Outside the Foul Lines - Book V

by Rick Beck

Chapter 9

Do You Want To Dance

For the first time since I arrived in Louisville, Coach Bell seemed like his old self. He chatted with Andy as warm-ups went on nearby. There was relaxation, a renewal, coming from a connection to our mutual past. It demonstrated the pressure he felt from his job.

His concern for Andy's injury had him on the phone, scheduling a meeting with Louisville's volunteer trainer, who retired from Chicago baseball some years ago. He was a Louisville native, while still devoted to the game of baseball.

I clapped my hands and wandered around the coaches box at first, keeping an eye on Andy as I did so. Our players were ready and it was a cool cloudy day with no hint the sun might shine. It was still early spring and putting the jacket back on for a few days didn't surprise me. There was no threat of rain That afternoon.

As the game started, we faced Lexington's ace lefthander. He was always held back a start or two when Lexington was going to face us. They weren't in our league talent wise, but the pitcher was on his way up, one of those guys who pitched better under pressure.

It was a predictable first few innings, with neither team mounting a scoring threat. The pitchers had their way with the hitters until the 5th inning. McCormick came up and took two quick strikes, not moving the bat off his shoulder. The third straight strike was right down the center of the plate, and McCormick tagged it sharply past 2nd base. He stopped as he rounded first base.

"Nice hit," I said, admiring the way he could smack the ball around the infield to get on base.

"Thanks," he said, watching Coach Bell and then me as he took a small lead, waiting for something to develop.

McCormick was quick. Most shortstops could dash in an instant toward the next base. Cat like reflexes were standard equipment for a shortstop. For a runner like him there was no stop sign most of the time. Strategy required he hold tight. It's what I expected.

It wasn't wise to run through a hold sign. You take off on your own and get cut down stealing, your butt is going to get chewed on by the base coach closest to the event. Then the head coach gets a piece of it for good measure. McCormick wasn't likely to make a dash he wasn't sure he could manage, but the hold sign was put on by Coach Bell. I relayed it to McCormick, and he only took one step off the bag. Even then the pitcher was always aware of him.

This is a coaches call, because he sees the game in larger terms than a player sees it. We'd run every time for the glory of stealing on a pitcher, but it often came up short with an extra out instead of an extra base the result. McCormick leaned toward 2 nd without moving. The count went to 2-1 on Brad Pappas as he stood in on the plate.

Pappas hit about a hundred points less than McCormick. He could take a walk now and then, but this pitcher wasn't walking anyone. His pitches hadn't lost any gusto since the first batter, and 0-0 was what a good pitcher lived for, believing he could keep the goose egg on the competition.

The fourth pitch curved in over the edge of the plate. Pappas hesitated, then swung, looking bad doing it. The strike out brought up Lane. He'd struck out in the second. He gave the pitcher a couple of practice swings to look at.

Damn he was impressive.

The first pitch was low and outside but Lane rocked back on his heels as he held nothing back on the swing. The ball popped against the leather in the catcher's glove. The crowd gasped.

Lane tapped his bat twice on the plate, took two practices swings, and set himself for the next pitch, unperturbed by the swing and miss.

The pitcher knew he had a handful and he took his time, shaking off two signs before nodding at the same sign he was given first. The cat-and-mouse game was on as the pitcher controlled the pace of the game. He did a half windup motion before firing his fastest pitch at the plate. McCormick was gone. I was so busy watching Lane, I didn't know I hadn't missed a sign, but the hold had been on. I looked at Coach Bell, confused.

Being fooled by something a player did wasn't smart, but I was so interested in the pitcher's duel with Lane that I forgot I was the coach. Like most mistakes, no one knew but me.

When the sound of the bat cracking against the ball echoed around the infield, carrying out, out, out through the stands, Lane was already rounding first, smacking my hand for good measure as the ball had already left the stadium a few dozen yards north of Mrs. Olsen's house. I pictured her in her Nike tennis shoes, circling under the ball on the street that ran in front of her house.

Louisville 2 Lexington 0.

