Outside the Foul Lines - Book III

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

Chancellor's Call

When I walked to the Chancellor's office, everyone else was at practice. I smiled at the secretary once inside.

"You can go in," the secretary said, smiling as though she knew something I didn't know.

I knocked twice and turned the knob.

"Mr. Dooley, this is Umpire Lamb."

The middle aged man stood and we shook hands. I'd never met an umpire before. I'd never really looked at an umpire close up. Their faces were almost always behind the umpire's mask.

There were three chairs in something like a semi-circle in front of the Chancellor's desk. I sat in the one closest to the door. My instincts told me I might need to make a break for it. Nothing like being prepared, but I wasn't really prepared for the fellow who would fill the third chair.

The door swung wide open and in charged Coach Briscoe, fashionably late, wearing a Cheshire cat size smile. I tried to remember if I'd seen him smile before.

"Sorry, I had to get practice going before I came over. Give the boys some guidance."

"Did Coach Martin come by? I sent him to make sure there was some supervision."

"Oh, yes, he's down thee. He isn't familiar with my boys, but he'll be okay if anything comes up. Nice to see you," he said to the umpire.

"This is Umpire Lamb. Coach Briscoe."

"Very glad to meet you," Coach Briscoe oozed personality and warmth but neither man offered the other his hand.

I was immediately captivated by this man who I'd never seen before. He chatted with Chancellor Bishop like they were country club confidants. I checked the room for a gallows. I suspected a lynching was about to break out.

It was like being a Christian who gets an invitation to go down on the field, where the action takes place. It's only after he hears the door slammed and bolted that he sees the lions.

"Gentlemen, I wanted to have all three of you here in front of me at the same time. I've spoken to each of you individually. Like a blind man encountering an elephant, his description of the beast depend on the part he grabs first.

"I want to ask a question. Without anyone going into great detail, I want each of you to indicate with your index finger, to who goes the lion's share of the responsibility for the disruption during the St. Anthony's game?"

I found myself staring at Coach Briscoe's annoying stub of a finger. It never occurred to me to look at Umpire Lamb, but I had to look somewhere, and his finger was pointed directly at Coach Briscoe. I kept my fingers to myself. I knew which way the railroad ran and I was the only one there who had no standing whatsoever.

"Mr. Dooley, is there something wrong with your finger?"

"No, my fingers are fine. I realize I acted poorly toward Coach Briscoe. It wasn't a deliberate act of defiance. It was a… a reaction, I guess. I'm not proud of myself."

"Coach Briscoe, you seem certain Mr. Dooley is guilty. Do you care to give cause?"

"Dooley is a conspirator. He's out to get me. He doesn't respect me. He refuses to follow orders. He is continually undermining my authority like he's the coach. I told Coach Bell he was pampering Dooley. He refused to listen. He was protecting him, when he should have been disciplining him.

"He is the problem," Coach Briscoe pointed directly at me, giving upall pretense of having a personality.

"I don't know about any of that," Umpire Lamb said. "But what disrupted the St. Anthony's game was Coach Briscoe. One of his players, the shortstop, Kane, made a bad play. To say Coach Briscoe came unglued is an understatement. I've never seen a coach at this level of competition act in such a disrespectful manor.

"In fact this young man, …Dooley, I think. His role was to restrain the second baseman," he said, taking a pause. "…Chance, yes, Dooley to Chance. A fine double play combo. It was Chance that came off the field upset by the play of Kane. Dooley restrained him after Chance lost his temper. He pushed Chance away from the bench. This young man pushed Chance.

"I don't recall him saying anything until that time. There was an exchange as I walked back toward the bench. Coach Briscoe said something about benching Chance I believe, and I'm sure Dooley responded before other players moved between Coach Briscoe and the two players in question.

"I didn't hear the entire exchange, but it didn't have anything to do with me stopping the game. I regarded Coach Briscoe as being out of control. He was at the center of it and I wanted him seated and under control before I restarted the game.

