Outside the Foul Lines - Book III

by Rick Beck

Chapter 7


Chance was stoic in my absence at shortstop. Kane was unaware of Chance's strong feelings about him replacing me. Kane was one of those guys who no one liked all that much but he wasn't able to notice. He could be trusted to say precisely the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time and laugh spontaneously.

Most often his teammates met these inappropriate outbursts with astonishment. His antics made his ball-playing a secondary issue when considering him. He seemed certain we simply didn't get the joke when it was him we didn't get. I'm not saying someone didn't like him. I didn't know anyone who spoke up on his behalf. In right field he was relatively harmless, fielding at most a half dozen balls a game. His bat was a welcome addition to our lineup.

My desire to walk away from Coach Briscoe was overruled by good sense and a new found maturity. There was a responsibility that came with being captain. I didn't want to adversely impact the team. My absence from the playing field was enough of a disruption in the final critical days of my junior season.

It was important for me to carry on in Coach Bell's absence. This was my team and I was responsible to offer a voice of reason in the absence of good coaching. It wasn't only a duty that came with the title but it was something I owed the team.

I'd disrespected Coach Briscoe once. It was a grudge that would be forgotten upon my departure. He seemed oblivious to the open rebellion that brewed among his charges. I became the voice of reason that Chance and some of the other players would heed. My closeness to Coach Bell was seen as his stamp of approval on me. In his absence they looked to me for leadership and I didn't intend to let them down.

Chance followed my lead, exercising restraint, especially around Kane. Wertz followed Chance even when he didn't agree with me. Andy would follow me anywhere, tailgating at times. Most of the team was loyal to one or all of us. An uneasy peace resulted with our first duty being to each other and the game.

Briscoe wasn't seen as Coach Bell's replacement. He was a secondary coach with limited duties. No one knew if he could step into the head coaching job and be affective. The initial lineup changes were cause for concern, but once the initial shock wore off, we had no evidence these moves would do damage. Kane had been in the lineup all season. It was only fair to let Coach Briscoe call the shots.

When the question came up, "Can he play shortstop, Do?" I replied, "We'll need to wait and see."

During practice on the day before our next game, Chance said nothing unpleasant as Coach Briscoe pampered his choice of shortstops. His gentle grounders to Kane drew easy throws, always to first base. It was enough to frost my balls but I kept smiling, trying not to look and compelled to at the same time. Can he play shortstop? Not yet.

It was like a slow motion dance and the rest of us didn't know the steps. Chance took to turning his back and looking out at the empty outfield each time Coach Briscoe hit the ball. There was no chance Chance was going to receive the throw. Each one ended up in Jeff Henry's glove.

Well, Jeff Henry wasn't a first baseman either, so it was kind of poetic justice that the other man out of place in my infield would take all the throws. It would leave one to wonder, did they realize there was a second baseman, but maybe they calculated he needed no practice.

"Why'd he put me out at second?" Chance complained, coming in to get a drink as Kane continued his fielding display.

"You look damn good standing out there," I said, not looking at him, knowing I'd bust out laughing if I did.

"You could do what I'm doing without going against doctor's orders. You are allowed to stand aren't you?"

Jeff Henry was the recipient of a batted ball from his coach. He charged the ball hard, gobbling it up into his capable glove. He tossed the ball back toward the coach and it rolled to a stop near his feet. With the rush coming from being called up to play with the big boys he did everything with enthusiasm.

Jeff seemed as anxious to please as I once was the first day I stood on the baseball diamond as starting shortstop. It was what all players waited for and he looked ready to me. I still worried he might decide he was a shortstop, but at the same time Kane wasn't in my league and no threat to take my job.

This was an adjustment. We were doing a complete one eighty from what we knew, and some athletes were more temperamental than others when it came to change. I would be the bridge between Coach Bell and Coach Briscoe to make sure no one made any waves. We all knew our jobs.

By the time we got to the division playoffs we'd be better accustomed to the new coach and the only thing on our minds would be finally making it to the NCAA Championships. This was on all of our minds but we never spoke the words out loud. We'd been close last season, but we crashed and burned in a matter of a couple of games. This year would be different if we kept our heads.

There was no practice beyond the one held for the three infielders. Jeff Henry was already pumping Chance for advice. He was going to be okay. If he'd gone to Kane for advice I would have worried. Being a heads up player had him wanting instruction from the best player available.

