Outside the Foul Lines - Book V

by Rick Beck

Chapter 14

Ins & Outs

Once the season passed the half-way point, I was one of the guys. My success as a starting shortstop in the minor league had never been part of my plan. It made doing it all the sweeter. Louisville's success made the sweetness even more delicious.

I wasn't really alive when I wasn't at the park. There it was sight, sound, smell, and an osmosis of the game to me. Baseball had always been something I was more a part of than a game I played. Coming back to it was similar to coming back to Andy, each time we were separated for any length of time. Spending time with him was the best thing I did, but baseball wasn't far behind, maybe because I was out of it before I was allowed back in.

After playing as long as I played, I didn't know how not to play. Coaching wasn't so much a vocation as it was a picture I'd been placed into. Demonstrating what I did with my glove was second nature, and it was what drew me to Coach Bell in the first place.

Even as a freshman in college, I had a poise with the glove he appreciated. He immediately had me showing others my technique. Coaching kept me linked to the game when there seemed little else I could offer.

Louisville was amazing. We could tie it all to a certain power- hitting outfielder, who could hit a ton and field respectably. I smiled a lot at the mention of Lane's improved fielding. It was noticed in the newspaper and the scouts chatted about his 'improved defensive play,' while salivating over the massive homers he hit.

Lane was walked often as a countermeasure to his power, but I was getting on base with walks and hits, and batting just before Lane meant considering between putting two men on base or pitching to Lane to get out of the inning. Either choice was hazardous, because of the way we were hitting.

Louisville picked up steam as the season progressed and the other teams knew we were always a threat to score if we got men on base. Putting both Lane and I on base had proved to be a bad plan on most occasions. I never liked it when Lane walked. That meant no home run and it was nice being on base when he hit one.

When I scored in front of him, I waited for him to reach the plate and we ran to the dugout together. The pictures of me greeting him at the plate, after one of his longer homers, were a staple on the front of the sports page. It game me a feeling of accomplishment.

"Louisville Rolls!"

We were rolling. Minor league baseball didn't offer great competition at all times. Some teams were pretty good and some weren't pretty at all. On our easy days late in the season, Coach Bell began resting some of his regular lineup. I didn't mind sitting down from time to time, but I got nervous when I had to sit and watch a game from the bench.

My first days in Louisville I enjoyed the coaches box and having a view of the game I'd never seen before. I'd never experienced sitting on the bench. If my backup blew a play I would have made or failed to hit in the clutch, I felt like I failed because I let Coach Bell rest me, but he was going to rest me if he decided to rest me. He didn't ask me.

I suppose becoming too comfortable is never a good idea. I was comfortable and having the time of my life. I was back in the game. I was playing every day. Having fun, playing well, hitting well, it was perfect, better than perfect. I came to work on a high and went home higher, because more often than not I went home a winner.

It was in the first week of September, change came to Louisville. There couldn't be any bigger change. Seeing the head scout for the Reds sitting in the clubhouse, where Coach Bell forbid them to go, told me something was going to happen. I wasn't the only one who came to work and made uneasy by the happy fat man in our midst.

It was a late afternoon game but it was laundry day and most players didn't have landlady's washing and ironing their uniform, so they brought their dirty uniforms. I was there because the players were there and there would be a team meeting. There might even be coffee and donuts, but never scouts, except this particular Friday.

"Gentlemen, we'll be saying goodbye to Evan Lane. He's going up for the rest of the season. I won't dwell on how much we'll miss you or what you've meant to me in my time at Louisville. I know you won't be back, because you've played at a major league level all year. We wish you well and thanks for giving us a chance to see you work," Coach Bell said, no enthusiasm or joy in his words. "I won't be holding a team meeting today before the game. Just relax and say goodbye to Lane, men."

Lane was in one of the suits he wore to official events. He smiled but there was no enthusiasm on his face, when he faced us. Oh, he was happy, this was the moment he had been waiting for. We all knew it was coming, but no one was ready to see him go. Even Lane seemed somewhat sad.

The scout, and now the man responsible for his transition, went over to shake Lane's hand to make it official. To say the air went out of us would be an understatement.

Louisville was on top of the world and we had just crashed.

There was no preparation. We all knew but didn't trouble ourselves with how it might hit us. Lane was Louisville. His face was on the team. We might be able to hold our own without him, but our dominance of the league was over. With a nine game lead we probably would win the league title, but it wouldn't be by nine games.

I was thrilled for Evan Lane and miserable for myself. Lane was the man on the team I was closest to and would miss most. He maintained his same level head, but I recalled what he'd said about his life being chaos and baseball saving it. He had now gone all the way.

