Outside the Foul Lines - Book V

by Rick Beck

Chapter 1

Roof Dreams

Being a supervisor for a major roofing concern in a minor city, Statesville, was not a major success. In fact I drove the same car, except I now took it home with me, using it to go to the mall and to movies. It came in handy when running chores for my mom. The four dollars an hour pay increase that came with the title was really great, but the job hadn't changed, and the car meant I was always on call.

"Dooley, I need the Commerce Street job hurried up. Go over and lend a hand. Keep those boys until dark. Here's my Master Card. Pick up pizza and fill the cooler with soda to keep them at it. We've got to start on the Willenford Furniture Store tomorrow morning. Old man Willenford is driving me nuts. He's predicting thunder storms for me."

The two man team became a three man team and the only advantage with supervising was that I didn't start as early as I once did. The disadvantage with authority came in staying late, after everyone else was gone. They all had lives. I didn't.

I let the workers go and I stayed behind to get as much done as I could before dark. I'd spent enough time roofing to know, after eight hours the smell, heat, and fumes were about all any man could take. My men were little more than kids, and I let them go home and finished up myself.

Even at that, after eight hours, you smelled roofing tar all night long and you never got it off you. I'd begun to think the tar bucket smell was to be what I was stuck with for life. Finding a great job with the kind of pay Mr. Bartlett paid me was a dream. I wondered if I'd grow old on the roofs of Statesville.

Mr. Bartlett was an okay guy. He'd pulled himself up by his bootstraps and gutted out being a roofer until he owned the company. Times were not very good and customers waited until the roof began to leak before calling him, but it was likely him they called. We did the best work and were happy to have a job.

Happy is an overrated word. I wasn't happy. Having a job was a necessity, but roofing was a pain in the ass. I thought about baseball at Statesville High School and I thought about baseball at State.

My letters started going out at the end of my senior year at State just before graduation. I'd sent out a hundred all over the state, another hundred around the Southeast, then the East, and then I began answering ads from California, Oregon, and Washington papers. I wanted something that would make it possible for me to cut and run when Andy went to the Bigs. He was on the fast track, hitting twenty-eight homers his first full season.

I was still roofing and picking the tar off my legs and out of my hair in the summer and just out of my hair in the winter. I kept it close cut and simply used scissors on it when necessary. I always wore a hat to hide my barber skills.

The smell wasn't as easy to cover up. No matter the cologne, ode de tar altered it to where people spent a lot of time sniffing the air to figure out what that smell was, when I showed up.

It was most of a year since I'd graduated. I had no prospects, and even the inquiries had stopped going out. My life was going no where and Andy was back in spring trainging, playing baseball in Florida. He was playing with the White Sox spring training team and looking at big league pitchers. He wanted to visit but didn't have any time, and time was running out.

I'd come home from school and went to work without taking a trip out to see Andy. He was disappointed and this showed in some of our conversations. We'd been at each other's elbow for years and missing any chance to get together now a days meant ruffled feathers, but if we were ever going to be together one of us had to make some money.

His short visits before winter ball was filled with passion and our relationship flourished, but as soon as Andy got to my house, we were making plans to get him on a plane to where ever it was he had to be next. I accepted it as part of what our relationship was, but Andy hated it and wanted me with him. This wouldn't have gone over big no matter how many homers he hit.

It was a foregone conclusion he'd move to triple A ball after his second full season as a regular, and then it was only a matter of time until he got the call uptown to play for the big boys. Andy was the kind of slugger whose homers got general manager's attention. Baseball was The Big Show and the home run hitters were king.

Me, I was sitting on my ass on Mahoney's roof, eating a foot long hoagie Mr. Bartlett brought out to keep us going. It was another rush job that had to be done by yesterday.

I was exhausted.

I sipped my root beer as Mr. Bartlett went back down the ladder. Looking over toward where Mr. Bartlett was disappearing, I saw my mother running toward Mahoney's Floor & Tile. It was a good half mile from the house and here she comes trotting along like she's got somewhere to go.

It suddenly struck me by the expression on her face, only one thing would bring her in a panic. My hoagie fell into the fresh tar as I jumped up racing toward the ladder to meet my mother before she ran any further than necessary.

I nearly climbed over top of Mr. Bartlett as he stalled in the middle of the ladder, wondering the same thing I was wondering.

"John," she said. "John."

Her voice was weak and she was breathless. I was in a panic, wanting to know what she was doing there.

"John," she said again, unable to say anything else, being completely winded.

"Where is he?" I asked, expecting my father had fallen ill.

"Where is who?" she managed, not at all sure what the hell I was talking about.

"Dad. Is it bad? What happened? Where is he?"

It was then she thrust a crumpled letter she had in her hand into the air, as though she'd just scored the winning run.

