Outside the Foul Lines - Book III

by Rick Beck

Chapter 9

Left Behind

Baseball wasn't my life. It wasn't in my blood. Sitting at the dorm during practice was the only way to hide my strange stress over not being with my team. This isn't a reaction I can explain or diagram. Not being there to observe, to offer my teammates support, or to maintain a presence, bothered me more than I thought it should.

I wanted to take back my outburst. I couldn't do that, which had me isolated from my team. No one had to tell me that I'd set a poor example. It left no doubt where I stood. It was not my place to criticize a coach. It was worse to insult him and accuse him of a conspiracy.

I had convinced myself I held no grudge against Coach Briscoe, but maybe that wasn't true. I didn't like the man no matter what but he was the one with the grudge, making my insult worse.

Losing my cool while trying hard to maintain a respectful objectivity made me question the maturity I was assuming. Coach Briscoe did nothing to make our adjustment to his coaching style possible. He took over and his word was law, no matter what anyone else said.

Being so anxious about missing a practice meant staying home on an away game day would be worse. The away game was with our biggest rival, which would make today easy in comparison.

Had I not been captain, it might not be so bad. My team knew what to do and they had the tools to do it if they were allowed. Coach Briscoe didn't need to do anything but let us play ball. My concern was over how an erratic coach could destroy my team's confidence. This was my worry. Not being there magnified its intensity.

I could blame Briscoe for my situation, except I was the one who shot off his mouth. No matter how bad the coach the team is his kingdom and no player gets a vote. What I'd done made it more about my conduct and less about his coaching. Players were allowed to disagree with the coach, expressing it wasn't tolerated and he had witnesses who he might to say what they heard.

I hadn't realized how confining the dorm was until I was there alone. I kept finding myself running all the possibilities through my brain, while I thought I was studying.

If Coach Briscoe was running the show there was no way I could play for him now. I knew all I had to do was pretend to be ready to play, even if he didn't play me, but that would make my senior year impossible. I'd rather drop out of the program and earn enough money to pay for a senior year somewhere closer to home.

The idea came to me that considering my bonehead decision to express my opinion, they'd be better off without me. My being there irritated Briscoe. If I walked away he might lighten up on the team. Coach Bell trusted me and solicited my opinion. Why couldn't Coach Briscoe? I'd made it impossible, that's why. There was no preparation for the chance so late in the season.

Maybe the distance would allow things to cool off and some of the hostility would die down. Chancellor Bishop wasn't Chancellor because he was clueless. It was possible he knew what he was doing. If my mouth was elsewhere it couldn't get me in trouble. If it was elsewhere permanently the problem was solved.

As long as I finished my junior season, I'd back away quietly.

This line of thought brought my mind back to Coach Bell. He'd bowed out quietly and left a mess. I needed to let go of it and let the wheels turn and not get so far ahead of events. It was easier said than done.

Why is it that the one thing you don't want to think about is the only thing you think about? If this meant I might be crazy it would explain everything.

My difficulty subsided when Andy came to get me to go to dinner. Everyone was fine and they jabbered about practice, the Greenwood game, and how Bale was ready to get us back on track. No one mentioned anything out of the ordinary and this reinforced the idea that removing me from the picture solved the problem. I smiled and was very agreeable.

I relaxed once I wasn't alone. I'd made it through missing one practice. There had to be an easier way to get through this.

Late that night, holding Andy after he drifted off to sleep, my brain ran through all the possibilities yet again.

I hated watching the team bus depart without me the following day. I'd discovered that if I looked out of the highest point in the upper right hand portion of our dorm room window, I could see the road and a tiny piece of the practice field. As luck would have it, this is where the bus parked. Once it began moving the bus was out of view fast.

An away game assured a certain disadvantage. Playing on a home field in front of a home crowd gave you a cushion of confidence. It was advantage Greenwood. Losing would put us a game behind with three to play. Bale pitching made it game even.

Logic in sport is folly, because nothing is a sure bet. You can take all the statistics and all the patterns available, and on any given day any team can beat any other team regardless of history.

The one predictable thing involving college sport, it will be unpredictable. I continued to weigh the details I knew that might allow us to win. After an hour I laughed at the futility of it. All it accomplished was waste some time.

