Outside the Foul Lines - Book IV

by Rick Beck

Chapter 6

End of the Fall

We played our first two games with a mix and match bench that was still in flux as fall turned cool and a bit stormy. Much of the pitching was supplied by guys Coach Martin wanted to see under game conditions. The teams we played were testing their own lineups, preparing for spring.

I'd sent Carney to the second team and Kramer to the bench. Both George and Kevin seemed ready to move up when the call came. With jeff and I in the middle of the infield, and Ford at first, we were solid in our fielding. Jeff was a capable hitter, George was a scratch hitter and not afraid to lay down a bunt when he caught the other team's infielders napping. He even beat out a few in the games that were meant to let someone like him show off his stuff.

With Woods, Crosby, and Browning in the outfield, we seemed solid there. Donnie was at best an average hitter. Tom hit for average as well as power, and Kevin needed work on his swing. He didn't seem comfortable in the batter's box.

My bat wasn't a factor. I did my best to stand up to the pitchers but didn't get my bat around more than a few times in the fall games. I couldn't get comfortable at the plate but it was getting better. I could still wait out a pitcher for a walk now and then. What I really wanted to do was start hitting again.

Coach Martin stayed busy working on his lineup and our discussions were mostly held near the field or on the bench, where I sat next to him in his folding chair. The games meant nothing but the information we got meant we knew our players better. The brightest star had to be Tom Crosby. He could hit a ton and did against opposing pitchers who were being looked at as possible starters on their team in the coming season. On the whole we weren't going to overpower much of our competition.

It was the final week of organized outdoor practices, when all the fall games had been played. I was up to my usual watching and processing what I was seeing, when I turned around and walked right into Andy, who had been standing just our of my view, waiting to ambush me.

It was all I could do to not grab him and throw a hug and a lip lock on him. I caught myself in time to keep my arms raising into the air, a gesture of dubious meaning. I kept at an arms length, smiling from ear to ear as he smiled back. I was ready to call it a day.

"Just passing through and thought I'd stop by to say hi,' he said. "Hi."

"You play ball in Lincoln. You live in Arkansas. How is this on the way anywhere?" I asked.

"So, I'm lost. How are you?" Andy quizzed with no one paying a lot of attention, but his eyes spoke to me of his longing.

"Better now," I confessed, feeling bashful standing there looking at the man I loved without being able to touch him.

"Yeah, I know how it is. We played our last game two days ago. I've been on a bus since they flew us back from South America."

"You're a world traveler now?"

"I'm not sure. All I saw were baseball diamonds."

"No pretty senoritas to keep you company?"

"Hardly. The food is weird. Lots of beans. Their bread is like paper. Kind of tasty. You pile the beans and rice on the bread, roll it up, and that's dinner," Andy said.

"Beans. Sounds dangerous," I smirked.

"Depends on how you look at it."

I became aware of Tom closing in on us from where he was waiting for the pitching machine to be reloaded. He didn't seem to notice me but he was honed in on Andy.

"Hi Tom. This is Tom, Andy," I announced to get Andy's eyes out of mine.

"I'm Tom Crosby. You're Andy, aren't you?"

"Yeah, that's me. Just dropped by to see what's up with State baseball."

"Tom sat out last season to be eligible to come play for Coach Bell at State this season," I explained.

"Bummer," Andy said. "You got the short end of the stick on that one."

"How about showing me your swing, Andy?" Tom asked, getting right down to business.

"How long are you going to be here?" I asked, wanting to get away from there as fast as possible.

"You trying to get rid of me already. I just arrived."

"No, you can stay as long as you want," I said. "Hey, Tom, he's been on a bus for two days. How about we wait until tomorrow and you boys can play in the batting cage all you want."

"Cool," Tom said, shoving his hand out for Andy to shake. "Nice meeting you. I'll see you tomorrow."

"I'll be here," Andy said.

Kevin stood right behind Tom. He knew Andy and didn't say anything but smiled and nodded before he followed Tom back toward the batting cage.

"I room with Jeff," I said.

"Oh, you do. Won't he get suspicious if we sleep together?" Andy asked.

"Yes, and I can't bring you in there like it's our room. I've got some money. We'll get a motel room. I'll just tell Jeff we want to spend time together," I said.

"I've already got the room. I took care of it before I came over. College Park Motel room 23. Here's your key. Didn't want to waste time once I found you."

Andy handed me a key with a plastic tag attached telling whoever found it to drop it into a mailbox. I had better things in mind for that key. The post office would need to get their own.

"You hungry?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'm hungry for you. I can't wait to get my hands on you," Andy said, leaning closer as he spoke and his hands rubbed the back of mine.

"I'll tell Coach Martin I'm taking off."

Andy followed me to the pitcher's field and then stood talking to Coach Martin for the next ten minutes. I saw Jeff and I told him I was going to stay at the motel with Andy while he was in town. Everyone knew Andy and I were best friends and thought nothing of me going off with him but Jeff seemed amused by my announcement. He smiled warmly and said he'd keep the light on for me.

