Outside the Foul Lines - Book V

by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

Andy Calling, Remember Me

Things moved fast once the first team was in Louisville. There would be ten days before our first league game but there were preseason games with Memphis, Nashville, Ft. Wayne, and Sheboygan. The 1st team took over all the positions for the first few innings in each game. This was just enough to keep their spring training conditioning from going into decline.

The exception to this concept was pitching. While the starters spent hours warming up every third or fourth day, Coach Bell only used a starter for the first two or three innings of preseason games to keep them honed. He called on lesser known pitchers and left them in even when they were getting hit.

He didn't care if he won any of these games. He was looking for just one more capable starter. The games were unimportant but this was the golden opportunity for an ineffective pitcher to turn it around. It didn't happen often, but when it did, it was worth the effort.

Pitchers knew this was their final opportunity to make the team. Short relief pitchers asked for a start. Even in the minors the starting pitchers were on the top of the heap, but it was difficult to stay there.

A team kept searching for that hidden jewel already in its bullpen. The relief pitchers were originally starters who didn't make the grade. They could be called into a game at any time. In case of an injury to a starter, they got one more shot at shining. If you weren't in the bullpen you didn't get that chance, and that's where some of the best relief pitchers were born.

Hack mostly ran the practices and Coach Bell spent a lot of time behind the backstop and on the phone, when he wasn't out in the bullpen, watching pitchers. He now kept a notepad and jotted down information as it came to him. The notepad was out on his desk when he met with his coaches. He'd go from one topic to another, turning a page in the pad from time to time.

Our discussions were limited as preparations were being made to field all the positions with the best available talent. The first few preseason games were casual, lacking the intensity that came once the regular season began. Batters came to bat secure with their place on the team. I was free to see it all as it happened.

Starting pitchers gave three quarters of what they had in their limited innings, saving their real stuff for when it counted. This was the time to hone where the pitches went, cutting the corners of the plate, walking more batters than usual, and bringing on their best stuff to get an important out. They were on stage and even in the preseason, when the chips were down, a regular starter turned up the heat if his control wasn't what he wanted.

I took particular interest in Brad Pappas, Louisville's shortstop. He had good moves and fielded cleanly, but I was better. The shortstop to second base double-play combination was okay, but Dooley to Chance was far better. I could see an opening, even if Coach Bell hadn't seen it yet.

Once I'd seen Pappas bat a few times, he didn't need me to tell anyone he was good. He was never going to hit for power but he was going to hit. His league batting average for the years he'd played minor league ball was .321. Impressive to say the least, but I didn't say anything. I imagined one way or another getting playing time.

Pappas had thinning blond hair and was still thin at twenty-five. He'd obviously been playing ball for a long time. He was neither friendly or unfriendly to me. During practices I took time at shortstop and second base. I became familiar with his moves and he saw mine. I got my first smiles out of him, taking any throw he made and turning them into double-play moves.

In the middle of the first week, after the first team was back, we combined to make a nifty double-play. It ended an inning, during our third preseason game. It was the first time Coach Bell let me into a game.

"Do, get your glove and play second next inning," he said, flipping a page on his pad as he spoke.

"Yes, sir," I said happily, checking my fly and making sure I'd put on my spikes.

While jogging toward the dugout, Pappas put his hand on my shoulder, surprising me.

"Great move, Do. Sorry about the pepper on my throw. I try to tone it down during games like these, but I get excited."

"It's the only way we got the double-play," I said. "You're good, Brad. You're real good."

It's not something I wanted to say. The truth often hurts and he was in between me and a starting position in my mind, but Coach Bell wouldn't let me near the shortstop position.

I did a stint at third and I played a few innings at 1 st . I'd never done more than stood at these bases before, taking throws or acting like I could field anything hit my way. Now, I was told to play there. Luckily the few chances he gave me didn't end with me fucking up. I felt great each time he let me loose on the field.

He called me his utility infielder. Working with the infield in all the practices, it surprised no one. The subject of coaching didn't come up in any team conversations. Most of the infielders were adequate. Brad was the leader in the infield and he treated my presence with no hostility. I wasn't seen as a threat to the starting infielders, and I wasn't, unless Coach Bell changed his mind.

Coach Bell talked openly about me going in late in games to rest one of the regulars. There are always long stretches of double headers and extra inning games in the middle of the season, and you did your best not to wear out your best players. It invited injury. It was more than he told me he'd do for me, but the season hadn't started yet. I'd been in Louisville three weeks and felt like I'd made the team.

I was being given playing time in the preseason but not much. I came to bat and I had a perfect batting average. Batting seven times, I'd walked three times, struck out twice, and hit two ground balls for outs. It wasn't encouraging but I had swung at and hit the ball. The fear seemed to have resolved itself somewhere behind my eyes.

"Good eye," came the yells from the bench, when I trotted down to first, after a walk.

Other than my propensity for working pitchers for a walk, I was hitless. I wasn't there to win games with my bat. I wasn't even there to play. I was there to coach and I knew Coach Bell was humoring my ambition as long as it didn't count. I knew Coach Bell favored me, but if it meant the difference in a game, he'd take me out in a heartbeat.