I'd wished everyone luck before they'd gone to dress for the trip, except for Bale, who was never available on a day he pitched. He'd sit alone in the rear of the bus with a towel over his head as he yelled out from time to time in some kind of focus only he understood but we'd grown to appreciate.

My absence from practice was but an appetizer for the excruciating ordeal that was the long wait until the bus returned. It was a matter of not knowing rather than continually thinking. I wouldn't have played anyway but it was easier being with the team.

Baseball wasn't my life but my teammates were.

I checked my computer monitor for the time, calculating when the bus might return.

Four hours after the bus left State I went down to the baseball complex. I sat near where the bus would park an hour before it would return. The fresh air cleared my mind and the walk felt good.

When I saw the bus turning onto the road, I stood near the gate to the practice field.

Coach Briscoe was first off the bus and he didn't notice me. He wasted no time turning toward the field house.

Andy and Chance saw me immediately. Were they expecting me to be there? Andy strolled over as Chance and then other players followed behind him.

"How'd it go?" I asked casually.

"9-0," Andy said expressionless.

"All right! I knew Bale would come through," I said relieved.

"We lost," Andy said in a voice that left no doubt.

"What?" I said, not able to imagine they shut us out.

"That asshole left Bale in until it was 6-0. Bale couldn't find the plate. They scored three in the first and three more in the second. Watching Bale was like watching some tormented animal and he left him in. He let him fall apart."

"He walked the first two batters," Chance explained, moving around to my side so he could see me. "He balked twice. A run scored on one balk. There were two or three hits in a row, maybe a ground out. I stopped looking. By the time Briscoe pulled him out in the second Bale was shell shocked. He kept looking at the bench, waiting for him to pull him. The umpire kept telling him to pitch."

"Kane?" I asked, seeing him in a few of the nine runs.

"He got one of only two hits. I think he fielded two or three balls. He always went to first. It didn't matter. Greenwood had their bats going and once they got the lead we folded like a cheap suit. Nobody had any spirit after watching Bale suffer. We just wanted to come home."

When Andy moved, half the team was around me. They were all bummed out. I couldn't believe Bale had let us down. What did I tell them when I might be gone in another day?

The apprehension and pending doom I felt, surrounded us all. My original intuition and my outburst had hit the mark. Briscoe would deny it but anyone who knew baseball would see the problem if they wanted to.

I'd rather have been wrong. The team was waiting for something, anything to give them hope our season wasn't lost. We only wanted to get back to playing baseball the way we knew how. I could have incited them in only a few words. It's what I wanted to do more than anything, but that's not what they needed or wanted to hear.

This was like something out of a bad movie. What could I say to make them feel better without sounding like an asshole? No one left. They expected leadership. They didn't understand why I wasn't with them, but I was with them now, and they were waiting for me.

The word captain came to mind as other players spoke about the disappointing game. I knew how badly I'd let them down. I should have been there in victory or defeat. I was who they depended on to speak up on their behalf.

I could have argued with Chancellor Bishop's ruling, but I sat like a lump and took it. I should have spoken up and told him how I felt. I was afraid I'd damage my precious college education. I'd thought about John Dooley, when John Dooley should have spoken for his team.

This wasn't about the baseball team. It was about State and the kind of athletic program they wanted to promote there.

"You've forgotten something. Bale is the best pitcher in the league and we're the best team in the league," I said without being dramatic.

"Yeah," came an agreeable response.

"It's one game. We've got three big games ahead of us. We win those and we'll be okay. It was a bad day but we've had damn few."

"Yeah!" came the response.

"Okay, hit the showers, get some food in your belly, and we put it behind us. We'll get them next time. We're going head to head against the two teams we must beat to make it into the division playoffs, and that's what we'll do."

"Yeah," came back the chorus.

"What are you going to do about him? Tell them you've got to go with us. I'm tired of being fucked with."

I didn't see who asked the question, but I'd already seen it coming. It wasn't an answer I was confident giving, but it was all that was left for me to do.

"I'll go see Chancellor Bishop. I'll explain how you feel. I'll ask him to let me stay with you guys until I'm cleared to play.