I moved down toward the plate to greet McCormick. These were the moments I lived for. I walked behind Lane as he headed for the bench, hat off, waving to the cheers of the crowd as he went. For a Thursday afternoon game there was a nice crowd of several thousand fans who skipped out of work early to watch baseball.

"Impressive," Andy said, giving a high-five to Lane as he stepped into the dugout.

Everyone stood to slap Lane's ass and shake his hand. It was a game winning hit if not for it being the midway point in the game. Of course, it was what the crowd came to see and they all stood for their million dollar baby, applauding madly as they had known all the time it would be Lane who broke the scoreless tie.

We'd been losing as much as we'd been winning recently and Lexington's pitcher was the key to the game. He walked the next batter and then struck out the side. Lexington's pitcher never faltered after Lane's hit. Ours did.

A succession of three relief pitchers gave up five runs in the 8 th and 9 th inning. We ended up with four hits and two runs. McCormick got two of the hits and raised his average to .343, second in our league in batting average, first in runs scored, thanks to Lane. Individual success at this level was important, but it didn't alter what losing did to you.

Everyone was dressed quickly and ready to go home to pack for Davenport. The team bus would leave the following morning at ten o'clock for the eight hour ride. The Saturday one o'clock start made it doable without wearing our team out.

I stood with Andy and Coach Bell in the clinic, where the Dr. Mangstrum did his stuff. He'd wet-read Andy's X-rays and we watched him stare into the light behind it. He studied it for what seemed like a long time. He sat back behind his desk.

"It's wet and I can only give you a preliminary read. I'm not treating you so it's my professional opinion for a visiting player. The break is clean. There is some inflammation that shouldn't be there. I don't like it. I've got a bottle of antibiotic I'll give you for that. Take them all as instructed on the bottle. Take them allk! Tt should take care of the inflammation.

"There's swelling that shouldn't be there. What have you been doing with this arm? If you want to continue playing professional ball, and Coach Bell tells me that's a strong possibility, you better take care of yourself, son. Your swing should be fine once the inflammation and swelling has dissipated.

"Tell the doctor there that I've seen it, and I'm well versed in any sports injury if he wants to speak with me. Otherwise, keep it out of the way and quit doing whatever it is you've been doing with it, or instead of a bat you'll be swinging a tin cup.

"My wife's got dinner waiting for me. Here's my card if you think of anything you want to know. Good luck and good evening, gentlemen."

Coach Bell agreed to let me drive Andy to Davenport in his borrowed car, which optimized our time together. I'd have a room to myself and Andy would stay with me, until Sunday, when he'd head back to Lincoln and I'd board the bus back to Louisville with the team.

Coach Bell dropped us in front of Mrs. Olsen's and Evan Lane was sitting in the living room eating cookies and drinking coffee.

"How's the arm?" Lane wanted to know.

"The wrist is broken and it may fall off if he doesn't give up on a fighting career," I said with sadness.

"I knew his fighting career was over," Lane said, as if he was an expert on the topic.

"It'll be fine," Andy said, not interested in anything anyone else had to say.

"Well, I've asked my dance partner to accompany me to dinner. If you want to join us and bring your dance partner, I'd enjoy it," Lane said, as Andy only began to object to the reference, then didn't.

"Hell of a hit, Lane. You do have a sweet swing," Andy said with admiration.

"Thanks, kid. For an old man I can still lift the lumber," Lane smiled as he spoke.

"You can't afford to be taking us out," I objected. "You and Mrs. Olsen go ahead."

"You're really in the dark. My new contract just kicked in. I'm dialed into six figures this season, to keep me from window shopping. I can afford dinner. Next year, I'll buy us a restaurant," Lane said with certainty, laughing happily at his prospects.

I lacked knowledge on how the big league clubs kept minor league players in line. Lane was waiting to take over in left field, when it was his time. No one wanted him riding a bench and they were paying him to stay in Louisville to play every day.

I was there to see to it when the call came, he was ready to field at a big league level. He was guaranteed a seven figure bonus when he went up and way more in salary. Even Lane was set, except for his inability to keep his big feet out of the way, and that could derail a career that could be worth millions. I had work to do and failure wasn't an option if I wanted to stay in baseball.