I watched Evan Lane play the outfield. He had difficulty setting up under any high fly ball. He was a little better with balls hit more directly at him. With a ball on the ground it was like it had grease on it. He fumbled grounders before getting control over it. I knew why he wasn't playing in the infield. I knew what to show him but I hadn't been instructed to teach Evan Lane to field yet.

What was he waiting for?

Who had been given the assignment before? Evan Lane was in a key position. Why? Left fielders saw more action than right fielders.

I calculated the team he was going to had a solid right fielder in the lineup and Lane was most likely the heir apparent to a power hitting left fielder. It was Coach Bell's job to see to it he could field adequately. He was going to make it my job. Anyone could coach his infielders. They were okay. I'd had success with another left fielder, Andy, but that was a fluke. To save my ass I'd said the first thing that came into my mind, 'he needs glasses' and I was a genius.

Evan Lane was a handful not to coach. I couldn't imagine coaching him successfully, but I wasn't going to have an option if I was to stay at Louisville. I prayed I could do whatever it was Coach Bell had in mind.

Most right handed hitters were going to try to hit it toward Lane on the ground if possible. It might give them a shot at making an extra base. If I knew it by watching him everyone else did. Evan Lane was a million dollar baby with a hole in his fielder's mit. I did not see what I could do to help him.

Every time I got near Lane, he handed me his sunglasses. He was no Andy. Coach Bell didn't know what it was all about. Hack had no clue, though he'd witnessed my first run-in with him. No one else seemed to notice the implications of him offering me sunglasses so I could feel free to stare at him unnoticed. There was no worse combination than cocky plus arrogant. Why would he turn my being gay into a joke only between him and I? Most guys would have shot their mouths off to everyone.

Coach Bell had me practicing with his infield but gave me no instruction concerning Lane. It was easy to break into the practices, because Brad treated me like I belonged with his infield. This bought me a pass with the other guys.

Brad Pappas was the longest standing member of Louisville's infield. He'd been called up to the Bigs once, at the end of the season two years before. He had been sent back to Louisville to start the following season. He'd seen only limited playing time and hadn't gotten a full shot. That's the way the story went.

Other major league teams were looking at him and he was the kind of player that could get an offer any time. He kept his name off of contracts to keep his options open. Brad Pappas was a player's player. He wanted to be in the lineup. It didn't so much matter where. He was a leader and it was only a matter of time.

Lane, on the other hand, was going to one of the top teams. He was the big gun and even a bad fielding big gun was better than a wonderful fielding also ran. He was cocky and sure of himself and I'd have cut him from my team on attitude alone, but Even Lane wasn't playing for me. He hardly knew I was alive, except as a joke.

The feel, the smell, the emotion on Louisville's bench was electric. We started the season in the same mode State achieved late in my junior year, once we reached the NCAA Championships. Louisville started the season with that level of intensity. We were but a hairs breath away from the Bigs and on the first day of the new season it was on everyone's mind.

It was expectation, passion for the game, the need to excel, and the pride they took in their performance. Playing at State was like being in school. You got up for the big games, prayed the students came out to support you, and died when they didn't.

Being at Louisville was something like playing for the NCAA Championship. We were that close to the real deal. For me it was like a dream come true, even if I wasn't ever going to play there.

Our first game was at home against Toledo. It was picture perfect. Ryan Toler pitched a two hitter. Evan Lane hit two home runs. Brad Pappas hit two singles, scored once, further complicating any notion I had about breaking into the lineup at shortstop.

Louisville won 7-0. The game was never in question. I sat on the end of the bench to watch Hack and Slip coach from the foul lines. I hadn't officially been designated infield coach yet and my assignment was to watch Slip coaching at 1st. Hack controlled all the signs and relayed any signs Coach Bell had for hitters. It was exciting and I got caught up in the victory. I was part of it.

Louisville's locker room was nothing like State. In fact State's was far nicer and way newer, but the conversations and reactions were more natural and less controlled. Guys shouted at each other across the locker room and voices cascaded out of the showers to add a comment to a loud conversation.

Hack was in with Coach Bell with the door closed as I passed, the phone was ringing in the hallway next to the propped open locker room door. I had continued walking in that direction to ditch my still fresh uniform in my locker after the win. This was okay, I thought.

"Hey, rookie, pick up the damn phone. Someone might be calling," someone said as I passed and then reached back for it.

"Hello. Louisville clubhouse," I said.

"Do?" I said, trying to get my ear into the receiver so I could hear. "This is Do. Andy? How'd you get this number?"

"There's a list on the wall next to our locker room phone," Andy said. "Why haven't you called me?"

"I've been busy, Andy. I'm with Louisville. I got called up."

"Yeah, so I gather. Never tell your mother to lie to me, Do. She's very bad at it."

"Yeah, she is."

"Why didn't you let me know?"

"I didn't know how, Andy. It just happened. I've been really busy adjusting to minor league ball."

"Do you know how long it's been since we talked, Do?"

"I'm sorry, Andy. I've been busy."

"So have I but I didn't forget you."