"Go eat and forget about everything but what's ahead of us. We're going to win the next few games. We haven't forgotten how to play. We let a couple slip away from us and now we'll get them back. We can talk later."

"Yeah," came a hopeful chorus, as the team took off toward the field house.

I could almost feel Briscoe's eyes on me. Once the bus pulled away, he'd see the team meeting. He wasn't going to like it.

I went into the locker room and sat waiting for Andy, Chance, and Wertz, so we could eat together. I wanted the team to see me there. The silence was disturbing. The closing of lockers, running of water, and a few coughs and sneezes were the extent of the sound.

It was clear we weren't the same team Coach Bell handed back to State, but Chancellor Bishop knew I was an irritant to Coach Briscoe. Who is the Chancellor going to side with? I knew the answer, but the next morning I'd be in his office.

Andy, Chance, and Wertz were easier to deal with than the entire team. They didn't want anything but to share a meal and we sat together in silence as they picked at their food.

When I saw Bale seated alone in his usual corner of the cafeteria, I excused myself to make my way through the tables until I slid into the seat across from him.

"Rough game," I said, waiting for him to look up.

He had a fist beside each of his ears and his vivid blue eyes stared out of his super thick lenses.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what happened to me. I couldn't get the ball to do what I wanted. We needed that game, Dooley. I let the team down."

"You'll beat them next time, Bale. Not even you can win them all," I said defending our best pitcher.

"Why didn't he pull me in the first? He knew I didn't have my stuff. Why did he leave me out there and let them build up a lead? I gave up 6 runs, Dooley."

"That equals what you've given up all season. You just didn't have it today. It's not your fault. You can't win them all, Bale."

"I hate change," he said, looking up from his plate each time he spoke, looking back down when he was done.

"You miss him too, huh? He was a good coach," I lamented, thinking it would help.

"You should have been there, Dooley. You're the captain. We expect you to be there when we need you?"

"I can't go with the team right now," I said.

"You're the captain. You need to be with us. We trust you, Dooley. You let us down."

"I know, Bale. Chancellor Bishop says I can't go with the team. It'll be cleared up tomorrow."

"The season ends next week. It might have ended today. I needed to win and you needed to be there. The team was depending on ME. I let them down. You let them down. You need to be with us, Dooley. What's the point of you being captain?"

"It won't happen again, Bale. I'm sorry."

He was right.

When we got back to the room, Chance and Wertz wanted to stay together. We sat around the room chatting with the door open. We talked about school coming to an end. We talked about our summer plans. We all listened to Andy describe his future plans.

"I'll go in the second round. Maybe late in the first," Andy calculated the baseball draft as he saw it.

"First, Andy. The way you hit the ball? Everyone is searching for power. You'll go in the first round."

"Maybe," was as close as Andy could get.

"I'll be in the minors two seasons. By that time someone will want me in the Big Show."

"You'll be able to buy your parents that house you've talked about," I said.

"Us first," he blurted before catching what he had said he shifted gears. "I've got to have the money first, is what I meant to say."

Chance laughed and Wertz looked at him and then Andy and about then the other players straggled in until half the team was inside.

"What are you going to do, Do? We want a say. You shouldn't go alone."

"Tell me what you want," I said.

"Fix it so you're on the bus. Fix it so you're with us. We don't like how we're being treated."

"I'm as good as suspended. Until Chancellor Bishop says otherwise, I'm persona non grata."

"Get persona grata fast. This isn't working for us. With you with us we know we'll get a square deal. You'll speak up for us."

There was vocal agreement with the spokesmen. I listened carefully, trying to think of what to say without making promises I couldn't keep.

"I told you I'd go to Chancellor Bishop's office in the morning. I'll tell him the team needs me for the sake of continuity," I said, remembering how well Coach Briscoe took that point of view. "I'll tell him you need me, because… because I'll think of something convincing to tell him by tomorrow."

"We've talked it over. We'll go with you," someone said. "Yeah," more guys agreed. "We'll back you up. We can't let you go alone. He has to know you're speaking for us."

"I don't know that's a good idea," I said. "He'll think I've started a revolution over in his baseball dorm."

