Outside the Foul Lines - Book VI

by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

Do Dallies

After Do got Andy back on a plane to Pittsburgh, he drove to Louisville. It was an early Tuesday evening game and fans came right after work to down hot dogs and guzzle beer for dinner, as Louisville met Wichita in the first of a two games series.

"Evening Mr. Dooley," Arthur the gate attendant said. "How's that ankle coming?"

"Oh, fine, coming along good. I just want to go in and watch," I told him, almost forgetting my cover story.

"You go right on, Mr. Dooley. Mr. Bell sure will be glad to see you. That Sanchez needs some work, Mr. Dooley. He sure does. They'll be happy to see you. They sure will."

"Thanks, Arthur. I'll probably play tomorrow. Have a nice evening," I said, walking up the ramp into the front of the stadium.

I remembered my first trip to the Louisville stadium five seasons before. I came in answer to Coach Bell's call. There was the same smell of freshly cut grass and the striking contrast between the grass, the dirt, and the chalked lines.

The popping sound of a ball hitting a leather baseball glove, rang in my ear. I was moving into the center of the last row of empty seats, where I could look down on home plate, and also see Louisville's dugout. It was the view I imagined I might get from the seats that were rarely filled, except on opening day, when a new spring gave high hopes of a good season, where baseball was king.

The crack of the bat echoed up through row after row of seats. It was a typical Tuesday night. There was no promotion, no give away, nothing but baseball and the hopes Louisville would stay in the battle for the playoffs. Wichita's third baseman moved over in front of the batted ball, making the long through to 1st base.

I was considering my retirement from Louisville ball. Getting that one by Andy would bring on a major battle. He made it plain that he wouldn't be the cause of me leaving ball. He was adamant. Yes, Andy wanted me at his side through the current crisis, but not at the cost of my career. My presence wouldn't benefit him if it meant my career.

I could leave Louisville. I thought about doing it after the game tonight. It would make Andy furious at me. Andy loved me more than anything in the world, but baseball came in a close second. Hurting baseball, Louisville baseball, wasn't going to enter the picture, as far as Andy was concerned. He'd face his treatment alone. We'd be together tomorrow.

I wasn't paying attention to the game. I was worried about Andy and what he might be going through. Andy worried he'd lose the arm. I worried I'd lose him.

As long as he kept his arm, there was hope he'd be able to get back in ball. It was all there was to Andy. He was a baseball player. He'd spent his life being the best baseball player he could possible be. In one swing of the bat….

I was who Andy loved. Baseball was who Andy was. I loved ball, but I'd quit tonight if I thought I could help Andy by being with him. I wanted to be with him. He'd be so upset with me that I might be doing more harm than good. How could I know what would end up being the best thing for him?

Being in minor league ball was far more satisfying than I thought it could be. I'd never believed in ball the way Andy did. I was always fighting to stay in ball. Andy was fighting to get the top. He was there and then this.

The fight had changed. It was about Andy coming back now. Andy would figure out how to stay in ball. Everyone else might write him off, but Andy would fight. I was in Louisville, he was in Pittsburgh, as it had been the entire season. Only being in Louisville was different this time around. Instead of having my mind in my work, I was worrying about what Andy was going through.

Maybe the club would give me a leave of absence to make certain Andy had the care he needed. There would be the same resistance from Andy if I did that. Louisville was in the hunt for a playoff birth. They depended on me at shortstop. That would be Andy's argument.

During our last separation, we didn't see each other for over a month. I left Andy at the airport six hours before and I missed him already. It was the great unknown in Andy's life that troubled me. We left each other a dozen times every baseball season. I didn't worry. We played ball and it's what ball players did. It's what Andy and I did.

A crack of the bat brought me back to the game. White was rounding 1st base and heading for second. The left fielder and center fielder chased down the ball. It bounce up against the wall at the deepest point in centerfield.

White rounded second base, heading for third. When the centerfielder made the throw in to second base, White was on third, standing and watching the throw to second. It was the only play. The throw to third would be too late. The smart throw was to get it to the second baseman to prevent the runner from coming home.