The motel was on the other side of campus and it was a fifteen minute walk from the baseball complex. I quizzed Andy on the Spanish League play and he said it wore him out after four months of play at Lincoln. He could have stayed longer but opted to return to me.

We began in the first bed inside the door of the room and by the time we were totally undressed we were in the other bed. Andy mentioned we didn't have to remember to mess them both up so no one suspected we were sleeping together. I told him I didn't care who knew. I loved him and I wanted everyone to know.

Andy's steady weight gain since his senior season at State started had stopped. He'd lost a few pounds since I'd seen him before I cam back to school. He was still solid and full of energy. Of course my introduction of weight training to our new young team left me more solid and a few pounds heavier than I'd ever been. After spending two months in the heat on the rooftops of Statesville, I was the lightest I'd been since high school, when I visited Andy in Lincoln.

If he noticed the changes in my body he was too busy to mention it, but my tongue being in his mouth might have cut back on our conversation. It was pitch black in the room by the time we were ready to take a break. I had no idea what time it was.

"I'm starved," I said. "I haven't eaten since lunch."

"I caught a burger after I got the room but that wore off hours ago."

It was nine o'clock by the time we were sitting on the curb outside of Burger Kind devouring our bag of Whoppers, fries, and soda. Andy laughed as he ate when he looked at me. I let my leg rest firmly against his. I couldn't believe we'd been a part for so many months that year.

We knew our separations had just begun but I wanted to keep him there as long as possible. It was when I was with him I realized how miserable I was without him. Looking at him was so pleasurable I couldn't stop.

"I've got to go home and get a job. My family needs some help. I've saved a little over a thousand bucks and if I can make another thousand, it should get them through until I start getting paid next season. I didn't make a dime in the Spanish League and I spent too much."

"I've got money. I saved most of what I made last summer. I was expecting to need it for school. I'll give you a thousand of that," I said.

"I can't take your money for my family. That's my responsibility."

"Our money. What the hell are we doing if we don't help each other until we can be together all the time."

"I don't know, Do. I don't like taking money from you."

"Look, big guy, don't argue with me. I want you here as long as I can have you here. A thousand bucks sounds like a cheap price to get what I want."

"I've only got the room for two week," Andy said. "They wouldn't take a check. I used all my cash."

"We'll go to the office and renegotiate tomorrow. All these places have special monthly rates for the collge. I'll take care of it and we'll send your family money and you can tell them you're working here."

"You call this work? I've been counting the hours. I didn't think that bus would ever make it."

"You'll be wishing you were back on that bus once I get done with you," I said.

"You really think so?" he asked, rubbing his leg against mine and looking into my eyes.

"Let's go back and get another round to take to the room with us. That way we won't need to surface until after noon tomorrow," I said.

"Cold Whopper and fries. There's a soda machine outside our door. We'll get change for it."

"The rooms got a microwave. We just put the meat in the microwave and we've got a warm Whopper."

"My little cook. How'd I ever make it without you?"

"You've never been without me," I said.

Life was wonderful again. Baseball was fine and being involved in building a team took a lot of my time. It kept me from thinking about Andy all the time. Now that Andy was with me, I couldn't wait for the end of fall practice. The final few days would be a bother more than attending to a task at hand.

By noon on Wednesday we'd renegotiated the room for two months and we'd sent a money order to his family. By the time I got to practice there were half a dozen guys standing around the batting cage waiting for me to bring my lover to them. Andy was a celebrity on his former team.

Coach Martin and half the team stood around the batting cage watching Tom and Andy take turns, alternating one and than the other on each pitch. I sent two guys outside the fence to bring back the homers and at one time they hit six homers in a row between the two of them.

Tom's arms were shorter and his swing was more compact. He could still get around on the ball so fast that his hits were almost as long as Andy's. His swing was effortless and balls that didn't look like they'd get out of the field, drifted, drifted, and fell beyond the confines of the fence. Andy's homers had more lift and went more directly out of the ballpark. He'd been hitting balls out of baseball fields on the minor league circuit. Hitting them out of State's field was child's play to him now.

"You take it for the next few pitches," Tom said. "I want to watch from behind the cage."

Tom leaned his bat at the corner of the batting cage and stood behind it to get a long view of Andy's swing. There were two or three long flies into centerfield and then two or three that headed into homer land. By this time Tom had Kevin standing by him and he was telling Kevin what to look for.

Kevin was taller than Tom but he was built more up and down and not as wide as Tom who wasn't as wide as Andy through the shoulders and chest. Kevin had a decent swing but failed to make contact much of the time. He seemed anxious and at the same time reluctant. I wondered how many times he'd been hit by a pitch.

Once Andy hit a couple of dozen balls, Tom moved Kevin to the plate. First Kevin swung and missed at the balls coming out of the machine. Since everyone was watching him, I could see he was nervous. Both Tom and Andy saw it too, but ignored the audience, more interested in Kevin.