I sat listening to Chance describing how he played second base. Of course Jeff knew Chance had the highest batting average on the team, but there was plenty of time to talk batting.

This chat was about glove-work. Chance smiled and seemed happy to demonstrate how he held his glove under certain circumstances. Jeff tried each position, moving his glove in response to Chance's description.

The second string pitchers straggled in from the bullpen to provide a casual batting practice. This was more a loosening up drill for the hitters who wanted to take some swings. It was the routine the day before we played a game.

Hand-eye-coordination was a delicate balance. The great hitters were possessed with the eyes of an eagle. Chance could time his hits to put the ball anywhere he wanted it to go. Andy had this reflex reaction that told him when to bring his bat around to meet the ball. It was all calculated to achieve maximum velocity and the proper trajectory.

I knew the secret behind what these two did. I spent a lot of time listening to them explain it to me, but I wasn't in their league. No amount of discussion or practice made me capable of doing what they did. I'd improved over time but mostly it was about taking the walks issued without trying to hit bad pitches.

Chance could not only tell you how he did what he did but he could describe the mechanics in detail. You put your hands here and swing like this to get such and such result. Chance left nothing to chance.

Andy was briefer.

'I wait until the ball reaches the right spot and then I swing.'

Yes, he did.

Someone like Jeff Henry was tuned into Chance's dialogue. He had the same presence on the field as his brother. Bobby taught me everything I knew and I listened because I knew he knew what he was talking about.

I got the same feeling from Jeff. He knew plenty and he was confident in his ability, but he wanted to know what Chance knew. It was never enough simply to know what he knew. He'd learn because he was willing to do the work.

Chance, Wertz, and Andy sat on the bench next to me. We all stared at the batter's cage to watch each batter take his swings. One at a time they'd grab a bat and journey there, hit some balls, returning to the bench once satisfied.

Coach Briscoe spent some time talking to Jeff. He put him out in right field and hit some fly balls to him. I remembered my dad doing that for me when I was ten. I couldn't shut down my reaction to Coach Briscoe no matter what he did. I'd take psychology next year and hope by baseball season I had a better understand of odd behavior.

Jeff did whatever was asked of him. Being new to the squad, it's what you did and you didn't voice any displeasure or doubt. He seemed calm for the pressure he must have felt. He moved easily, always maneuvering under the ball long before it dropped into his glove. He realized he was being tested by the man responsible for calling him up.

I felt bad that I hadn't gone down to the freshman team to speak to him before. It was difficult to explain why I put it off. I'd thought of it more than once, after finding his name in a freshman box score. No one had to tell me it was Bobby Henry's brother.

Yes, I was busy with school and playing ball, but it wasn't the reason I hadn't made the trip across the athletic complex to see him. When ever Bobby Henry was around, he stopped to see me. I knew Bobby but I'd never met Jeff before now.

I asked him to go to dinner with us so I could ease my conscience. I mentioned how Bobby had an influence on me. He knew all about me. Bobby talked about me, he told me. I'd rather not have known, but it was too late to tell him to forget about dinner.

Chance, Wertz, and Andy didn't have much to say. Jeff didn't have anything to say and so we ate in silence. They hadn't had much to say all day. It was that time of the season. We spent so much time staying focused it was difficult to be totally social after a couple of hours of practice.

It was a home game and I'd spent some time in the library getting ready for finals instead of going to classes for review. It was easier to focus on a book than trying to listen to a professor.

I was sitting on the bench when the team started straggling out to the field. Students had already started filling the seats around the field. It was one of those fine spring days that were perfect days for baseball. I got a different perspective from not playing. Before a game I was usually focused and didn't notice anything if it wasn't directly connected to my role as a player. I rarely noticed the crowd.

St. Anthony had arrived and was using the field to loosen up, after a thirty or forty minute bus ride. They were relatively untalented but they had two pitchers that could keep them close in key games. One of these pitchers was always saved for us in the hope they could steal one from the league leaders. This made headlines at St. Anthony's, but it hadn't happened during my tenure at State.

We'd knock off St. Anthony once their starter tired. This would be followed by two away games. These were the biggest games of the year. We played Greenwood in two days and Bradbury in three. If we won both games we won the league title and were heading for the division playoffs.

I'd be playing next week. We'd have Kane back in right field where he belonged, and the rest was according to the numbers. With Bale pitching the away game with Greenwood, he'd be ready to pitch the final league game at home against Bradbury. With those three wins we end up at the top of the league no matter what the other teams did.