"No, even Chance did no more than raise his voice. When you are watching an important game slip away, I expect emotion. For coaches and players to have angry words is part of the game. I can't imagine not having an emotional reaction in this case. That's something I see several times a year. It doesn't require me to stoop a game."

"Coach Briscoe, any rebuttal?"

"Dooley has gotten to him. He instigated it. His staring at me like he knew more than I did. He acted like a big shot in front of the team. Secret meetings! I told you he got the players all worked up after the Greenwood game. I told you he disobeyed your orders and went into the locker room with them. I knew what he was doing. I told you what he was up to."

"So you did, and that's why I asked for you all to come this afternoon. I wanted to make sure I had the facts straight. I want to thank you for coming in. Before we're done, Mr. Dooley, do you have anything else to tell me at this time?"

"No, sir, I think he's got a serious problem, but I don't have anything to do with it. I did my best when I thought my team needed me. I'm sorry if I hurt his feelings."

"Well, I've got the picture. Thanks for coming in. No not you Coach Briscoe. You sit. I want to have a word with you if you don't mind."

"I've got practice," Coach Briscoe objected.

"Mr. Dooley, you can go down to practice and see if you can be of some help to Coach Martin. Thank you, Mr. Lamb. I appreciate your attendance."

"No problem at all. I wanted to see to it this never happened again."

"I can assure you it won't. Thank you both," Chancellor Bishop said, holding the door open for us and closing it behind us.

I went down to the practice field and found Coach Martin from the freshman team. He was in a position very familiar to me. He had his fingers woven through the chain link of the backstop, watching Andy take batting practice. I went over to see if he objected to me being there and got a refreshing warm welcome..

"Hi, Dooley," he said, smiling pleasantly. "He's a thing of beauty."

"Yes, he is," I agreed, not thinking anyone saw Andy the way I did.

The bat cracked as Andy followed through easily on his swing. The ball stayed within the confines of the fences by five or six feet. On days when he hit away there was a manager who stood outside the fence to throw the balls back. This was just a warming up exercise, letting his motion flow, not seeking distance but even then the balls were barely able to stay within the field of play.

Today was a light day. We went to Bradbury the following day. Coach Martin would be on the bus with us. Before I went to get on the bus I walked past Coach Briscoe's office. The door was open and the office was empty. Anything that indicated Coach Briscoe had once been in charge disappeared overnight.

We'd once more undergone a leadership change. There wasn't a word spoken. Coach Martin simply eased into the role he was assigned. No one questioned his ascending to the helm of the first team. He was a soft spoken gentle man that I'd known only briefly as a freshman.

Over the next few days I found out that Chancellor Bishop talked privately to Chance, Kane, Andy, as well as other boys on the team before the final meeting in his office. The man had done his homework. All he had left to do was dismiss Coach Briscoe as a poor example for impressionable players on the State baseball team.

We beat Bradbury 5-4 but it wasn't as close as it sounds.

It turned out to be a far bigger win than we knew at the time. Greenwood lost to Concord. We pulled back even with Greenwood, realizing they weren't all that tough. Concord was the last place team in our league.

This turn of events rejuvenated my team. We were delirious with joy when word came of Greenwoods 3-2 loss. Our energy and momentum had returned. The dismissal of Coach Briscoe got the team back on track. No one spoke of his erratic behavior or how fast we'd been derailed. We were all thankful to still be alive in league play.

Moving back to the top of our league gave us an appreciation for our ability to come back. We had no doubt we could beat anyone, but we understood if we didn't stay at the top of our game we could be beaten.

Coach Martin kept the lineup of available players in his pocket. He had a habit of calling me over each time he made a decision on pitchers, or especially when he wanted a shortstop. I wasn't sure why this was.