Lane went for Italian, antipasto for four overflowed the plate, and the spaghetti came with sausage, meat balls, and a sauce so smooth it slid down my throat.

I got my first look at Lane the personality. He signed autographs, smiled, and posed for pictures with little kids and grandmothers. The owner of Sal's came out and poured all of us red wine from his wine cellar. The chef came out with a baseball and posed with Lane and the owner for a series of pictures.

When it came time to pay up and leave, the owner took the check, stuffing it in his pocket, taking a hug for the tons of food we'd devoured, while enjoying the kind of experience none of us had ever had before, except for Lane, who blushed with boyish charm over the attention.

"Man, I can't move," Andy said as we sat in the back of the big Buick, another of Lane's perks I knew nothing about, although he did commercials all over town for pocket money.

"That was lovely, Mr. Lane," Mrs. Olsen said. "I've rarely had a better time going out to eat. Thank you for taking me."

"Mrs. Olsen, thank you for making me feel at home in your house. I've almost never had a home of my own," he revealed. "A warm friendly place like yours is a vacation for a kid from the inner-city."

The car got quiet quick.

I didn't know what would happen to Lane. It was none of my business. His deals and contracts were his business. My misgivings about him were gone, replaced by the admiration of one ball player for another. He was a genuine guy, who needed real people to keep his feet on the ground, while his career headed for the stratosphere.

My job was to keep his feet out of his way. By nine, after more cookies and coffee, plus two roast beef sandwiches for Andy, Mrs. Olsen put on Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey 'albums.' She called it swing and she gave us an example of how at some time in her life she swung to the same music.

Oh, Mrs. Olsen grew up with rock and roll. She confessed to shake and bake with heavy metal, but for dancing, she and Mr. Olsen liked the big band sound from the 40s and 50s.

I must admit it got my toes tapping. My parents liked Pink Floyd and Queen as the music of their youth, and I listened to whatever came on the radio.

Lane did okay with some of the music, concentrating on keeping his feet off of Mrs. Olsen's without a lot of success. True to form, she'd come up with a pair of Nike tennis shoes that were bright orange and black. Her feet did last a little longer this time but before ten o'clock she had collapsed into her easy chair.

"Mr. Lane, Mrs. Olsen is toast. You'll have to come up with another plan. I'm ready to call it an evening."

"Thank you, Mrs. Olsen," Lane said. "Sorry about the feet. I'm doing a little better, aren't I?"

"Well, Mr. Lane, maybe a little. We'll keep at it after I rest my aching tootsies a day or two. John, you'll need to carry on without me," she said, leaving us in the small sitting room with swing swinging in the background.

"Time to call it a night, I guess," Lane said.

"Hardly," I answered. "Andy, put your dancing shoes on. We're just getting started. Glad you didn't break your ankle."

"What?" Andy said surprised.

"One of us is going to have to spend a little while longer dancing with Lane. You saw him bat at his best, we're going to give him the fleetest feet in the Bigs. Either you or me are going to dance with him."

"Don't I get a choice?" Lane asked with a smirk.

"No," Andy said.

The swing wasn't a problem in getting them to move together in something that could be described as a sort of dance. The waltz I put on had them both looking at me with some trepidation, but Andy knew I was going to dance with Lane if he didn't, so he reluctantly moved up close as they danced together in tight circles that the living room could accommodate. Lane seemed amused.

I thought they enjoyed it a little too much, but I also think they were toying with me and didn't complain. It was easier to make a joke out of it and Andy bowed to Lane, as the record ended.

By that time I was content and my dinner was almost digested, we bid Lane goodnight. I let Andy lead me upstairs to my room. I hadn't once given any thought to having Andy in my arms all day, but I couldn't think of anything else once I closed the door on Lane. My desire for Andy was right there on the surface and there was no question that my interest was poking out in front of me.

Andy laughed and squeezed, kissing me slow and easy. It was like we were the only two people in the world. I'd rate it as one of the best evenings of my life, and that was before I got Andy out of his clothes and into my bed.

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