Dooley, I wanted you to get one right before I let you go. I can't release you to play."

"What's that suppose to mean? How long is this going to go on?"

"You're seeing multiple images. It's not uncommon and I hope it will pass in a couple of days, but I can't clear you to play until I'm sure you're a hundred percent. You'll need to come back Monday morning and we'll see if it's improved. I know you're anxious to get back into the lineup but it's too soon.

"I've looked at all your exam results and it's a mild concussion, but even so, letting you risk getting hit in the head again isn't a good idea. I'll evaluate you again on Monday and make sure this has cleared up. It hasn't been long enough for me to be alarmed."

"I'm the starting shortstop. My coach has just bailed on me. I need to play," I argued. "My team is counting on me."

"Yes, you can travel with the team, sit on the bench, but it's too much of a risk to let you play. I'll call your coach and give him the update. Maybe on Monday it'll be better."

"That's a week on the bench?" I objected without him reacting to my anguish.

"We'll see you Monday," he said, leaving the scene.

'We'll see you Monday.' What, did he have a mouse in his pocket? Someone calling himself we bugged me. The result of the exam bugged me. I didn't want to hear it, but I had. That was going to be three games. That was three games when Coach Briscoe had time to oust me at shortstop. How could Coach Bell do such a thing?

On my walk back to the dorm I pondered my conversation with Coach Bell in my hospital room. 'I'll land on my feet.' He might land on his feet but we were leading our league by two and a half games, and he got us there. Coach Bell was non-intrusive and so laid back I had to check to see if he'd fallen asleep at times.

Coach Briscoe was brusk in an abrasive way that I didn't like. He yelled his disapproval at someone in front of everyone. He sulked and charged around like a bull in a china shop.

"What are you doing here?" Coach Briscoe asked when I showed up for practice that afternoon.

"You talked to the doctor?"

"I got a message. You're out of commission. So, I'll ask again, what are you doing here?"

My instincts told me to call him an asshole and tell him to fuck off, but I bit my tongue and spoke in a soft measured tone.

"I'm captain of the team. My coach… Coach Bell has left. I think I need to be here for continuity's sake."

"Continuity?" he questioned with a curt laugh. "Mr. Dooley, you're a baseball player. Continuity? Your swallowing a dictionary doesn't impress me. If you can't play what the hell good are you to my team?"

His eyes sparked with the pent up venom he'd held in check for most of a year. I knew immediately what he was talking about. It had nothing to do with baseball. I'd disrespected him at a time he couldn't retaliate, but Coach Briscoe came with a long memory.

I can't say that I blamed him, although my actions the year before had nothing to do with him and everything to do with Monty's injury. He'd taken personally my emotional reaction to Monty's broken arm. I'd walked out on his practice on a day he was left in charge, and that wasn't something he could forget.

"Yeah," he said in a half-hearted endorsement. "Continuity indeed! You can sit on my bench, Dooley, but don't cross me."

"Yes, sir," I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

I stood near the backstop as the team left the locker room for afternoon practice. I'd missed more classes but nothing important and I needed to be there the day before our next game. I was sure continuity was important.

"Hey, Do, you're okay? You aren't dressed? You going to play tomorrow?" were questions fired at me by each player.

It was what I wanted to get out of the way. Yes, I was fine. No I couldn't play. It wasn't much but making them wait until game day to hear it might unsettle my team and I wasn't going to do anything to upset the guys I played ball with.

Coach Briscoe stood at one corner of the backstop and took it all in. He said nothing and didn't step forward to take his team away from me. Once everyone was there, he made his position clear.

"Okay, girls, tea time is over. I've brought Jeff Henry over to play first. Pierce wants to give right field a try. Kane is the starting shortstop."

"Kane!" Chance bellowed, saving me the energy. "He can't play shortstop."

"He said you trained him, Dooley. It's my decision. I told you not to cross me."

"I didn't train him," I explained. "I couldn't train him. He doesn't react fast enough. He isn't sure where to throw the ball. Kane is a bad idea, Coach Briscoe," I said with the word coach catching in my throat.

"I want his bat in the lineup and I've already made the changes. He might surprise you," Coach Briscoe reasoned.

"No, he might surprise you," I said without thinking.

"Dooley!" Coach Briscoe warned me.

I wasn't the only one thrown off balance by these changes. Chance was so close to Briscoe he looked like he was arguing against an umpire who just called him out on a ball that wasn't close to the strike zone. This allowed me to back off and let my emotions die down while Chance protested playing with the guy. I'd told Chance how addled Kane was as a shortstop, but that had been a ways back and maybe he'd matured enough to make better decisions.

I remembered how unhappy with me Kane was, while I coached him. He didn't accept my opinion as being fact based. The idea that I told Coach Bell he would never be a shortstop further made Kane all the more eager to prove me wrong. His determination did not seem to fit his ability to me, but It was only a couple of games and how bad could he be? We had a two game lead with Greenwood winning on our day off.

"That's my decision and it's final. You want to sit on the bench with your boyfriend and hold his hand, Chance, or do you want to play ball?"

"What did you say," Chance barked, and just then Wertz forced him out of his death spiral, backing him away from the confrontation.

"He's the coach. What are you trying to do? Back off," Wertz warned, sensing the possibility of losing another member in the starting lineup.

"What's he trying to do," Andy asked, making sure I was out of the line of fire.

"I'd say he's decided to fuck up Coach Bell's team."

"Why would he do that?"

"He's a lightweight compared to Coach Bell. The only way to discredit him is to let us lose," I thought out loud. "He thinks we'll be all his next season and he can take us as far as Coach Bell took us."

"Nobody's going to be here next year. These guys aren't going to play for Briscoe," Andy said. "Why go through the hassle? Most of the guys we run with can come out this year."

"Most of them but me," I said, knowing my value had dropped considerable on the open market after being injured.

Besides, it wasn't about baseball it was about education. I had to keep that in mind. I didn't have a dog in the fight any longer. I was assured a next season at State. I had an out for the rest of this season. I was injured. That got me a pass until next season if I decided not to play for Briscoe or at least to stay far enough away from him to secure my degree.

Somehow it didn't make me feel light hearted. I didn't know Chance or Wertz were leaving school after this season. I was a lot closer to believing they would now that Coach Bell was gone. They had no reason to stay and play for Coach Briscoe. Didn't he understand that? Didn't he know the team he expected to field next season, a lineup of experienced veterans, wasn't going to stick around if he kept acting like an asshole?

Practice started with Kane at shortstop and with Coach Briscoe hitting easy grounders at him to prove he could play shortstop. Now if we could talk our competition into going easy on Kane, we had it made. I tried to look at all the angles in each situation but it was difficult to find the upside to this move.

I'd be counting the games as the season rolled on. Should I simply give the doc a bum count when he put up his fingers? Could I live with myself if I didn't give my teammates everything I had so they went out winners? Could I live with myself if I let Andy's shot at a championship slip away. Could I give less than the best I had for the guy I loved more than anyone else in the world? It was a no brainer in this situation.

I'd play for Briscoe as quick as I could get past the doctor's exam, and I'd keep my mouth shut and give my guys all I had.

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