It suddenly seemed like forever ago that I decided to go out for my high school baseball team. My heart was broken, and I had to do something or die. While I didn't even like baseball, it was baseball season and I could play the game , so I'd go out for the team.

I'd never looked back. I was never a star, but I held my own. It took time for me to become a starter, but my glove got me on the field. My broken heart didn't so much mend as it grew accustomed to the pain. Love wasn't easy at fifteen and with love at my back, I was sure I'd never love again. It hurt way too much for me to want another taste and baseball distracted me, and so I played ball.

Little did I know the plans life had for me. I just showed up every day, wanting to get through it and come back tomorrow, and one day at a time I did what was there in front of me to do. I took pride in my fielding if I couldn't hit, which in high school wasn't all that big a deal.

Shortstop is the key to the infield and a slow hitting fine fielding shortstop is okay if other boys hit well enough to keep the team from sinking. Individual play in high school was as important as, or more important than, where the team finishes. Many players get looked at, when a team is a lost cause. I never knew anyone looked at me and I didn't even think about it. I showed up every day to do what I do.

I was never all that excited by ball, but I had to do something, and playing ball was what I did. I wanted to be a good player, but would have to settle for fielding well and hitting less. The ups and downs of the game kept me guessing about it and me. Even the idea I could get a scholarship to State astounded me, when the offer came.

Why would anyone offer me a full ride?

It was the only way I could go to college without bankrupting my parents, and playing the game a little longer didn't bother me. I gave up baseball more than once, thinking this is as far as I go, but I was never out of ball for long.

The roller coaster ride that was the game never stopped. Loving Andy and having a coach who saw something in me I couldn't for the life of me see in myself, made baseball good for me at last. There were great days, not so great days, and days I thought I was out of the game. It built character if nothing else.

Andy went off on his way to the Big Show and I went on, without him or the coach who made the game special. Once again my playing days seemed numbered with leaving the game part of my plan as a college graduate. I'd make a living, wait for Andy to settle, and we'd set up housekeeping once his future was secure. It didn't mean signed to a big league contract but at least secure and on his way up.

It wasn't a difficult plan. Andy had been watched from his junior year at State by clubs interested in his every swing. You could see the power in Andy. His batting stroke wasn't something big league scouts would miss. Evan Lane's was a slightly more natural swing than Andy's, but he'd been in the minors three years when Andy spent his first season at Lincoln. Even Lane knew Andy was the real deal.

Upsetting my applecart was like being blindsided. My place as third batter in the Louisville lineup was secure because I got on base. It didn't matter we didn't have another clutch hitter to take Lane's place. Nick Blassingham could field and he could hit, but he wasn't going to find his picture on the front of the sports page and he wasn't going to the Bigs. He was a stopgap player so our hemorrhaging didn't get out of hand. I still got on base just as often and as often as not was left there, when the inning ended.

Ball is ball. It's all in the game, but when your life depends on the game and it happens to you, it isn't easy to accept. I was overjoyed that Lane was getting his shot but I wasn't happy about losing a friend or our best bat. He was taking the last step up to the Bigs and Louisville was heading in a different direction.

It was all quite easy. Lane disappeared like McCormick had. They went in different directions but gone was gone.

The joy of the game was reduced in a way I can't describe. Oh, I went to play and my performance didn't suffer, but when I looked at Nick in the on-deck circle when I stood at the plate, I didn't get the thrill I got when Lane followed me to the plate. It was different and the game became a job.

I wanted to do everything within my power to be on base when Lane stepped in the batter's box. With Nick I didn't want anything. If I got on base or not, it didn't make much difference. He didn't drive in runs and he hit few homers. The magic and sheer joy of playing with Evan Lane was over and I had to create my own excitement.

We won two games directly after Lane left. Okay, it wasn't going to be so bad. We lost five in a row and fell behind in a sixth, losing 7-1. We were at home and the crowd had begun to diminish. Fans missed Evan Lane even more than I did. We led our league by five games, with fifteen games to play, and entering the final week of the season, we led by three games with five to play.

It was anyone's guess whether we could hold on to the league lead. Our best pitchers continued to win and with that came the risk of losing one of them to a major league team heading for the playoffs, wanting one more pitcher for good measure.

By the final week of the season we were down to a 3 game lead and that held into the final weekend and our final three games were at home. All we had to do was win one out of three to finish on top. I got to the park early, wanting to get it over with. The odds were on our side but we hadn't exactly been strutting our stuff the last few weeks. Friday always had activities, a team meeting, and something to eat to make us feel loved.

