Outside the Foul Lines - Book IV

by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

Judgment Day

It was on this day I missed Andy most. Not having him at my elbow made me sad. This was the place where we were always together. I knew his schedule each day and he knew mine. If we merely wanted to catch a glimpse of one another between classes or at mid-day, we knew where to go.

It might be as little as a nod and a smile to make the day easier. Some times we'd stand off to one side as students headed in all directions, paying little attention to two lovers loving.

These intimate moments outside our room were made harder because of our notoriety.

'Nice homer, Andy.'

'Great play, Dooley.'

It spoke of who we were and that we were never alone together, except in the room, which I now shared with Jeff Henry. Even when we sat off to one side during meals, wanting to share a few moments, it was interrupted by Chance or Wertz or any number of the guys we loved but wanted to be free of for a few minutes.

I'd love to have Andy with me with all the interruptions and the lack of privacy that kept us from being as close as we would have liked. I'd love to sit down for lunch with Andy and have Chance simply plopping down with his typical, 'what's up, Do?'

Maybe if I took more psychology courses I'd be better able to understand people like Briscoe and Chancellor Bishop. It might make it possible for me to understand why, at the moment that would dictate my future at State, I thought of the people who were no longer there to do me any good. Yesterday had come and gone and today I'd come face to face with where my future would take me.

Saying the day was lost on me is an understatement. There was one thing my mind kept coming back to. What would Chancellor Bishop say? Was I in or was I out? Would I stay at State or go to seek comfort near Andy? As inconceivable as it was for me to have such a thought before I graduated, without baseball, I wasn't sure I wanted to be there any longer.

I didn't eat lunch, went to the gym to workout, and at 3:00 I entered the Chancellor's office.

"You can go in, Mr. Dooley,' the secretary said with her usual smile.

"Ah, Mr. Dooley," the Chancellor said, looking up from his writing to see who was there. "I'll just be a second. You can take a seat."

I sat in the chair across from his desk and watched him jot down quick words before he put down the pen and pushed himself back away from his desk.

"How are you?" He asked happily.

"Fine," I said, saying all there was for me to say.

"Yes, of course. I suppose you have questions. Let me see if I can answer them for you. I hope you don't mind but I did something I don't feel comfortable doing, but in your case it seemed necessary. You'd never have agreed to it had we discussed it beforehand, so there was no discussion.

"I'm just running on. I told Coach Martin not to invite you to summer practice, as you know. Coach Martin mentioned you had talked. I was too busy to bring you in sooner but we'll add the final touches to our arrangement today."

Being a well educated man, I wondered if he didn't know how to get to the damn point and quit roaming all over the place.

I squirmed, listening careful to pick out something he said that went in my favor, or even against me for that matter, but he wandered, not getting close to explaining anything to me.

"With you taking that blow to the head and having so little time to recover before we were knee deep in the NCAA Championships, I felt, and I did discuss your case with the university doctors, it might be best for you to sit out summer practice. You were certainly playing some of your best ball at the time you were injured and resting you seemed the prudent thing to do.

"Summer practice is a conditioning session to get the new ballplayers familiar with our system and coaches. We like having you top notch players there as guides so they can get to know you. It's a good way to integrate the new young talent with the more experienced players. It gives them a look at the guys who play their position and whose job they may be after.

I listened for the punch line. Chancellor Bishop had always been direct with me. This was a lot of information I didn't need. Once he finally got to me, right off he threw me a curve.

"You've lost some weight. I trust you are feeling fine?"

"I'm fine," I said misplacing my patience.

"Yes, of course. Mr. Dooley, what I'm going to suggest is unorthodox. The more I thought about it the more I questioned my logic on the subject, but I decided it is something I need to do. I want you to consider a position as Coach Martin's assistant coach. Coach Bell talked to me about your ability to get his less talented fielders to produce good plays. In effect he thought you had excellent coaching skills.

"Now, we have some constraints put on us by regulations, which means this won't be a paid coaching position. Coach Martin is not certain to last a full season. He mentioned this possibility at the end of last season. He spoke to me about needing to ask you who to put where in the lineup at different times. He thinks your judgment is excellent and it helped him in situations he'd never expected to end up in when I selected him to replace Coach Briscoe."

"I'm not done playing ball," I explained before he got too far a foot. "I don't know anything about coaching. All I do is demonstrate how I do what I do. It's not complicated."

"Coach Bell seemed to think otherwise. He had you in his office to discuss games, plays, players? He was looking for your opinions. He thought you might see something different from what he saw."

"Sure, but we were just talking," I said, trying to piece this puzzle together. "I'm not done playing. I don't have any idea what a coach does."

"And I can't pay you for coaching services as long as you are an active player. This is not an official position. I can help you with some tutoring, which you've done for us before. This would give you income, but what I can't do is say you are an assistant coach at State and we will pay you thus and so. That would eventually come back to bite us. We want to avoid that."

"I would be an active player?"

*"Mr. Dooley, what would change that status?"

"Well, I had it in mind you might tell me to take a hike."

"I'm accused of being insensitive about people's feelings, but I didn't think you'd be adversely impacted by sitting out a few weeks of practice. You're one of the few bright spots we have left after Coach Briscoe worked his magic on a championship team."

"I didn't know why I wasn't invited. The Coach Briscoe deal made things a bit uncertain for me. You don't buck the system. I did contribute to the tension," I confessed, still trying to find out where I stood.