"We already voted. We're going to back you up." he said in agreement with the rest of the team.

"That's right, Do. He needs to hear how we feel," Wertz said. "We're going."

"The more the merrier. You've sold me. We'll go together," I said. "I don't mind telling you guys, I wasn't looking forward to facing him alone. Thanks. No matter what happens, we're a team."

"Yeah," was the rousing reply.

I hadn't seen it coming and I was sure it wouldn't go over well with Chancellor Bishop, but what the hell. Their determination was obvious in their voices.

I'd lead the way and hope the Chancellor would listen. I'd promise to be on my best behavior if I was allowed to return to the team.

A little after nine in the morning we entered the Chancellor's outer office.

"Yes, Mr. Dooley?" the secretary said.

"We're here to see Chancelor Bishop," I said.

"Have a seat. It may be a few minutes."

Chance, Wertz, and I sat in the only chairs, and Andy stood beside me. Twelve guys lined up out the door and down the hall. His secretary smiled politely but made no inquiry as to our purpose. The dye was cast. There was no turning back.

After fifteen minutes Chancellor Bishop open the door of his office. He did not look pleased as he nodded in my direction.

"Leave the re-enforcements behind, Dooley. In my office," he said in a neutral sounding voice.

He pointed at my usual seat before shuffling some papers in front of him once he sat behind his desk.

"I'm not impressed, Mr. Dooley. I don't know what game you're playing, but it doesn't impress me. I have work to do and a schedule to keep. Give me the short version so I can get on with it."

"I'm sorry. I figured it was best I come along or you'd have had those guys standing here without anyone between you and them."

"That supposed to be amusing? What's the bottom line? I'm busy."

"They feel like they've been deserted. There isn't anyone they feel like they can talk to."

"Well, Mr. Dooley, they obviously have you. Keep talking."

"I said I'd come talk to you and they said they'd come with me. They want to be heard. They want someone to listen."

"Go on."

"Yesterday was not a good day for State and they aren't very happy about it. They're looking for a reason to go back to playing ball and not worrying about the next surprise."

"That's what they want. What is it you want, Mr. Dooley?"

"You think I wanted to come in here and face you? No way, Jose. There's nothing I can do. I know… I can see the problem but I can't see a solution. I'm here because they need someone who cares enough to listen."

"If I'm getting you right you tried to nip this little gathering in the bud?"

"I told you if I didn't come they'd have come without me. At least they believe I'm on their side. I don't have the answer but you need to say something that makes them feel like there is some point in giving their best shot in the final three games. They lost more than a game yesterday.

"I told them I'd talked to you. That's all I'm here for. Say, go away, and I'll tell them what they've got is what they've got and that's all State has for them."

"You realize your future is riding on this little stunt? Coach Bell arranged for you to have the full ride in your senior season. You certain you don't want to rethink what you're doing? Your future is on the line here."

"He told me before he left. I've decided if you say no I won't be back to play ball next season anyway. So, you can void the deal or get me to sign off on it so someone else can get the benefit from it. I didn't ask for it anyway."

"No, you didn't, and I've got a feeling Coach Bell had a reason for doing it. He wasn't a man given to irrational moves. That leaves me to question what my typical response to this kind of pressure would be."

"He didn't tell me what was behind the gesture, except he knew Coach Briscoe didn't care for me. He evidently wanted me to finish with the team," I reasoned.

"A man has thirty players and yet he only protects one. Why? Believe me when I say, this has kept me up nights. I'd have bounced your ass out of here so fast your head would still be spinning if not for Coach Bell protecting you."

"You'll have to ask Coach Bell. I play ball. I do my best, but it's no fun any longer. The scholarship is a piece of paper. I'll go to work for a year or two and finish my degree elsewhere if you tell me that's what you want."

"Don't make it too tempting, Dooley. I may as well hear from your friends. Maybe we can salvage something out of this distraction."

He walked to the door and opened it wide.

"Inside, come on. All of you. Inside. All the guys in the hallway. Inside. I haven't got all day."

They lined two walls of his office and he shut the door once he was sure there wasn't anyone else. All we needed was a photographer and we could do a team photo.