"Louisville wants you. You're to report tomorrow. John, you're going to play ball."

I was stunned. It took me a few seconds to recover my senses.

"You're going to Louisville," Mr. Bartlett yelled, as the crew looked over the side of Mahoney's half done roof.

I wouldn't have to look Mr. Barlett up to tell him he was losing his last supervisor. He was suddenly dancing with my mother and me as I looked at the heading on the letter.

It was from Louisville. They wanted me to report. It was signed by Anthony Sizemore. Who the hell was Anthony Sizemore? I hadn't even put my name in the draft. What would Louisville want with me?

"You take the car, John. It's yours. I'll go and have the paperwork signed right now. Don't waste any time. Go ahead and get cleaned up. You're going to play ball," Mr. Bartlett explained.

I was going to play ball. I had waited to see if some last place team had need of a washed up infielder, after I graduated. It was a long shot and I knew better than to hope for a future in baseball. I expected a hell of a lot more out of the regular job market, but no one was hiring inexperienced help.

I followed Chance, Monty, and a half dozen other minor league players, knowing their batting averages and how many hits they got in their last game, should someone ask. Andy never failed to give me updates about one of our teammates who came to play against Lincoln.

It wasn't playing ball, but it was keeping track of it. Baseball season the summer before had been hard. For the first time in eight years I wasn't playing. I didn't go near a glove or a bat. I couldn't see myself haunting baseball diamonds looking for a pickup game. My career had ended without incident in the end. I'd never had any realistic idea I could go on playing ball.

Louisville had called and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. The letter said to report the following day. I ran my baseball career through my thoughts as I drove. It was the first time I'd driven anywhere on my own. If not for the mystery I might have driven straight to Lincoln. The bus had used some of the roads I started out on, when I went to see Andy.

It was a days drive to Louisville. I had mom get me up early, figuring to be there in the late afternoon. It said report to the stadium, gave the address, and there was a blue pass I was to give to the guard at the players entrance.

I carried the glove I'd dug out of my bottom drawer and my State hat that I'd kept away from the tar. I felt awkward as the guard nodded me through, after checking the pass carefully.

"Follow this concrete ramp to the center of the stadium and take the first left turn you come to. It takes you down to the field. See one of the coaches on the field."

For early March it was warm in the late afternoon. The sky had started to darken as the sun sat west on the Louisville horizon. I'd only been to a few big league games as a boy and the stadium reminded me of that. The walkway and stairs were concrete, the seats green, and the shade in the stands gave way to some brilliant sunshine lighting the infield dirt and the outfield as I moved toward practice.

The smell of grass penetrated the memory of the smell of tar still in my nose. It was a grand smell I hadn't sniffed in almost a year. The sound of a bat meeting the ball echoed back in the shadows where I watched guys in warm up wear, tossing balls around the infield. Several players leaned on the backstop waiting for a turn at bat.

A lanky pitcher went through a full windup, kicking his front leg high, delivering an off speed pitch that was drilled between first and second base. The infielders ignored it, continuing to throwe two balls around the infield at a fairly good clip. Several guys in the outfield scrambled for the ball, fighting to see which one would get to throw it back in toward the pitcher's mound.

An older gentlemen stood off to one side of the plate, watching the batters. His uniform was so white it made him stand out from everyone else on the field. Written on the back was the word Hack. His weather beaten face showed a good deal of age. I ran Hack through my memory banks, coming up empty.

Another man raked dirt from behind the backstop. I stood at the bottom of the grandstands as close to the field as I could get without jumping the short wall. I held the blue pass in my right hand and my high school infielder's glove in my left.

I waited.

"Who are you?" a gruff voice demanded.

"Dooley," I identified myself. "I got this letter to report and the pass…."

"Back up the walkway. Follow the ramp to the left. Take the stairs down to the locker room, first office on the right. Report in there." The man ordered without looking at the letter or the pass. "Welcome to Louisville," he growled, going back to what he was doing.

"Thanks," I said, not meaning it any more than he did.

Did he say right or left? I followed his instructions, feeling a little like I was back in high school.

It was a wooden door colored the same green as everything else in the stadium. There were two large glass windows in the top half of the door, I knocked on one.

"Coach, ain't home," a player said from the locker room. "He's over at the university checking out some talent. Go to the other side of the locker room and the first door is Coach Wilson's office. He's in there. He'll know what to do with you. Welcome to Louisville," the player said, clicking away from me with his cleats tapping against the concrete.

I knocked on the door where I was sent, wondering if I'd get dinner that night. I should have stopped before coming to the ballpark, but I wasn't hungry then.

"Yeah," a voice said.

"Dooley. I got a letter to report."