"Andy, that isn't fair. I'm trying to break in here."

"When I broke in here we were on the phone all the time," Andy complained.

"I know and I've been meaning to call, but it takes a lot of change and I never have any. We're arguing and lets not waste your dime on that. We can figure out how and when to call once things settle down."

"Yeah, you're at a triple A club. How'd you swing that? You were out of ball for a year and you go straight to triple A. Who did you bribe?"

"Andy, Coach Bell is here. He wants me to coach the infielders. I'm still learning the system and the guys. We beat Toledo 7-0 today."

"I could beat Toledo," Andy said. "We played Wichita. They cleaned our clock. I homered but they beat us by five runs."

"The team going to be better this year?"

"They say. We picked up a couple of new infielders that seem okay. I'm batting clean up. I had a good spring, but you know that. You're with a triple A team. That's good news, Do," Andy said without sounding like it was good.

"That's why I didn't tell you. I knew you'd resent it. I'm not playing, Andy. I may not even get into a game as a player. Coach Bell says maybe if he needs me."

"Hey, if that's the Yankees calling for me," a voice came from the depths of the locker room. "Tell them… tell them…."

"Tell them he's all wet," another voice interrupted happily.

"Look, I got to go. My time is up. I don't have any more change. Call me at the room, after eight one evening. I'm always in after eight. You know the number."

"I will, Andy," I assured him, as Evan Lane walked up to place his hand on the wall next to the phone.

He was dripping from his shower and his tight muscular chest shined as the heat from his body made me flush. My eyes dropped down to the space between his thighs.

"I still love you, Do," Andy said solemnly.

"I know, Andy. I've got to go."

"If that's your girl tell her you got a buddy with all the right stuff," Lane barked, holding a substantial package in his fist as my bare forearm felt his warm damp flesh as he leaned closer to the receiver and my fresh uniform.

His flesh rubbing mine was no incidental contact. This was a personal foul. I had gone speechless as I watched his prick get half hard, standing out from between his thick fingers.

The phone had gone dead. My mouth went dry. I was unable to pull my eyes off his slow expansion, as it turned darker the harder he squeezed his handful.

He stood up away from me and the phone, letting his dick hang free. His eyes were on me and mine were on him, or parts thereof. It was as close as I'd been to any action since the last time I was with Andy.

I wasn't ready for it or Evan Lane.

He'd bet my eyes would betray me and they had. His eyes met my eyes as guys laughed and yelled for Lane to leave me alone. Lane had no intention of letting go of his hole card. As the excitement in his dick diminished, he waited to hit me with his favorite punch line.

"Ops, no sunglasses on me. You really need a pair, John. The eyes tell a story like nothing else can. See me later and we'll negotiate a pair of my best Oakley shades. They aren't cheap but I have a feeling we can work something out," and with "out" he felt his flaccid flesh, watching my eyes follow his hand to the prize.

He turned to head back for the locker room before I could reply. His ass was hard, not big at all, and his legs showed a remarkable amount of definition without being bulky. Evan Lane was a hunk and he might have suspected something the first time we set eyes on each other, but he was sure he knew all he needed to know now.

Why had I stared at him? He was an arrogant jerk.

Andy wasn't happy with me and I knew we were heading for rough road. I should have called him. He had quite an ego that had been buiding as he'd become the big gun at Lincoln. My jumping past double A ball was an insult to him. He was Mr. Baseball and I was an also ran, who didn't even make it onto the draft the year I graduated. He went in the first round of the draft and was Lincoln's Evan Lane.

Andy couldn't help but have heard Evan on his end of the phone and he wasn't going to like that either. Andy had never been jealous and I'd always gone to him every time I had a chance, since he'd begun playing at Lincoln.

The next time I called home I would get an earful. My mother would scold me for failing to contact Andy, leaving her to answer the questions and buy me time. I didn't know how to tell him and now he knew.

There is a time you've got to pay up and it was my time and I didn't know if Andy would see there was a future with both of us playing ball in different parts of the country. Since he'd left school, we'd been separated most of the time. I loved him no less and I didn't know if he would love me any more.

Louisville didn't meet Lincoln in any configuration of regular season or playoff games. The minor leagues were a loose configuration of teams from all different kinds of communities around the country. The most successful teams had money and tended to play successful teams with money.

The richer teams were directly affiliated with major league clubs which had their pick of the best players. It wasn't fair but money breeds money in every business and the man with the gold rules. So it was with baseball at all levels.

There were certain players major league teams laid claim to and these were the untouchables. Evan Lane was one of these. No club would ever trade the rights to Evan Lane. He was a franchise player and the prospect of trading him off to a club you faced several times a year wasn't bright ball. The talent you traded away was the talent that could come back to bite you in the ass.

I had no interest in anyone but Andy. That hadn't been in question. While Evan Lane could turn my face red with his bold boasts, he was your basic arrogant asshole. Even if I was in the market for a meat, his would have been the last dick I'd pick. It took more than a big dick to get my interest.

He was a sexy dude. I felt it whenever we were close to each other. I couldn't imagine him standing that close to me, and not feeling the heat too.

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