"Where's Bale? You couldn't convince him to come with you?" Chancellor Bishop asked.

"Sulking somewhere," someone said. "He forgot what it was like losing a game."

"He blames himself for yesterday's loss," I said, and there was a chorus of agreement that broke the ice.

"I don't know what you expect me to do?" Chancellor Bishop said.

"Let Do stay with his team," Chance spoke out. "I might have to work with Kane but at least Do would furnish moral support. With him there it looks like he's coming back."

Chance focused his eyes on me as he spoke.

"You've given up arguing with the Coach on that point?" the Chancellor asked.

"I never argued with him. I told him the score," Chance said firmly. "He wasn't interested in what I had to say about the infield I play in."

"How'd Kane do yesterday?" Chancellor Bishop asked.

"He held his own. They were hitting most of the balls into the outfield. He might have fielded a couple of balls more cleanly, but he didn't muff any opportunities."

"So who plays short if Kane doesn't?"

For the first time I got the impression the Chancellor asked a question he didn't already know the answer to. I didn't say anything.

"If I can't have Dooley we've got three utility infields sitting on the bench. They can all hold their own at shortstop," Chance said, and I let him lead the conversation. "We need Kane's bat. In right field he's okay. Shortstop is too demanding for him to wrap his head around. He gets confused. He forgets about the lead runner and keeps going to first base with a throw that should come to second. He thinks he can play the position and that makes it worse."

"I don't know what you boys want me to do? I'm not the only guy that says who the coach is. It was decided Coach Briscoe had earned a shot."

"You can talk to Coach Briscoe. Tell him we aren't kids and we don't appreciate being treated like we are. We know what we're doing and we've done it just fine all season," Chance said with a chorus in agreement behind him.

"He's coached a few games. I know it might seem like the end of the world but you still have three games to play. Bradbury and Greenwood play one game against each other. You go out there and win those three games and State will be in the division playoff. I've confidence in you boys, and believe me you wouldn't be standing here if I wasn't concerned. I think you need to go back to doing what it is you do best," Chancellor Bishop calculated for us as if we all didn't know what we needed to do.

"You want us to win those three games?" Chance challenged him. "Talk to Coach Briscoe and tell him Coach Bell left him a winning team. Why doesn't he get out of our way and let us win?"

Ouch! Way to go Chance. I put him in to buy some time for me to think and he hits it out of the park.

"You all feel this way?"

"Yes, sir," the answer echoed in the office.

It no longer mattered what he did. My team was all on the same page and win or lose we'd do it together. It was no longer up to anyone but us. We'd made the situation clear and we'd do the best we could to win the three games ahead of us.

I'd be proud of them if we lost all three games, but I didn't feel like we would. We'd taken a stand, because we were right.

"Anything you have to add, Dooley?"

"No, sir. Chance spoke for me."

"Anyone want to add anything?"

No one said anything and it was time to go. Chancellor Bishop got up to open the door for us. He wasn't sure I wasn't at the bottom of the baseball rebellion, but that didn't matter now.

"Mr. Dooley, I'd like a word. He'll catch up with you gentlemen in a moment," he said, closing me in the office.

"Coach Briscoe was in my office last night. He told me you were organizing his players to challenge his authority. He said you were in the locker room last night after the team bus returned. You know that violates what I asked you to do."

"No, sir. I didn't think about it. I was waiting when the bus returned because I wanted to find out the score. The team came to me and asked for help. I felt like I needed to be with them. I felt like we could salvage the season if I was there for them. It wasn't practice. I stayed in the dorm when they went to Greenwood. My understanding was I shouldn't go to practice or on the team bus."

"I want you here at 3p.m. this afternoon, Mr. Dooley. Alone," he said firmly. "Do not have any more meetings with State's baseball team. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. Three o'clock," I agreed.

Most of the guys seemed to feel better about doing something. While I was able to place the blame for our collapse, the rest of the team wasn't so ready to blame Coach Briscoe. We'd been left by Coach Bell and nothing had gone in our favor since.

I didn't mention my return invitation to the Chancellor's office. I still couldn't read him. His questions were carefully worded so he didn't give much away.

Asking me to return alone hadn't left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. It was information the team didn't need.

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