"Come on in," he said, not sounding enthusiastic.

I opened the door and was met with cigar smoke and a barrel-chested man sitting behind a desk with his cleats propped up on it.

"Welcome to Louisville. Coach is over at the university. I guess you're stuck with me. You're Dooley."

I wasn't sure if it was a question or an order. The man looked neither friendly or unfriendly. Indifferent would be my guess. Why the hell wasn't the coach there if he wanted me to report there today? One of the mysteries of life was the one about being the low man on the totem pole, while being treated like it. I reminded myself I was being called up to play ball. I hoped it would be enough. Smelling the tar in my nose, I knew it would be.

I was given instructions where I'd live, where I'd eat, and when to be at the ballpark. The heart of Louisville's team was in Florida, playing with the major league teams for seasoning. Louisville was their apprenticeship before going to play with the big boys.

The quarters were not like living at home and even less like the dorm. The rooming house was old but well kept by an elderly woman who walked me to a room I'd share with several other players. She pointed me to a closet and a bed and told me she'd do better as the cuts were made and players went home, Louisville rejects.

Louisville was triple A ball, one step from the pros. Andy was playing double A ball and would be making a stop at a triple A club on his way to the majors. It hadn't occurred to me before. I'd told my mom not to tell Andy where I was, when he called.

We'd been talking about me going to Lincoln to spend a week with him as soon as the spring roofing rush was over. Now I wasn't going to Lincoln and how would I explain my invitation to join a triple A club? I should have let my mother tell him. It was confusing.

Coach Wilson had given me a uniform with the number 10 and my name on the back. It was brand new and even the lettering and numbers were brilliant red. I hugged it and smelled the fresh new material. I laid it out on my bed before trying it on.

It fit. Even the hat was a perfect fit. How the hell did they pull that off? The big red L on the hat gave me a different feeling than the S on State's hats. This was the big time for me. I was a little dizzy considering I was in Louisville. It was beginning to sink in.

Andy was on a double A squad and I'd sat out a season and gone right to triple A. It didn't make any sense, not that I was going to complain to anyone about it. There was a piece missing. When pieces were missing, it bothered me.

What the hell was I doing here? Why give me a brand new uniform, when I might be on my way back home before the first regular season game? They hadn't seen me hit yet.

There wasn't a lot of time to ponder the discrepancy, when my roommates showed up. I was tired and wanted a nap but they wanted food and I remembered I hadn't eaten. It was pizza and beer at a loud bar within sight of the ballpark.

The rooming house was a block away and there was a gated parking lot where I was told to put my car next to the ballpark. Some cars had an inch of dust on them. I pictured players going on a road trip and never coming back. My five year old sedan fit fine.

I wondered how long I might last as Brad, George, and Carlos talked about anything but baseball. Eight hours a day was enough and the range rule was not to talk shop at dinner or in the room. It would be a good rule. Even though I had a million questions. Odds were half of us weren't going to be there at the beginning of the season.

All the guys who lived in the rooming house showered there. I was shown where to get the towel and soap I'd need. Mrs. Olsen sold all the doodads men used in the bathroom at her cost. She loved her boys and did her best to take care of us. I showered and dropped into bed, trying to sleep amongst the snoring. I thought about baseball.

We were at the ballpark at 9 a.m. There was a break for lunch and at five the day ended. There were classes where you sat at desks and listened to Hack Moran and Slip Wilson. They spent a lot of time talking about their time in the Bigs. They talked about specific players, offering them tips in a fairly casual setting.

I was introduced and everyone was happy and accepted me as one of the guys. Out on the field Slip kept me close. He described the players he had there. He spoke of Evan Lane, Louisville's serious power, and Scraps Courtney, a major league catcher who'd been up and down, mostly down when injured and rehabbing for his next comeback. Scraps loved Louisville, being a fan favorite.

In the hallway on the way to meet the coach, who had finally decided to come visit his team, I ran into a life size poster of Evan Lane. He was tall, handsome, and rugged looking, and his wrap around Oakley shades were the point of the poster, Oakley being the sunglasses for ball players everywhere, so says Evan Lane.

Louisville's power had more than a bat going for him. I tried to blank him out with thoughts of Andy.

I knocked on the door and waited for a reply.

"In," a voice barked in a very familiar tone.

I turned the knob and pushed the door open, totally unprepared for what I found on the other side..

"Coach Bell!" I said, fitting the final piece into place.

It all made sense now. Louisville's ball club wasn't all a quiver over some modestly successful shortstop coming to town. Coach Bell had seen, or he'd been looking at a list of prospects, and seeing my name, he invited me to Louisville to try out.

It made perfect sense.

Seeing my former coach's face brought memories flooding back to me, and I couldn't wait to hear what he had on his mind.

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