I wanted to think he trusted my judgment. I didn't want to think Chancellor Bishop told him to include me in on decisions to sooth any damaged feelings. Actually, I'd finally learned to read Chancellor Bishop. It was easy. Think logic. He had earned my loyalty for not allowing a coach to run me out of the game without finding out the reason why.

Having Chancellor Bishop worrying about my peace of mind wouldn't be bad. I accepted Coach Martin's need for my opinion, because he genuinely seemed to want it. I knew my team and he respected that. It was a welcome change in coaching style.

It was odd to suit up against Bradbury. It was our next to last regular season game. My cleats felt funny and the uniform felt like a million bucks. Everything changed once I suited up. My estrangement from my team had ended. I was back.

The doctor had cleared me that morning, after I counted hjs fingers successfully. Fingers had become import in my life. I remembered the fingers in Chancellor Bishop's office. I point at no one.

We took the field as the game got underway. Chance came over and patted me on the butt, smiling broadly, saying nothing. I stood at the shortstop position and felt like I'd been away a year. Chance didn't need to say anything. I felt our presence marked the infield. Together we became something special. We almost never surprised one another. It felt so good being there.

We threw a ball around the infield as the pitcher took his warm up pitches. Chance sent the ball to me on one bounce each time the ball passed. I felt good. The time away dissolved without any adjustments required. I'd played shortstop so long it was part of my being. I didn't need any practice or a refresher course. What I did came as reflex. I didn't remember tha while sitting on the bench, because I wasn't in the game.

Bradbury's first batter hit three foul balls down the third baseline. He struck out on the next pitch. I pounded my hand into my glove and took my stance with each pitch. The second batter worked the count to 3-2 and the very next pitch flew up over his head and clanged against the chain link in the backstop.

There was a surprising response to that particular sound. I had a chill and became agitated. It took my mind out of the game in a most disorienting fashion. For a few seconds I felt lost. I found myself watching the runner trot down to first base.

I pounded my glove and smelled the leather. I told myself to get back to business. I settled back into my shortstop mode, focusing in on the plate as the pitcher and catcher went through their routine. I watched the signs being flashed until the pitcher got what he wanted.

I pounded my glove and went back into my stance, ready to react instantly if the hitter got his bat on the ball.

The ball was hit so sharply there was no time to think about making a play. I was on it like a cat and whipped my throw to second. It popped when the ball hit the leather of Chance's glove. He leaped out of the reach of the sliding runner's cleats, delivering the double play throw to first base with time to spare.

Bradbury was retired in the first.

Chance looped his arm over my shoulder as we jogged together toward the bench. I felt great. I was back.

"What a throw," I said. "That was nice."

"Good to have you back, buddy," he said, as I got ready to bat.

When I reached for my batting helmet, it wasn't there. Of course it wasn't. It had splintered like my skull would have done if not inside that helmet at the time.

"Hey, Chance, can I use your batting helmet? I forgot I needed to get another one."

"Go for it, Do."

My bat was right out front where it always was. I batted first and that's the slot it had been in since the day I got…

I swung the bat as I walked to the plate. The Bradbury pitcher was still throwing warm up pitches. I stood for a second behind the backstop. The umpire indicated it was time to play ball.

I moved into the batters box and swung the bat twice. The weight felt perfect. No readjustment needed. I felt great. All the sounds and smells were like they should be. Sitting on the bench and not playing was totally different.

The pitcher began his motion and the ball came in on me as I backed away from the too close pitch. It did tick me off a little after missing a week after being hit. I pulled the bat up so fast I almost hit myself in the head with it.

I was sweating. My knees were starting to shake and I couldn't believe my ears.

"Strike!" the umpire declared.

Wait a minute. The damn ball almost hit me. How could it have been a strike? I looked at the umpire who was watching me do my imitation of an idiot. This didn't add up.

I looked at the bench and both Andy and Chance had stood up. They both stood on the edge of the grass out in front of the bench. Coach Martin stood in front of his chair, looking concerned.

What the hell was I doing staring at the bench?