Ignoring the pitching machine Tom had Kevin raise his right elbow and wanted him to keep his swing on the level. Kevin tried this a couple of times and moved the elbow higher, lower, and then back to about where Tom had suggested. Kevin's stroke looked better but he failed to make contact with the ball.

Andy moved into the batters box and moved Kevins right leg back to the rear lefthand corner of the batter's box. This opened up Kevin's stance by maybe eight inches.

"Okay, when you are ready to swing, step forward with your left leg. Step into the pitch but keep your swing level. You'll see what I mean. Go ahead and take the next pitch once you're comfortable.

The pitching machine slung empty air and Kevin almost swung when the empty arm rotated toward him. The pitching machine was reloaded for another round of pitches. Kevin experimented with his swing, moving his right leg around at the rear of the batter's box and trying to step into the pitch, even with no pitch available. He took some practice cuts before getting ready to get a pitch. He looked at Tom and then Andy to see if he would get more instruction. I knew how he felt.

The first pitch came inside a little and Kevin swung and missed. He waited again for instruction but both Andy and Tom stood behind the cage, waiting for Kevin to put all the pieces together. He missed a second pitch and banged his bat on the plate as a ball came before he was ready. His face turned red as he worked on hitting at least one pitch.

Stepping back into the box, he took practice swings as the arm of the machine rotated, taking another ball down the wire ramp before launching it at the plate. Kevin moved less vigorously as he set himself for the next pitch. This time he watched the machine and followed the entire process without making an attempt to swing.

Kevin stepped into the next pitch and brought the bat across the plate to catch the ball fat. It lurched up off his bat making a solid sound of contact. The ball sailed directly out over the centerfield fence. Everyone cheered and applauded the success. Kevin checked to see where he was in the batter's box as the pitching machine delivered another pitch, but it didn't distract Kevin.

"That's the swing," Tom said. "Duplicate it and you'll get the balls further into the outfield. Good timing."

Kevin got lost in his new swing as guys lost interest in watching him practice moving into and out of the batter's box. It wasn't the same as watching heavy hitters like Andy and Tom.

There were several slash hits, single and double range, and another adjustment or two as Kevin tried to locate the best spot he liked in the batter's box. By changing his place in the box he changed the nature of his hits. He seemed to be processing this difference as he studied where he put his feet each time.

I hadn't noticed Kevin paying that much attention to his hitting before, but the instruction got him to see the things both Andy and Tom saw. In his hits that afternoon Kevin hit the longest balls I'd ever seen him hit. I hadn't thought of him as a long ball hitter, although he had a perfect build for it. Getting his arms around faster and putting more of his body into his swing meant better success.

Andy and Tom both took more at bats. They called Kevin back to take more swings. There wasn't a lot more conversation but they both watched the young hitter's improved swing. Kevin seemed to have a better understanding of the mechanics involved.

I was surprised at Tom's poise. He didn't hesitate and laid the wood to pitches he liked without hesitation. I could see Andy was comfortable comparing notes. Tom hadn't complained about Coach Bell's departure. I guess you accept what you can't do anything about. He was the kind of hitter Coach Bell would have loved to work with.

It was later than practice usually ended and George went out to refill the pitching machine for Andy and Tom to take some final swings. Little did I know what we were about to see. Coach Martin moved up behind the batting cage as most of the first team stood watching.

Once the machine offered up a ball, Andy stood on the right side of the plate and parked it over the fence in left field. He stepped back in time for Tom to move into the left hander's side of the plate, and he hit a ball over the fence between right and centerfield. Andy stepped back in and hit a frozen rope out over the centerfield fence.

There was applause each time a ball exited the field. They hit nine more homers between the two of them, alternating as hitters. They shook hands once the machine pitched nothing but air and the exhibition was over.

I steered Andy out of the gate as quick as the team finished shaking his hand. A visiting celebrity was nice but a visiting lover was better and I'd waited as long as I could to get my hands on him. The team had to find their own.

He kept smiling at me and bumping me as we walked toward the motel. I didn't have to tell him where we were going. He knew and I could tell by his smile he was as anxious as I was to get prone together. We once again had to use both beds, because one was never enough. Even after we finished on the second bed, I kept my face against his chest, kissing the tender flesh. He used his hands to smooth my hair.

"Did you ever love anyone before?" Andy asked as the final rays of light squirted through the slats in the blinds beside the bed.

"Me?" I asked, remembering back to why I began playing ball.

"I know about me. I've never asked about you."

"Once… maybe."

"You did?" he seemed surprised and he moved so he could look at my face.

"I think I did. I was fourteen. We were best friends. Yes, I think I loved him, but nothing like I love you."

Andy shoved his hands behind his head as he leaned back on the pillow. My hair was still messed up and I didn't like him not touching me, when he could have been. I looked into his face that was only partially visible in the limited light.

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