I applauded along with the several thousand people who had come out for the twilight game. It was still warm and the humidity was as high as when I left on Saturday. I had to go alert Mrs. Olson that I was back. She'd want to know about Andy. She'd want to sit and talk ball. I would need to tell her the truth.

Mrs. Olson might have gone looking to find out how Andy was hurt, but I didn't think so. Mrs. Olson was careful not to get into the middle of our lives. If she had a need to find out about Andy, she'd look for it and never tell me she already know about what I told her. She'd wait until I was ready to talk about it and she'd listen politely.

She'd been fond of Andy since he'd first come around. Once she realized Andy was my mate, she treated us like young lovers. Mrs. Olson was our biggest fan. She'd take the news of a possible career ending injury hard. I had no reason not to be honest with her. She'd been housing baseball players for years. She'd seen ballplayers come and go. They went for all different kinds of reasons.

I flagged down the beer man and bought what turned out to be a somewhat cold beer. Even if it wasn't as cold as I liked, it helped fight off the heat and humidity. I took two large gulps before sipping from the half cup that was left.

I'd never drank during a game before. I'd never watched Louisville play a single game, unless I was in their dugout. There was no beer I Coach Bell's dugout.

During the 7th inning stretch, I got up, stretched, and I dropped the empty beer cup in the trash on the way out. It was 5-1 Louisville and I knew the game was in hand. The team had been hitting well for the past month. Unfortunately I wasn't one of those enjoying a midseason hitting streak.

My batting average lingered around .250. The bunting regimen Coach Bell had put me on had cost me a few more points on my batting average. I'd hope to hit for a better average this year. It wasn't happening, but my glove was never more accurate. My fielding improved every year and I wasn't a half bad shortstop.

I still dreamed of get a major league call just one time. Late in a season, when players are tiring from the constant grind of a six month long season, big league coaches looked at the minor league system to find a player who could come up to play the last two or three innings of a game to give the starters a rest.

No club was going to risk their pennant hopes on a rookie player if it wasn't necessary, but some clubs either were in the pink with a playoff birth assured, or they were out of it and were looking for replacement players to make next season better. In either case no one came to look at me.

Coach Bell said, "When it's your time, it's your time, John. You can't make it any sooner than you make it. A shortstop is the center of every infield. It's the position that keeps coaches up at night. Except me, I never worry about it. I got you."

"Yes you do, Coach, and it looks as if we're meant to grow old together."

"Maybe, John," he said. "Maybe."

What Coach Bell didn't tell me was there were two clubs who came to look at me that season. Andy's injury and my high ankle sprain ran them off. It didn't take much to send them elsewhere. There was another reason I didn't get much attention from the bigs.

It wasn't well known that Andy and I were a couple, but in the upper management of big league baseball, where such things could be discussed, the rumor had been floated.

"Those boys have been rooming together since Dooley got into ball at State. Andy could buy any house he wanted, anywhere in the world, and he lives in a modest house on a converted farm in Indiana, with Dooley. That's friendship."

Below management level that kind of thing wasn't spoken about. A team could not survive with that kind of player.

"The country isn't ready to discover one of the best power hitters, playing in the National Pas Time, is like that."

I wanted to get the call once. It would come in the fall, late August, no later than the first week of September. I'd be there to relieve a player who had injuries brought on by the strain of the long season.

"How's the ankle, John," Coach Bell asked as he stood beside Do's locker.

"It's okay. It'll be fine."

"Come on over to my office before you go out for warm-up."

"Sure thing, Coach," I said, lacing up my cleats and taking my batting helmet out of the top of my locker.

I walked over to Coach Bell's office. Letting myself in, I closed the door and sat across from Coach. He was checking out the lineup he'd give to the plate umpire.

"You do want to play?" Coach Bell said glancing up from the lineup.

"Yes, sir," I said. "I don't want to sit on the bench."

"Good. Sanchez isn't my best fielder. You are. How'd it go with Andy?"

"I put him on a plane to Pittsburgh yesterday. I haven't talked to him today, but he was going back to UPMC once he landed. Pittsburgh is still playing out of town."

"I talked to the Pittsburgh general manager. They'll need to have the team doctors look him over. He's going to call the Colt's trainer to ask if Andy couldn't be treated in Indianapolis and rehab in the Colts facility, to keep him closer to home.

"He said he didn't see why not. They wouldn't have any particular expertise in the kind of injury he has. There would be an oncologist the Colts' doctors will recommend for Andy.

"He'll probably need to drive there and back a couple of times a week. He mentioned that the tumor was in the muscle tissue and didn't seem to be in the bone. That's not the final say in the matter. They're doing more testing.

The general manager will talk to Andy to run the possibilities by him, but Pittsburgh doesn't need him to stay in town.

"Thanks, Coach. That makes it sound a little less critical. Can't say I'm not worried sick over it. I wanted to go with him. Don't know if I'll have my mind in the game."

"Andy wouldn't let you go back with him? I could have told you that. Ball is the family business. You should know that. You'll play hell leaving ball on his account. He's a good kid. He was always a good kid."

"You know when you put me with Andy to teach him to field, Coach."

"Sure I do. You knew just what to do. Didn't take you that long, as I recall."

"I didn't have a clue what was wrong with him. When you pressed me, wanting to know why he wasn't fielding better, I made it up, Coach. I just all of a sudden ran everything through my brain and that's what I came up with. 'He needs glasses!'

"He did," Coach Bell said.

"Damn lucky guess I'd say," I said.

"Didn't matter. You came up with the solution. I don't care how you did it. I'd have cut his butt if he kept dropping balls, John. His power was no good to me if he cost me more runs with his fielding than the could make up with his bat. I didn't know he'd turn into a monster at the plate. Besides, I should have thought about getting his eyes checked."

"I'll play tonight but if I don't feel like I'm in the game…. I won't be a weight on the team," I explained.

"John, I'll tell you true. I work here. They hire me to make the most of the players they give me. Sometimes they even let me pick a guy I like, but I get some say in team matters. I'd do my best to protect you if you need to take time off from Louisville.

"I'll stand behind you but there are no guarantees. You do what you have to do. I'll do what I can, but when you walk out on that field, I expect you to play ball, John. It's your job. It's not a game, although popular opinion would disagree with me on it."

"I don't know what I'll do. I want to be playing. I want to be with Andy. I don't know what I'll do. I'm here now. Unless something drastic comes up, I'll stay here to play, Coach."

"You two are like family. Business is business, but when your business is people, they must be considered," Coach Bell explained. "I'll do what I can."

Well into August Do played ball every day. On his days off he drove home after the game the day before to be with Andy until the morning of the next game, when he'd drive back to Louisville to be at the park in time to play ball.

By late August Andy had finished his first round of chemo therapy and was staying with Do at Mrs. Olson's. He gained strength slowly and showed signs of his old spark from time to time. Being an athlete and being at the peak of his youth, Andy fought to get as much of his life back as he could get.

An article appeared in the Pittsburgh paper in early September.

"What Pittsburgh slugger has been seen in the Louisville dugout, sitting beside his old college coach? Leaner, bald, wearing a Pittsburgh baseball hat, Andy Green is often seen advising his old coach. You can take the boy out of ball, but you can't take ball our of the boy. Good luck Andy. See you next season."

There was to be more chemo and that thought came to Do from time to time. Being with Andy for much of the last month of the season was good for both of them. Do played well and batted better than he ever had.

Louisville slipped behind their two rivals for the final playoff birth in their league and there would be no post season play for Do. He felt bad that he wasn't sorry.

By the last week of the season Andy went back for his second series of chemo therapy treatment. Do was anxious to get home to take care of him. He closed out all his business in Louisville, said goodbye to Mrs. Olson, having already said goodbye to his team and Coach Bell.

Do was never happier to leave Louisville for home.

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