"You going to bat, son," the umpire asked politely.

It was Umpire Lamb. I recognized his voice from Chancellor Bishop's office. I stared at him and he stared back, waiting.

"Oh, yea," I said, trying to act like I knew exactly what I was doing.

I stepped back into the batters box, while feeling disoriented. What the hell was wrong with me? I swung the bat and looked out toward the pitcher.

"You all right, son?" the umpire sought clarification.

"Yes, sir. I'm fine. Sorry," I apologized, as I stood back in my batting stance and took two practice swings.

I continued to sweat and I did all I could to keep my knees from shaking. I stood there for three more pitches and I struck out without ever thinking of swinging at one of the pitches. I hadn't even seen the ball except for the one I saw coming at my head. It's all I could see.

"You okay, Do?" Andy asked, as I sat back on the bench beside him.

He took my bat and went over to slide it back in the bat rack.

"You going to be okay?" Andy asked, looking at my face as he sat back down.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I need a little batting practice, I guess."

"You look a little pale," he said, but I didn't answer.

I recognized the feelings. I'd been afraid of the baseball for years. I'd been hit a couple of times with wild pitches that got away, but it was like being brushed or punched on the arm by a buddy. I'd gradually forgotten I was afraid of being hit, until I'd been hit in the head.

It was no brush back. It could have done serious damage. I'd faced my fear and beaten it before and I'd beat it again, but probably not before my next at bat.

By the time Andy came up Wertz had singled. Chance singled Wertz to third. The pitcher wasn't going to serve up any fat pitches, letting the first two go low and outside. The third pitch was also outside, but it came up higher and Andy reached out his long arms and tagged it out over the right field fence. Advantage State, 3 zip.

There was one out and Kane doubled and scored on a single. I was worried I'd come to bat again in the first inning, but there was a strikeout before the next batter flied out. Advantage State, 4 zip.

I got one shot at the ball in the second and threw the runner out at first. There was a Bradbury single before we retired the side. We came to bat in the second and I swallowed hard and figured I'd do better my next at bat.

The pitcher struck out on three pitches and I'd already put on the helmet and retrieved my bat. Andy and Chance watched me like a hawk. I went directly up to the plate, taking practice swings on the way. I just wouldn't think about getting hit. I'd make myself stand in and swing at the ball.

It took me four pitches to strike out. The bat remained on my shoulder. Even when the idea of swinging at the pitch occurred to me, the ball was already in the catcher's glove by that time.

As I started to walk toward the dugout, the umpire called time and was suddenly in front of me. I pulled up short and stared through the bars on his face mask before he pushed it up on his hat.

"Why don't you call it a game, son? You need to think about it awhile, Mr. Dooley."

"I'll be all right," I said.

"Play until your next at bat. Have your coach pull you. If you don't I will, Mr. Dooley. This isn't doing you or your team any favor. Work it out and maybe you'll feel better next game."

"Yes, sir," I said, and I didn't act like I was shocked or disturbed by his insight.

I didn't say anything when I went back to the bench. Luckily the first pitch to Wertz went to second to first for the third out. I took the field and no one said don't. Chance kept looking at me like he was expecting something to happen or maybe he was looking at me not sure what to expect.

It was 5-1 when I was going to come to bat in the fifth inning.

"Pull me out of the lineup," I said to Coach Martin in a low confidential voice.

He was immediately staring at his lineup card. He wasn't going to ask me why, which was a relief. Of course everyone knew why. I needed to pretend they couldn't see my fear.

"Who do you want?" he asked, handing me the card.

I looked down the bench, until I came to the man I knew would do the best job. My instincts told me this wasn't too bright, but it was the right answer.

"Henry. He can play shortstop. Put him in to bat for me and play my position."

"He can. He was playing second for us and he started his first two games up here at first. How do you know he can play short?"

"Bobby Henry is his brother. He can play shortstop. He's a way better hitter than me."

"Okay, Dooley, I guess you know what you're doing. Henry, grab a bat. You'll play shortstop."

"Sure," Jeff said, looking a bit curious at his sudden elevation back into the lineup.

"Well, grab a bat. That umpire isn't going to beg you to come to the plate," I said in a scolding voice.

Andy and Chance didn't say anything when I sat back down. It was awkward sitting down before the game ended. My future was in doubt once again. I tried not to let it get me down but in a matter of a few days my life had gone through enough twists and turns to last me a lifetime.

We won the game 6-2. Jeff Henry played fine and Chance thanked me for not telling Coach Martin to put Kane back in at shortstop. He didn't ask me why I'd taken myself out of the game. I was hoping someone might not have seen me shaking each time I went up to bat.

Andy knew why and he tried to reassure me late that night. I pretended it helped but what was inside my head wasn't so easy to purge. I wasn't going to give up. Baseball had become too important for me to walk away without a fight.

I didn't play the Greenwood game. It was too important to play around with me hoping I might put my fear behind me. We won 7-4 and were in the division playoff. No one else from our league made it. The competition from the other leagues was too intense. I didn't mind not having to play Greenwood again.

Bale pitched a one hitter in the first playoff game. Andy hit two home runs and Chance got two hits and walked once. We won the second game 5-1 and the third 3-0. When we made it to the final four, we won 2-0 and we won the division championship game 7-1 and were seated second in our section of the NCAA championships in our bracket.

I'd played in each of the division games and had no trouble at all. Coach Martin got the bright idea of batting me eighth, so I could decide at that time if I wanted to try batting or turn the shortstop position over to the very capable Jeff Henry.

It was simple but effective. I got to stay in the field for four or five innings and only come to bat once. Jeff was delighted to share the shortstop chores with me. He kept thanking me for letting him play, and I pretended I was doing him the favor. It was a way to keep my head in the game.

By the NCAA Championships I reevaluated my presence in the games. I realized how easy I could cost my team a game and Jeff became the starting shortstop. He was only hitting .358, but it would have to do.

State made it into the final sixteen. In the top bracket they called it the sweet sixteen, but, no matter what you call it, it was sweet indeed. Andy and Chance were on fire. Bale was back to being unbeatable. Unfortunately there was only one Bale.

We lost 6-4 in the round of sixteen.

This was the highest State had ever finished in our bracket of the NCAA Championship. We went home feeling like we'd accomplished something. We were greeted as winners, because we'd proved we were. Our flirtation with falling apart gave us a new appreciation for what we accomplished in the end.

There was a few days for us to just be students, friends, and companions, but like all the good stuff in life, it ended way way too soon.

In the baseball draft Andy went in the first round fifth pick to Lincoln, Nebraska. Chance, Wertz, and Bale were all picked early. The heart of our team was going pro.

We'd seen how fragile the game was and how fast you can go from winner to loser. We had finished on top of our game and the eyes were on them as strong players with futures in the game. They were on their way to the Big Show.

Parting with my best friends, teammates, and my lover, wasn't the easiest thing I'd ever done. I knew they were doing what was right for them. I'd known all along Andy had to go out and earn his way in baseball. There was no way I could go with him without being a major distraction. The time we'd get together wouldn't be worth the damage it might do to his career.

Besides, I had to earn some money in case my senior baseball season didn't come to pass. Coach Martin had been a fine coach. He was a bit long in the tooth and may or may not want the headache of coaching an entire season with State's first squad. He had a relatively easy time coaching the freshman team but more than half the first team had left, either graduated or they went in the draft. Next season would be a major rebuilding year at State.

I took the rest of my final exams. My parents picked me up in front of the baseball dorm a few days after my closest friends had gone.

I felt a little odd driving away. No matter what happened in my senior year, nothing was going to be the same without my friends. My difficulty with facing pitched balls placed my future at State in jeopardy.

No one promised me a rose garden.

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