"Nonsense. I sent you back to your team in front of Coach Briscoe. I slapped his face in front of you. I thought you'd understand that it meant you had been cleared of any responsibility in that unpleasantness."

"I didn't give a lot of thought to what it meant. I expect to be told if someone wants me to know something. You sent me back to my team without saying I had been cleared."

"I tried to get away without spending a lot of time making a search for a new coach. I was the one who created the situation in the first place. How bad could he be with a team of the caliber Coach Bell left him?

"I suppose I could have clarified what I was doing for you. Just keeping the program from falling a part was my main goal once I realized what a mistake Coach Briscoe had been."

"That was the problem. We could have won the NCAA Championship and it wasn't his team. Briscoe's ego wasn't going to let that happen. He didn't want that team to succeed. He thought we'd all hang around for this season, and it would be his team. He torpedoed the baseball program to make it look like his team. He'd end up the hero inside his head," I explained.

"I should have picked Coach Martin in the first place. It was my mistake. I should have talked to you one on one, Mr. Dooley. My mistake and I suppose a difficult one for you to forgive?"

"I'm a college student. I play ball for State. That's all. I don't blame or forgive anyone. It is what it is, Chancellor Bishop. Chance was the one who figured out Briscoe's game. It convinced the guys that they weren't going to get any closer to the top no matter the coach. We were Coach Bell's team until the end and we went out on top because of him."

"When you have the kind of responsibilities I have, Mr. Dooley, you sometimes miss the obvious. I wasn't ready for Coach Bell's departure and I tried to do a quick fix, not understanding the kind of team he'd left me. I don't get a do over and you're stuck with me. I can only hope to be smarter next time."

"I'm here to play ball. It's what I do. Last year is last year. We've got this season to play yet," I said. "That's the most important thing to me. Playing this season."

"Coach Bell spoke too highly of you for me to ever think ill of you, Mr. Dooley. Admittedly, if I only considered Coach Briscoe's argument, you'd have been severely disciplined, but it was apparent to me there was only one guilty party in the matter, Coach Briscoe. Your comments reinforce what we both know to be true."

"If you'd have come out and said it that way I would have understood it. You didn't and I wasn't sure I'd be invited back this year. I've got plenty of money. I worked all summer. If my scholarship is still in place I'll be fine. I'll assist my team in any way I can as I've always done. You can call it player-coach or what ever you want."

"The intensity at the end of our baseball season was such that I truly thought you needed more time to stand down in order for you to heal properly. Concussions are no laughing matter, Mr. Dooley. Had we not been in such an intense battle for recognition, I may have had Coach Martin sit you down to make sure you stayed healthy. You made that move on your own as I recall. I was merely following that line of thought to its logical conclusion. To rest you."

"It would have been nice to know."

"There was never any though that you wouldn't be at the center of State's infield and our baseball program. I'm sorry if my lack of sensitivity led to any misunderstanding. You are our shortstop. That's it in a nutshell."

"Then, nothing has changed. That doesn't mean I'm about to start hitting a ton. Platooning me would be the right move right now. I can't say what may happen later. Coach Martin thinks my hitting will come back in time."

"That's understood. Coach Martin and I agree that you need to come to bat if you are going to recover your confidence at the plate. Taking yourself out of the games isn't helping you."

"No, it's helping the team. Jeff Henry is an excellent shortstop and I think he's on his way to being as good a hitter as Bobby."

"Jeff Henry is our second baseman. He doesn't want to play shortstop. Coach Martin has had several conversations with him on the subject. Your hitting is of concern. It is not going to hurt this team. We are in a rebuilding year. I want to field the best team I can, giving our newer players the experience to make next year's team better. I want you in my infield and I want you offering assistance where you feel comfortable. If batting is that big a problem for you, than it's a call only you can make. Don't give up on yourself. Don't sell yourself short. I've made my decision and now you've got to do what's best for you.

"I've given you plenty to chew on for the time being. You don't need to give me an answer today. Take a few days and consider what I'm asking you to do for State and me. Talk it over with Coach Martin. See what he's thinking. I picked him to avoid another disaster like the one that came with Coach Briscoe."

"I don't need any time to think it over. You want me to do what I've been doing all along. If you say you are comfortable letting me take my swings, than I'll take them. I came back wanting to play. Before the Coach Briscoe fiasco I may have thought I could walk away from the game anytime I wanted, but I know better now. I can't conceive of me being here and not playing. Baseball is in my blood."

"Then that settles that. Feel free to come to me with any problems. I'll do what I can to help keep you happy with us here at State and I'm sorry for that little miscommunication. I trust you've survived?"

"Yes, thanks," I said, and he stood as I stood, offering me his hand for shaking.

The meeting wasn't what I expected. None of my worries were based on anything but my usual insecurity. While I had many excellent skills, I lacked confidence that I had the complete package. My bat always being the problem and so I worked to have the best glove. Now I was being told my bat wasn't a factor in playing baseball at State.

It was one of the best meetings I'd ever been asked to attend. My senior year had become successful without me spending much time in class and with no time at all spent playing ball. I was on top of my game and I hadn't even put on my cleats. My life had become delightful for me once I'd met with the Chancellor. I smiled a lot and no longer had any worries.

When I gave my parting smile to the Chancellor's secretary, I waited until I got to the door before I leaped high in the air, pumping my fist almost to the ceiling of her office, "Yes!" I exclaimed, carefully opening the door once I came back to earth.

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