Trying to stay positive and believe we could win the title wasn't a big leap of faith. Feeling it had importance was. We'd been torpedoed a month too early to keep us cruising and the confidence of Louisville was in the toilet.

Guys argued and didn't speak to each other, and Coach Bell spent the time watching Louisville's league lead slipping away. With a three game lead and three to play, even he couldn't wait for the season to come to an end. Each day he posted the league standings and each day players stood to look to see how close the second place team was coming. Our momentum was gone and there was no way to get it back.

I came dressed, so I sat on the bench in the dugout, waiting to do some warm up drills to waste some time. I kept an eye on the table in the clubhouse, until the donuts showed up and I had one for each of my hands, requiring I tuck my glove under my arm as I sat alone on the bench, waiting.

I was somewhere else when Mr. Townsend walked over to see me.

"Mr. Dooley, sir, I got a gentlemen sitting up there in the stands. I don't know how he got in, but he says he's waiting for you. He's a site, sir. Needs a shave, looks like he slept in them clothes, and he smells some. I don't want to be causing no one trouble, and I don't know if he knows you or not. I don't expect you'd like to go see if you know him?"

"Sure Mr. Townsend. I'll go see. Thanks. You didn't call security?"

"No, sir. He says he knows you and Lord knows I don't want to be causing no trouble for you. If you'd just go take a look-see."

I put on my hat and followed Mr. Townsend up into the stands behind the plate. We walked deep into the shadows until we neared the top row. Mr. Townsend stepped to one side.

"What in the hell are you doing here?" I asked, not ready for any more upheaval in my life.

"Figured I'd come see you," he said, moving his feet down from the seat in front of him and pushing his Lincoln baseball cap back up off his face.

"What happened, Andy?" I asked, checking him for casts or bandaging. "Why aren't you at Lincoln? The season isn't over yet."

"Because I'm not with Lincoln any more."

"What?" I shouted.

"Should I call security, Mr. Dooley?" Mr. Townsend asked.

"No, Mr. Townsend, he's mine. Thank you. I'll take care of him myself," I said, not at all happy. "What did you do?"

"Nothing," he said, standing up and making sure Mr. Townsend's back was turned to us before he kissed my cheek. "Happy to see you too, love."

"Andy, I'm not in the mood for this. We're sinking fast and I've got to keep my head in the game. What have you done?"

"Well, Lincoln and I have agreed we can't go any further together."

"What are you planning to do?"

"After I spend time with you, my love, report to Indianapolis for spring training. They told me to rest my arm and not play winter ball. Lincoln cut me loose a week early, because we weren't going anywhere and I had a pretty good backup waiting to play."

"Indianapolis? Triple AAA ball?"

"Indianapolis with a contract. We're on the way, Do. I got the contract We've been waiting for. I'm looking for a house somewhere between there and here. We can live there in the off-season and see each other on days off, during the regular season, or when our clubs play each other. I figure somewhere near three hours between here and there if you don't stop for a pee break. If we get a house around halfway, we're in business. Our separation is over."

"You're making enough to buy a house?" I almost squealed.

"They'll sign on the dotted line for a house in the vicinity of Indianapolis. They've got me for two years. I don't go to the Big Show in two seasons, I'm free to negotiate with any club I like. I couldn't think of anything else to ask for. They offered it to me if I signed."

I had to hug him once I found out it wasn't anything bad. At first I could see only the worst possible reason that my love showed up before Lincoln's final game. It demonstrated I didn't know everything and it was best not to let a sour feeling over one major change was anything more than a random single event and not a trend.

"How did you get here? Why didn't you come to Mrs. Olsen's?"

"I took the bus. Man was that a mistake. I had a six hour layover in Chicago and the bus stopped in every town between there and here. I got here about first light, the grounds crew was coming in and no ne was watching the gate. I followed them in and came up here, waiting for you."

"A bus? Why didn't you fly? You got a contract?"

"A contract ain't money, Do. I had enough to take a bus. The bus I took from downtown dropped me off in the front of Slugger Stadium and here I am."

"Come on. I'll take you over to Mrs. Olsen's. She'll feed you and you can chat, until you want to lay down. You might want to take a shower and change. You are a little aromatic."

"You mean I stink. You ever spent two days on a bus?"

I took Andy over and left him in good hands.

My sour mood sweetened. I was stuck with a smile that made me look a little like a fool for a guy on a team in a tailspin. I had the feeling the rest of the guys wanted to ask me what the hell was wrong with me. Nothing like a smile to make people suspicious.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead