Outside the Foul Lines - Book IV

by Rick Beck

Chapter 1

The Senior Season

No Invitation

"What do you plan to do this summer?" my father asked my first morning home.

"You mean besides eat you out of house and home?" I asked, yawning and enjoying our quiet house.

"You've lost weight. You need to let your mother feed you the way you know she loves to do. How are the headaches."

"Fine. Who said anything about headaches, I caught myself too late."

"Dr. Wilson. He says you'll experience headaches for some time to come. He wants to take a look at you. We're going out to the community picnic on Memorial Day. He'll take a look at you while you're there. He's going to notice the weight lose."

"I'll be looking for a job. I might not be playing ball next season. I want to get some money ahead. I don't want to risk getting caught short."

"Your mother and I have some money we've put away. I don't think you should work until Dr. Wilson takes a look at you. You don't think your scholarship is going to take care of it, John?"

"Not if I don't play, Dad. I can't take the chance. I ruffled a lot of feathers, you know. You always exhaust all avenues before you blindside your coach. Administrators to miss little details like that. I was out of bounds and I expect to pay for it."

"You did what you did for your team, John," my father said.

"You're the captain of the team. They certainly can't just let you go?" my mother argued.

"I was captain last season. I was Coach Bell's captain. Coach Bell is gone. The heart of the team is gone. I don't know if Coach Martin will be back. Jeff Henry is probably going to be starting shortstop no matter who the coach is. I got the scholarship from Coach Bell. I don't know they want to honor the final year. He arranged for me to have the final year on it on his way out the door. If they don't want to honor it I won't fight them."

"What about Andy. We were sure you'd want to spend part of your summer with him," mom said. "We put money away so you could."

"What I want and what I need to do aren't necessarily the same, mom. Andy has his hands full trying to start at Lincoln. I'd be a distraction and I don't want that. If I can make enough money, I'll go there before I go back to school. If I don't we'll have to stay in touch on the phone and in letters. He knows I know how important it is he has his mind on his game. He's got enough pressure on him without me being out there in the way."

My father made several phone calls that morning to see if any of his businessman friends could hire me for the summer. They all knew me from baseball at State. Every time I spoke to one of them about what I was looking for, we'd spend the entire time talking baseball.

The most logical place was Stan Bartlett Roofing. He had several large projects, including my high school, which would keep me busy through the summer at the kind of pay that I'd need for school expenses.

I didn't want to drain my parents and staying busy made life way easier. Dropping in bed each night exhausted was good for me. Dr. Wilson took a look in my eyes once a week for my first month home. He would always say, "Hmmmmm!" I never knew what it meant but he simply said for me to come back in a week.

Roofing was a dirty smelly business. It took me until the end of my first week on the 10 hour a day job to get a hold of Andy. He was living in a boarding house in a room with three other Lincoln ballplayers.

He hadn't started yet but he had pinch hit twice, striking out once and grounding out the other time. We talked for fifteen minutes before he had to get off the line to let someone else use the phone. They didn't have a phone in their room, so our conversations were to be short.

On days off he called me from whatever payphone he could fine, spend the two bucks fifty in change for three minutes, give me the number of the phone, and I'd call him back so we could talk for a long time. He was in a good mood but not happy without me being there to encourage him. I told him I didn't know if I could come out before school started, but I would try.

It was tough being so far away from the guy I loved. I missed having him in my arms, sleeping together, and of course the benefits that came with it. One great thing about roofing, I was beat each night from the ten hour days and half a day on Saturdays. On Sundays I slept and dreamed about my man.

I forever had the smell of tar in my nose and I had specks of it burned into the hair on my legs and arms. My uniform was a pair of shorts, boots that came almost up to my knees, and a pair of heavy leather gloves to protect my hands. It was like working on the surface of the sun and I was nauseated most days.

I had no appetite for the first time as far back as I could remember, and after a few bites of my mother's excellent cooking, all I wanted was to hit the shower and fall in bed. Dr. Wilson reminded me that I was back down to the same weight as in my senior year. I'd been fifteen pounds heavier at the beginning of the year before when I had my school physical.

Laying around in bed and making love with Andy had me heavier than I needed to be but being a roofer was a sure recipe to boil any water out of my body.

By July I'd lost ten pounds since returning home and still had no appetite when I sat at the table. My mother fixed my favorites and I picked at them before giving up on her meal. They knew it was the environment where I was working and the money was too good for me to look elsewhere.

