Outside the Foul Lines - Book VI

by Rick Beck

Chapter 2

Arm's Length

I gasped for air. Andy leaned on his good arm to look down at the two words: "It's Cancer!"

His name began the article that would explain those two words, but Andy had unusual difficulty reading even his name.

"Andy Green," he read, sitting down hard.

His mind went into a spin, passing all the possibilities. Andy's face reflected his shock. He turned an ugly shade of pale.

I wrapped my fingers in Andy's, squeezing so he knew I was there for him. I don't know if he knew I was there.

I took the paper off the desk, turning it over beyond the headlines and that awful picture.

I read more for myself than for Andy or Coach Bell. The phrase, "Inquiring minds want to know" ran obscenely through my brain.

"Andy Green, Pittsburgh's premier slugger," I read, clearing my throat. "Whose 53 home runs paced Pittsburg pennant run last season, falling just short of that goal, is pictured above after collapsing in the 2nd inning of last nights home game with Philadelphia.

"Hitting homers at an even more torrid pace this season than last, having Andy out of the lineup for any length of time will likely bench any pennant hopes this season.

"What was originally suspected to be a dislocation turned out to be more serious. Green had broken a bone just above his elbow. This kind of injury can be expected to sideline Green for the season and will require extensive rehabilitation, bringing next season into question.

"Green underwent surgery to repair the damage at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center late Thursday night. Tissue samples were taken and "A small growth was removed from the muscle tissue for biopsy. A pin was inserted to insure the arm could heal properly," a reliable source told this reporter.

"An independent source, previously reliable, and well positioned at UPMC, has told this reporter, "The growth removed from Mr. Green's arm, after preliminary examination, appears to be cancerous," he revealed to me.

"There are further tests planned before determining the best course of treatment available. Team officials released a statement saying, 'Andy will receive the best care possible.'

"All attempts to reach Mr. Green for comment have been unsuccessful up until this copy went to press. Reliable sources say that he left UPMC sometime during the day Friday and was unavailable for comment at this time. Pittsburgh's baseball management has told me that they will be making no further comments until the complete extent of the injury is known. They are confident Green will be available to play sometime early next season.

"I will report any development as I am made aware of them."

"I'll be damned," Andy said, as I slid the paper back in front of Coach Bell. "I felt great. I felt good. I was playing the best ball of my career. That's a real ball buster."

"Andy!" I said, not able to say more. "Andy."

"It stinks, Andy. You've got to go back. They'll need to treat the cancer as soon as possible," Coach Bell said. "Better you find out here amongst friends. I couldn't let you find out outside. Having some reporter blindside you with this is not a pleasant thought."

"Thanks, Coach," Andy said. "I'd rather it just be here with Do."

"We've got to get you back," I said. "You need to have it taken care of right away. It can't wait."

"Coach, can they do it here? Is there somewhere in Louisville? I don't want to be alone in Pittsburg. Do will be worried sick if I'm in Pittsburg. I don't want to hurt his season with my problems."

"Don't worry about me, Andy. You've got to get it done and I'll be with you," I said. "Coach!"

"Don't say anything to me I'm obligated to report to management, John. I'll see what I can find out for you, Andy," Coach Bell said. "You boys go on. I'll use Sanchez in tomorrow's game, John. You need to be with Andy. Call my house about nine tonight. I'll make some calls when I get home. If you tell me you sprained your ankle when you call, John, I'll put you on day to day with a high ankle sprain. That way you can play when you're ready and it's all official."

"Thanks, Coach. I'll call you," I said, letting baseball take a backseat for the first time that season.

"Any thing you do has to be run by your trainers and the team doctors. I can't see they'd object to you being treated closer to home if it requires a cancer specialist. They won't have a cancer specialist on staff. They call in someone they know. I don't see there would be any resistance to you being treated here. You're gone for the season and you need a specialist that isn't a sport's doctor. Tell the right off what you want and I'll see what I can find out."

"It'll all make more sense tomorrow," Andy said, standing to leave. "Glad I'm here and not there."

Andy and I were half way out the door, when Coach Bell stopped us.

"John," Coach Bell said. "That was a nice bunt you laid down. I figured you'd pick it up. You don't let much get by you. It was a game winner. Nice time for you to catch on to the art of bunting."

"Yes, sir," I said, knowing it was a damn good bunt, but it was the last thing on my mind.

By the time I dressed, we'd decided not to alarm Mrs. Olson. She'd wonder why my sudden departure from Louisville to go home.

After hugs and the concern about Andy's arm, she served us the hot dinner she'd prepared for me to have after the game. We ate lightly, but convincingly, before I mentioned that I would be at the house with Andy for a few days.

Mrs. Olson knew everything about Louisville baseball. She knew the players, the lineup, and the schedule. There was a game Sunday afternoon and I wouldn't be driving home if I planned to play.

"You boys take care of yourselves," she said, as we left her door. She sensed something was very wrong from the boy's demeanor. She sensed they weren't telling her everything and she knew they wanted to protect her. Maybe it was just the fact Andy was injured. She wasn't sure.

"How does it feel," I asked.

"Throbs some," Andy said.

"You don't have pain meds?"

"Yes, I have a bottle. Couldn't take anything because I was driving. No future driving impaired. How'd that look on a resume?"

"You aren't driving now. There are some bottles of water on the floor in the backseat. Take something for it. Let's get something straight, Andy Green, I don't plan on sitting around and watching you suffer because you're too tough to take your damn medicine. Do we understand each other," I told him with no wiggle room in my voice.

"Yes, sir. I'm taking my medicine. See? Here's the pill. I'm drinking water. I put the pill in and drink more water. See? I made all gone with the pill," Andy said, opening his mouth and wiggling his tongue to prove the deed was done.

"You pick a hell of a time to try to turn me on," I said.

"Anything for you, Do."

Andy smiled and I relaxed, a little.

"I'm scared, Andy," I said, unable to hide it.

"Me too, babe," Andy said.

In a Cincinnati hotel room not far from the airport.

"Do we have time to get a cup of coffee?" Andy asked, pacing between the beds in the hotel room outside of Cincinnati.

"Sure. The car comes in an hour. I'll tell them at the desk we're in the dining room. They have good coffee. I wouldn't mind a cup myself. Then I have to be sure to take a pee before we get trapped somewhere that peeing isn't convenient."

Andy and Do took the elevator to the lobby to get a late afternoon cup of coffee. There service was good and the staff was polite. Andy stirred one small teaspoon of sugar into his coffee and Do stirred in cream, until he liked the color. They sipped the brew and relaxed. Andy felt closed in inside a strange bedroom. He would rather be home. Do wasn't out of place at all. He was with Andy.

There would be a couple of hours of flashbulbs and speeches, followed by a team banquet. There would be food they didn't buy for themselves. It was customary to put on the Ritz for the induction to the Ring of Fame. It was treated like a big deal.

"You want something sweet, Andy," I asked, realizing we hadn't eaten since breakfast.

"You're all I need right now. It don't get no sweeter, Do. I keep looking at you and you haven't aged a bit. I look at myself in the mirror. This old guy's in there looking out at me. I don't know how he got in our mirror. I don't know how you stay so young."

"Andy, you look great to me. You don't have hair. It makes you look older, distinguished, a man of the world. A man who has done things and gone places. You have character."

"Yeah, I've done it all, Do. I've done it all and I've seen it all. I've seen the front yard and I've seen the backyard. I've seen the north side of the house and I've seen the south side. I've mowed them all, Do."

Do laughed.

"It's all good. The best thing I ever did was fall in love with you. I wasn't sure you were a keeper when we were in college. That year we spent a part was doing hard time. That's when I realized I couldn't live without you, Do. I hated that year in the minors. I could of quit ball that year. Good thing they sent me to Indy so we could buy the house and see each other once in a while during the season."

"I remember. We've come a long way. We've had it good, mostly. No complaints here. The only time I'm completely happy is when we're together. I do love you, Andy. I think giving up ball, retirement when I did, was a good idea. No more weeks away from each other. Finally living all year in the same place. I love it.

"Giving up ball wasn't easy. When I was young, and thought I had control over my life, I didn't think my life was about ball. Every time I left ball, there it was, grabbing me one more time. After a few years, I never thought of anything but playing ball for a living."

"It has been a lot easier. I can't believe no one has recognized either one of us. At least we can get a quiet cup of coffee without being blinded and bugged to death," Andy said. "I'll never miss that."

"We've been out of the game a few years. Reporters change. A simple ceremony, a team banquet, and we'll be back on our way home. The team photographer will probably be the only one taking pictures. It'll be nice seeing the guys."

"Let's hope so. I'd like it to be that easy. I can remember a time when we could hardly go out and eat without attracting a crowd. Remember when they started reporting we lived together in a "cozy" house in Indiana. We were "Often seen in each other's company?" Poppycock!"

"I remember. It wasn't about ball, Andy. Didn't bother me. I had you. All they could do was watch. Remember the headline in that rag, 'Baseball's Hottest Couple?' At least they used a good picture of us."

"The Holy Rollers came out of the woodwork after that. 'God hates fags' and the fans would scream, 'God loves baseball players.' That was funny."

"I was surprised. We had never made a spectacle of ourselves in public. They had to work to find that stuff out about us. The fans wanted us to play ball. They didn't want to hear that crap," I said.

"They showed up to put a curse on us. They were the ones getting cursed. Fans are fiercely loyal."

"Yes they are."

"Those folks take their hatred seriously. You see the faces on them? They smile and explain the bible on television, but just look at their faces and listen to their words, when you come face to face with one. They're some ugly folks. They really think their hatred is superior to the love we share. How can people be so deluded?"

"People make a lot of money deluding them into protesting love. It even sounds silly. The very idea of hatred being put anywhere near our love is sick and we don't know what some of those folks do."

"They make me sick. That's for sure," I said, rarely hearing Andy express his feelings about that kind of thing.

"Those were the days, Do," Andy laughed, a lot less angered by it at forty. We hardly have that kind of fun anymore. No sir, nothing like a Holy Roller curse to spice up your day."

"Yeah, no one comes out to entertain us since we retired."

"Don't worry. They're still out there protesting love. Everyone in the world is hoping to find someone to love, except these folks. They have never seen their own faces. I'm sure of it."

"No one pays much attention to the shortstop, as long as I didn't boot a ball. That's when I heard about it from fans and reporters. I had to go out with you to be hated for no reason at all. You are the power in this family."

"Yes, sir, whatever you say, Do. Let's fly back tonight. We don't need to stay here overnight, do we? Sleeping in our own bed will be better than that fancy prancy thing in our room. I think they expect the team to stay over. I never seen a bedroom big enough for two gigantic beds."

"The team thinks it shows they don't mind spending the money on us. Circle of Fame is a big deal for the team."

"Write me a check and I'll stay home," Andy said with sarcasm.

"It's only a couple of hours to Indy by air. We can call and check the flights. If we go straight from the banquet, we could be home in time to get a few hours sleep. We'll invite them to the house for a visit at some date to be specified later. That'll sound good."

"What about our luggage? My best razor is upstairs."

"If we can fly out tonight, we'll stop here on the way to the terminal. The hotel isn't but a mile from the airport. No, I think we should go back tonight if we can. We were just going to get up and go in the morning. Why go to bed in a strange place?" I said, agreeing with Andy, who liked staying home.

The driver came to the door and didn't need to ask for Andy and Do, they saw him and took a last sip of coffee and waved that they were on the way. It was a special night and there would be a reunion of old friends. Being on teams meant a lot of people who wanted to come to pay their respects.

Old friends and memories revisited, serving to remind them of their glory days. For the first three years together, they shared a team and teammates. These were the careers each followed with interest, as those players would have followed both Andy's and Do's careers. They hadn't seen some of them since college. Others they faced across the baseball diamond at one time or another.

Invariably there were the moments that embarrassed the player being honored. These were now seen as humorous events that were talked about only among friends. When you celebrate someone's career, there must be humility. Each man who spoke would become quite serious. All quoting the same facts and figures that were seen as team history now, and these were at the heart of the affair.

Seeing old friends and talking old times with other players made it all worthwhile. From players you got an honest assessment and you found out where you stood, once the glove days ended and the only time you saw a baseball game was when you bought a ticket, which was rare.

Andy was glad to be out of ball. He'd never liked it as much as when he was in college playing for fun. It hadn't always been fun and having the discipline to be on a team wasn't easy for him.

"I'm Earl," Earl said. "I'll be your driver for the night. Anything you need, I can take care of it." Earl said, talking like a true professional. "I better take care of it or I'll get my ass canned," he added with an earthy tone.

"Carry on, Earl. We don't stand on ceremony," Andy said.

"Earl, we want to fly back tonight. We're booked on a morning flight. We're only going to Indianapolis. It takes longer to get on the plane than it does to fly home," I said.

"I'll see what flights are available," Earl said. "First class?"

"We've got first class tickets they sent us. Coach is fine. You get us home tonight, Earl, anything coming back on the tickets is yours, plus a handsome fee for your trouble. We just want to go home?" Andy said.

"I'll be standing by at the stadium and then the banquet hall. I'll have time to make some calls. I keep a travel agent happy on my nights off, and she'll get you home tonight."

"Give her any money from the ticket switch. We'll take care of you," Andy said, feeling better.

"Yes, sir. You wish is my command. By the way, Mr. Green, I'm from Pittsburg. You were hell."

"Thank you, Earl. I gave it a run."

"I never seen homers like you hit. I saw six while you were there. I saw the first one hit after you came back. You stood at the plate and that sucker cleared the bleachers, the mezzanine, the roof. That sucker's in orbit somewhere. You stood there and watched. Flashbulbs were going off all over the park. Everyone stood up and cheered. Andy was back!"

"Didn't know I'd hit another homer. It was a long time coming. I wasn't sure I could play ball anymore, when I hit that ball. I felt it in my hands," Andy said, looking at his hands as if they were holy. "Not in my arm."

"Never saw a ball hit further. No, sir, never did," Earl said.

"I got my first baseball glove from another kid. He was a senior. He was going to college. He said he didn't need it anymore. I was trying to play for the high school team. I had an old beat up glove. Stung my hand every time I caught the ball. I stopped being an infielder so I didn't have so many balls hit at me. Then I couldn't see the plate when someone came to bat. I stood in the outfield listening so I'd know if the ball was hit my way."

"Jesus!" Earl said in surprise. "I never heard that before. You were a poor kid?"

"I was a poor kid," Andy said, drifting back as he stared out the window at a somewhat familiar landscape. "I was a poor kid."

Do held Andy's hand. The ceremonies always were a reminder of where it all began. Andy rarely talked about it and Do didn't understand the extent of Andy's poverty for years. Their lives moved pretty fast but it was something Do thought he should know, once he'd found out and then he didn't know how he couldn't know.

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