It was all very easy. I'd been thinking about it since the day after I got hit in the head. It's something Coach Bell and I would have sat and discussed in his office.

As usual Chance showed up first. He did some stretching exercises near where I sat at the end of the bench before he sat next to me.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Don't I look okay?" he looked at himself as he spoke.

"Shut up," I said and he laughed.

He was fine but he didn't say anything else. Wertz jogged out to the bullpen to talk to the pitchers who were taking turns warming up. Andy swung bats out toward first base, watching the St. Anthony players. Kane was always late and Coach Briscoe was an unknown quantity. I hadn't figured out his routine yet, but he was still in the field house, as I made my mental notes.

Baseball wasn't my life but it was at the center of my life. The only friends I had at State were baseball players. They were all right there within reach. My lover was twenty feet away, oblivious to my existence for the moment, but there within reach. My life was all lived out within sight of the athletic complex.

Only in class was I away from the game. I was hardly was away then, frequently wondering, thinking, supposing about this or that. It was always baseball, and if not baseball Andy, who was the only thing on my mind as often as baseball.

Not playing baseball was going to be harder than playing baseball. When I played my thoughts were always confined. Not playing meant my thoughts were on baseball but from a different perspective. There was no focus, no plan, no measured self-control to keep everything under control. When I played my mind was in the game. Sitting on the bench my mind was all over the game and beyond.

Kane's laughter and self-confidence irritated me as he came over to the bench. He'd spoken to Andy without getting a response. He spoke to Jeff who stood staring at first base. What irritated me was he was going out to play my position. My dislike for him was exceeded by my anger over him playing my position. The idea of him replacing me in the field, after I'd lobbied against it, made me mad. This put my integrity in question and there was the chance I was wrong..

Coach Bell would have said, 'John, I like Kane for shortstop. What do you think?'

'Kane can't play shortstop,' I'd object.

'Who do you like then?' he'd have asked.

I'd have been asked as the starting shortstop and my opinion would have been respected.

Was I really all that much better than Kane? Maybe Chance and I were wrong and Kane was every bit as capable as I was. Chance only felt the way he did, because I felt the way I did.

I knew Kane could outhit me and if he could hold his own at shortstop, Coach Briscoe was going to keep me on the bench. It was probably his plan all along.

Chance wouldn't stand for it, but Chance wasn't the coach and neither was I. The relationship I enjoyed with Coach Bell was no longer viable. Whatever happened, I had to smile and write it off as none of my business.

Coach Briscoe walked out behind the backstop to talk to St. Anthony's coach, when I first noticed his presence. He was smiling and they stood together looking out at the field. How strange it was to see someone other than Coach Bell going through this ceremony. He seemed so relaxed and even like he knew what he was doing.

Maybe it wasn't Coach Briscoe who was out of step. Maybe I had some blown up idea of my own importance to my team and Coach Briscoe was doing what any coach in his position would be doing.

Why did I feel so strongly against him?

Except for knowing Kane, I might have believed it. Kane was never going to be a shortstop. It's something I knew, because his mind wasn't capable of making the calculations fast enough to be effective. He rushed what he did and what he did under pressure was almost always wrong. That's what I knew and there was no way to see anything else when I saw Kane at shortstop. I always came back to the same place, this wouldn't end well.

Just as I'd calculated, the St. Anthony pitcher was sharp. It was Stevens, and we almost always faced him, when we were playing the Red Hawks. Jim Bale was the only pitcher with a better record in our league. We never used Bale against St. Anthony. We saved him for the games we had to win.

Two ground outs and a strikeout retired us in the first. Two strikeouts and a pop foul retired us in the second.

It was 0-0 after two and both pitchers were on their game. It was no surprise but my nerves were. I was afraid to look away from the field, which created even more anxiety.

Why hadn't I gotten out of the way of that pitch? I'd never been hit in the head before. The worst injury I ever had was a muscle strain or a tender ankle. Hell, I could play on one leg but not without my head.

Kane got his first grounder in the third. He charged it smoothly, made a good pickup, and his throw was wide but it easily got the runner. Chance met him as he returned to his position. He smiled as they exchanged words. Not bad.

'That's it. Keep him calm, Chance,' I thought.