The temperatures on the high school's roof was over a hundred on sunny days before you turned on the burners to heat the roofing materials, it must have been a hundred and twenty degrees by noon each day.

Sunday was my day of rest and thankfully Mr. Bartlett was a good Christian who honored the Sabbath, or he'd have wanted us working seven days a week. You can't look a gift horse in the mouth and I was being well paid for my labor and was depended upon to show up each day when many men worked two or three days and took off two or three days.

Whenever Mr. Bartlett came out to the jobsite he would call me off the roof, too hot for him up there, and he'd hand me an ice cold soda in a cup of ice, and we'd talk baseball for a half an hour. He wanted my read on all the State boys who turned pro at the end of the season. He wanted me to tell him we were going to repeat our winning season.

I told him we had lost a lot of our best players and this would be a rebuilding season. He didn't ask why a guy with a full scholarship was working for him, and I didn't have to tell him I probably wasn't playing next season. It was a discussion I didn't want to have, because the time I spent sitting down in his Silverado were periods of time I could get off that hot roof.

I knew a lot more than I was saying, but I didn't bother sharing that my suspicions were being confirmed. By mid-July it was apparent I wasn't being invited to summer practice. I'd have had the letter by then, arriving back at school by the end of July. I was doomed to stay on hot roofs for the rest of the summer but I would have a good down-payment on my senior year.

Since I was previously a scholarship student and a member in good standing of the baseball team, I was sure they'd see to it I got whatever financing I might need to complete my senior year at State. I was carrying a B average and if they gave me any trouble I'd go see Chancellor Bishop to argue my case, as I would willingly let him out of honoring the scholarship. I didn't think he would argue against me too vehemently. He'd been fair during the dust up after Coach Bell's departure.

Chance called in July to find out what was up. He was playing second base and batting .312 at Austin. His infield was less than solid and he wanted me to apply for the shortstop position. I told him I thought my baseball career was coming to an end and I'd never planned to go pro.

He thought I was foolish, remembering our double-play combination as a thing of beauty. I did love fielding and would find it hard to be at State and not be with the baseball team, but the fact that my closest allies were all gone would make it easier.

It wasn't my team any more. I suppose some things grow on you and I'd probably watch the baseball team closely, but not being invited to summer practice meant I could get on with my life after baseball that much earlier, but first I had to finish my roofing career and get that damn smell out of my nose.

I took to standing in front of the open freezer door, getting ice out for my ice tea and taking my time. I'd fold up in my chair at the kitchen table and roll the ice cold glass across my forehead.

"Oh, John, go take a shower. Get ot of those smelly clothes," mom complained.

It took me fifteen minutes to have enough energy to climb the stairs to my room. Then I'd look at the inviting bed with those clean cool white sheets, and it took all my will-power not to drop into and fall asleep. My mother would have skinned me alive if I did such a thing and besides, the shower was like heaven. Once in I didn't want to come out. The cold shower was my favorite and yet as quick as I came out my body was overheating again.

It was the week before school began that I called to see what the status of my dorm room was. I'd received no word on it and would need to make arrangements. The registration office said that it still had my name on it with an open slot that the baseball coach hadn't designated as of yet.

Maybe they were going to give me time to secure other accommodations? I'd been in dorm housing since my first day and maybe they'd see to it I got decent lodging.

Realizing that I didn't need to go room searching just yet, I was on the phone to get the next bus to Lincoln. My parents fussed that we hadn't gone anywhere together and I apologized, kiss my mother's cheek, and climbed aboard the mid-day bus to St. Louis.

I waited in the St. Louis bus station for six hours to get the bus to Lincoln. I called and left Andy a message that I'd arrive at 5:30 the following morning. He was at the ballpark and there was a game that night. They'd leave the message in his room.

From that minute on I was on cloud nine. I was going to be with Andy. I'd been too tired and too out of sorts to give it much thought until I was on my way and then, the closer I got, the more excited I got. I mean really excited and it made it hard to piss or even stand up in front of the built in audience.

Andy met my bus and the hug was hard to break. Feeling him, smelling him, having my arms around him was like greeting a lover after a long absence. I'd never been happier and I couldn't stop smiling. He took my bag and looked at me longingly.

"You're skinny," he said, after we began walking away from the bus stop.

"I am not."

"What's that smell?" Andy asked, sniffing loudly as he put his face close to me. "How long you been on that bus? You need a shower."