We hit two ground balls and our pitcher struck out in the third. In the fourth St. Anthony got their first hit. It dribbled to third and the runner beat the throw. The next batter struck out. With one out and a man on first there was a sharp hit to the left of the pitcher's mound. Kane charged it, fumbling his attempt to pick up the ball. He kept it in front of him, picking it up and making his throw to first. The runner beat the throw by a step.

"Shit!" I said, refusing to glance at Coach Briscoe.

All he had to do was flip the ball to Chance to cut down the front runner and we'd have been even against the board. Two outs with a man still on first. Now there was one out and men on first and second.

Chance didn't go near Kane and said nothing. I could feel his anger as his face turned crimson. He stayed near second to hold the runner close. He seemed to refocus.

'That's it, Chance. It's a new batter and no point in going over the edge on one bad play.'

There was a pop up for out number two, which held the runners. A grounder to Jeff at first was the third out of the inning.

We had two outs when Chance came to bat in our half of the fourth. He worked the count to 3-2 and hit a line-drive into short left field. He stopped on first and cheered on Andy as he came up swinging the bat and ignoring everything but what was inside his head. I could see his focus. This was when you wanted Andy coming to bat.

Sitting on the bench and noticing everything in a new perspective, I noticed how broad Andy's shoulders had become, and how powerful he looked. He stepped into the batters box and looked at the pitcher for the first time. There were two more purposeful practice swings. The pitcher set and delivered the pitch.


I stood up as the ball soared up over the outfield's heads and disappeared into straightaway centerfield. I stood and applauded, yelling at my man. Chance crossed the plate with Andy jogging about ten steps behind him. Chance turned his back on Kane who was about to shake his hand. Chance greeted Andy and they passed Kane on their way back to the bench.

My nerves calmed down once Andy and Chance came to sit with me. Kane took some practice swings, looked over at the bench, stepped into the box, and hit the second pitch on a line-drive to the second baseman.

2-0, advantage State.

We went into the sixth at 2-0. The first batter up in the sixth hit a double between center and left field. Chance stayed to the shortstop side of second base with no one out and let the runner take a fair lead. The next batter struck out but the third batter singled between first and second. The runner on second scored. One man on and one man out, 2-1, advantage State.

I stood up and leaned on the overhang that kept the sun off the bench. Jeff stood one step off first base. The runner took three lengthy steps toward second. I held my breath.

Coach Briscoe stood up and walked out toward the pitcher's mound. The umpire called time.

Coach Briscoe called for Temple. Maybe he saw something in Boyle's motion. He'd been pitching well but his pitches were coming up in the strike zone.

It might have been the smart move and Temple was solid for two innings or less. I hadn't seen him warming up but he looked ready. I wasn't going to second guess Coach Briscoe. I was the starting shortstop and that was my job, not coaching. It was his call.

Temple was throwing heat and got two quick strikes on the next batter. The third pitch was just as fast as the last two, only the hitter got his bat out in front of it, hitting it directly to Kane, who moved one step to get directly in front of the ball. It popped out of his glove when he turned his head at the last instant.

Once again he picked the ball up, firing it to first base. The throw was too late to get the runner and there were men on first and third, one out.

Any solidly hit ball was going to tie the game. The runner on first was the one we needed to worry about. In a tie game, advantage State, especially on State's diamond.

As for Kane, it was the right play. I could have dropped it. I'd dropped balls like it. The guy had enough of a lead off first to get to second safely, but Kane never looked in his direction. This allowed the runner to never break stride and end up safe on third. That bothered me, because it was a pattern with Kane. We were still leading.

St. Anthony was looking at the same game I was looking at. They'd seen Kane misplay his position almost every time the ball was hit to him. Jeff held the runner close at first. Coach Briscoe moved Kane in a few steps, Chance played just in front of second base, on the first base side. The play was at the plate or at first if the runner on third didn't attempt to come home. Anything hit hard enough to get out of the infield was going to score the runner on third. It was a long shot but a double play was the desired result of this positioning of the infield.

There were two straight strikes as Temple went to a full windup. Temple had thrown nothing but bullets. The third pitch was a ball, just outside, but the batter didn't bite on it. The next pitch was a few inches closer to the strike zone, down and appeared to cut the corner of the plate, except it was the pitch the batter wanted and he hammered it to Kane's right on one sharp bounce.

The runner on third was charging the plate. It was Kane's play and it was why he was playing so close to the plate. The play went home to first if the catcher had time.

Only Kane overran the hard hit ball, reaching back with his bare hand, after trapping it with his glove, trying to turn and throw at the same time was a bad idea.

Even an average shortstop knew better. The results were always bad. This was a guy who could barely do one thing at a time. The ball sailed up, up, up and over Jeff's outstretched glove.

"Fuck," I screamed, holding the sides of my head.

At the time of the play at first the runner had rounded second and was allowed to score. The runner that might or might not have been out at first was now standing on second.

'Asshole,' was my second reaction as I stomped my foot.

By this time Coach Briscoe had come out of his chair, raked the batting helmets off the shelf behind the bench before he kicked over the bat rack, spread bats far and wide. I couldn't help but look and caught the rage in the coach's eye. The guys seated on the bench between him and me, had scattered away from the bench, the bats, and the helmets.

"Pick them up," he growled directly at me

I continued leaning on my piece of roofing and looked back at the field to get some idea of what the damage was.

"What good are you?" Coach Briscoe bellowed at me, as teammates peaked into the bench area to see what was happening now.

"I shouldn't exert myself," I answered with contempt filling my voice.

I wouldn't pick up one bat or helmet for him.

The home plate umpire came to stand in front of our bench to witness the coach's meltdown. As soon as Coach Briscoe saw him, the umpire pointed his finger at him and said, "You want to finish coaching this game? I suggest you get yourself under control, Coach. Where's Coach Bell anyway?"


Low blow.

I stifled my laugh.

With a runner on second and one out Temple did the most judicious thing he could do, striking out the next batter on three pitches and the following batter on four. The inning was over but the repercussions would be rumbling through our team for the rest of the season.

"I can't play with that asshole," Chance raged as he threw his glove against the back wall where the helmets once were and it landed among the bats. "What the fuck happened?" Chance asked, stepping over the bats and the helmets.

"You want me to bench you?" Coach Briscoe snapped.

"He's not a shortstop. Do told you as much. He doesn't know where to throw the damn ball under pressure," Chance screamed as the home plate umpire walked back over to our bench.

"Coach, you're this far from having an official complaint filled against you. One more outburst and you'll forfeit the game. Don't make me walk over here again."

I grabbed Chance, pushing him away from the bench area and out of contact with Coach Briscoe. The guys started picking up bats and helmets as they came back to the bench.

The umpire stood glaring in our direction, waiting for a batter to come to the plate. He wasn't a happy camper.

"West you play second. Chance is done for today," Coach Briscoe said calmly, looking at the list of available players.

"Why are you doing this?" Chanced cried as I turned him back away from the bench.

"Anyone else?" Coach Briscoe asked the half standing and half sitting team that wasn't quite sure what was going on.

"Why?" Chance asked me loud enough for the people seated down the third base line to hear. The umpire came two steps closer, yanking off his facemask as he starred into the shadows.

"Don't test me, Chance. I can sit you down for the rest of the season if you like."

"It's not him, Briscoe," I screamed. "You're the only one that can't see the problem. You don't care. It isn't your team is it? This is Coach Bell's team win or lose and you don't care which how badly you fuck us up."

Andy was all over top of me, trying to block my access to Coach Briscoe. I was out behind the bench before I realized I'd said anything. What, was he going to bench me?

"Are you crazy? That guy can fuck you up. He's the man like it or not."

There it was.

Wertz came out and leaned on the fence next to where Chance leaned on the fence. We were once again left speechless. In spite of myself I'd said it all. It was no secret Briscoe held a grudge against me, but he held a grudge against Coach Bell for protecting me. I hadn't seen that before.

I listened to the umpire yelling at Coach Briscoe, "Who ever is doing the yelling, get them off your bench and send them to the showers. If you intend to finish playing this game, get their butts on this bench.

"I need a batter and don't think I'm going to forget your conduct, Coach. You'll be hearing from me. Get your batter to the plate, now."

We lost 3-2 and Kane had done what he'd been set up to do as far as I was concerned. There was no mistake in playing him at short. Our team was falling a part and there wasn't a damn thing we could do about it. It all looked very unfortunate to the casual fan, but to someone who knew baseball, it was a coaching mistake to use Kane in my place.

The next day's headline on the sport page of the school paper:

"Bad Play Sinks State"

It was like being punched in the stomach. I'd been told not to come to practice that day, but I'd be on the bus to Greenwood for our next game no matter what Coach Briscoe said.

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