"It's roofing material. You'll get use to it. I did," I said, unhappy he said something.

I paid for a motel room across from the stadium where Lincoln played home games. Andy was in town for a six game home stand and we'd be together all the time he wasn't at the ballpark, but first things first.

I didn't get the door closed before Andy had me on the bed and we made out like there was no tomorrow. We were half dressed and half undressed by the time we finished round one. I excused myself to take the shower I knew I needed. By the time I got soaped up and the water perfect, Andy was climbing in, rubbing his body on mine, collecting soap.

It is weird how time stands still when you're making love, even when you're taking a shower. Being without him for months meant every second was spent in an embrace and we didn't get through for long when he was back for more.

Andy was a tiger and I loved him and missed him and couldn't believe I'd lived a summer without him. We had five more days together and we'd be together every minute we could be. He had to report to the park shortly before noon and I got some sleep.

He wasn't in the starting lineup yet, but he did come in late in ball games to spell the regular left fielder. At times he played right field and he'd hit three homers in his limited time at Lincoln.

Rumors were the left fielder was going up to the New Jersey team soon and Andy was being groomed so he could adjust to the minor league style of ball. He was comfortable, happy, and at ease with his team.

The audience was less forgiving than college crowds who stood by their teams through thick and thin. The minor league audience was looking for good baseball and let you know when they weren't getting it.

I stayed away from the ballpark until game time my first night. I didn't want to be a distraction, but he gave me a ticket for every game and that was fine. I loved watching him play. I loved being able to see him, even when I couldn't.

It didn't take two minutes for us to be back at one another once the game was over and I walked him back to our motel room. He hadn't played so he had plenty of energy. Only after a couple of go-rounds did he finally calm down enough for me to just hold him in my arms. He immediately fell asleep and for the first time in months we were both at ease.

Our second night together was a non-stop love fest. Andy was so horny he was done before we got started the first time. I had worried he'd get over me and have lost his passion for me, but absence had made our hearts grow even fonder, especially after so many years together. We knew our time was coming and our future together would develop out of the separation we were forced to endure now.

We wrestled rolled and played hide the sausage in as many ways as we knew how to do it. The best of all was having him to hold, feeling the soft warmth of him next to me, feeling his body grow limp as he slipped into a deep comfortable sleep. I suspected he'd slept no better than I had over our months apart.

We both found it difficult to separate from one another when it was time for him to eat and get to the ballpark for warm-ups and the team meeting before the game.

He came in to play centerfield in the seventh inning in the second game. In the ninth he came to bat and knocked the second pitch out over the wall in deep center field. It was a monster home run. I could see him looking for me as he trotted around the bases and I stood, wildly applauding my man. When passing the section where I was sitting along the third base line, he tipped his hat and the crowd roared their approval as his team met him at the palte.

If anyone tells you that having a week together after nearly three months a part is enough, it's not true. Getting back on that bus was one of the hardest things I'd ever done. Had he asked me to stay, I would have, but he didn't. He knew I had to finish college and that's the way it was.

I wanted to stay with Andy and if not for needing to have a career of my own, I might have stayed with him. As a big time slugger he was going to make a lot of money in the big leagues, but that was supposition.

There were too many variables to think that big money was really going to appear. I needed to be able to hold my own in the business world in case Andy never made the big bucks. That way he'd get all the time he needed if I was working.

It would have been easy to stay with him and life is never easy. At times it may be good but when it's easy you aren't doing it right or giving it your all.

I pried myself away from my man to go back to school to give us the insurance policy we needed. I don't think Andy had a backup plan after baseball, but he put all in had into the game and of course he didn't want to consider what might happen if he didn't make it to the Bigs.

I had already packed for school. My mother had ironed everything neatly and put a lot of my shirts on hangers and all empty spaces were filled with snacks and all the things I loved but hadn't been eating over the summer. She lamented my weight loss and had Dad accompany me into the dorm building to help carry stuff for my room in case I was too weak.

"Ah, Mr. Dooley," the attendant behind the desk said, reaching for my key once he checked his log book.

The room was as I had left it when I'd left after my junior year. I wasn't about to argue the point. I wouldn't feel all that comfortable living among baseball players when I was no longer one, but it saved me a lot of money and I'd stay as long as they'd let me.

I'd come early enough to have time to look around in case I'd have to find another place to live. Now, I'd have time to check out my classes and see if I wanted to make any changes. I liked State before the invasion of students disrupted everything.

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