Outside the Foul Lines - Book VI

by Rick Beck

Chapter 5

Fire and Ice

Being at home for a few hours allowed me to have a better perspective on where I stood with baseball. I could walk away from ball. Andy was all that was important to me now. t understood better that ball was our family business and always had been. If Andy couldn't return to the game, he'd be able to have some consolation in watching my career.

I wasn't the natural he was. Ball never came easy to me. The idea I'd keep playing to keep Andy in the game was important. We couldn't know what came next or what turns were ahead, but I'd stay in ball for him. Talking about leaving the game for him wasn't what he needed me to do.

If Andy couldn't rehabilitate himself enough to play, Coach Bell would allow him to be as close to Louisville as he wanted. After he got over not being able to play, he'd need that in his life. I'd stay and play my best for him.

Andy wanted me in ball. He wouldn't expect me to play if I didn't want to play, but quitting now would be seen as his fault. He'd fight me on quitting and there was no fight in me. If Andy wasn't playing, we'd stay in Louisville together. Mrs. Olson would love that. She'd spoil us to death.

Resolving this question left me to care for Andy as best I could. We had six months to do nothing but be together to get him over the treatments. They could make the difference.

No matter what happened I was able to face it. The worst of it meant being together all the time. The best would be Andy playing ball with our schedule going back to what it had been before he broke his arm.

I built a fire in the fireplace, feeling quite domestic. We sat on the couch in quiet, Indiana farm country. We watched the fire growing for entertainment. An owl provided background music as night took hold.

It was peaceful. The crackling of the burning wood was soothing. The heat was just enough to keep the chill off the living room. The wood was what Andy cut constantly during the off season. Chopping wood was Andy's off-season conditioning program. If we had to rely on my woodcutting skills from now on, we were in serious jeopardy. We'd freeze in winter when we kept a fire burning all the time.

The piles of wood at the back corner of the house would last us several winters. Andy cleared over a half acre of trees so far. It had taken him four winters to do it. His plan was to grow vegetables on the land he cleared. He hadn't gotten to the farming part yet, but there were still plenty of trees to cut.

We were always gone all summer, but one day we'd stop playing ball and become gentlemen farmers. It could come a little sooner than I expected. You never know when a change is coming. It's good to have a plan just in case.

Andy once told me he use to chop wood for his mother back home. Their only heat was a wood stove that kept the tiny house warm. It was the same stove his mother cooked on. She cooked well. The food was wonderful to Andy, but there wasn't a lot of variety. He ate a lot of beans and peanut butter and jelly.

He didn't know it was a hardship. He didn't see himself as poor, until a school counselor gave him a booklet with tickets for the school's free lunch program. He was too embarrassed to use them. Later in high school a coach told him the free lunches were part of the athletic program. He had to make sure his boys got plenty to eat.

Andy suspected it might be stretching the truth, but that food sure was good. He'd always been pencil thin, but he did gain some weight by baseball season that year. Until he was sixteen, he ate one peanut butter sandwich for lunch each day. I guessed that was why he passed on peanut butter these days.

It took Andy a long time to tell me how poor they were. It either wasn't important to him or the poverty embarrassed him. His scholarship to State covered everything and if he had a need, it was taken care of without a lot of conversation about how. Most of Andy's stories about his family were happy tales with little mention made of the absence of creature comfort.

Living in a fine old house, one Andy paid off after his first signing bonus in the majors, each thing we bought was more than Andy had ever had before. He still chopped wood, until now, and he had one suit, one dress shirt, one tie, and six pairs of sneakers, because he liked neat looking sneakers. Sneakers were his weakness and if he saw a pair he liked, he bought them.

Getting Andy in a suit took some kind of major deal. There were no major deals in Indiana. He admitted that he'd been given some suits in Pittsburgh for some commercials he did, but he'd only had them on once..

I bought Andy the shirts that were designed the way I knew he liked. One style was a lumberjack type shirt. Those were the ones he used for cutting wood. They were comfortable and kept him plenty warm when he chopped. He liked a lighter shirt in the house. He had always been plenty warm inside, until now. He sometimes wore only a tee shirt, after I was dressed in layers to keep me warm.

I keep thinking I know it all. While we roomed together in college, we talked for hours every day. Andy had never been a big talker before. He didn't have much to say to his teammates, his coaches, or to anyone else, but even now he told me a story about his poverty that broke my heart. It's not a topic he visits often or for long, but I no longer think I know it all. I know as much as he wants me to know.

He has everything he needs now and I make sure he gets things I want him to have on his birthday and on Christmas, and he doesn't dare argue with me about how much anything costs. I know it doesn't make up for the childhood he suffered. In time I figure the good times will overwhelm his meager beginnings if I get my way.

The first time Andy played baseball, the pitcher brushed him back off the plate. Andy marched out and punched him in the face. His first season in ball ended abruptly. He liked it fine and most guys were okay, but as soon as he thought the pitcher was throwing at him, intending to hit him, he intended to let him know that it wasn't a good idea.

Being a man of few words, Andy handled it his way. He was thrown off the team. The coach told him to get his temper under control. Andy said he hadn't lost his temper. He wanted the pitcher to know not to throw at him.

His second year of ball, no one threw at him. The story about him punching out the pitcher who threw at him got around the league. As a boy Andy's logic was simple. You couldn't let someone throw at you and not respond.

When he got into high school ball, Andy was already developing as a power hitter. It's not unusual for a pitcher to throw inside on someone who hits for power so they can't get comfortable at the plate. They've got to be ready to get out of the way of a ball every once in a while.

Andy spent one off-season practicing how to control where he hit the ball. The following season when some fastball pitcher brushed him back, Andy would wait for his pitch and hit it right back at the pitcher on a line drive if he could. It was a message delivered.

Like you couldn't prove a pitcher was throwing at you, you couldn't prove a hitter intentionally hit a ball at a pitcher. In both cases you might suspect the obvious but you couldn't prove it.

Andy told me, "Pitchers are good at throwing a ball, but hit one at him, and they're all arms and legs. The coach called me over and asked me did I intentionally hit the ball at the pitcher, because he brushed me back earlier.

"I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. He threw the ball. I hit the ball. Isn't that what I'm supposed to do, Coach?" Andy told me. "Pitchers didn't throw at me much after that."

Andy had a keen sense of right and wrong. He knew what was right to him. That's what he went with. If it cost him more than he wanted to pay, Andy found a way around the obstacle. He needed to keep the world of baseball and his world in balance.

Andy was dedicated, loyal, and determined. He didn't like doing a lot of things. The things he did do, he wanted to do well, and he did. I marveled at the way he kept things under control. Right now he was putting his health first. He knew he was in a fight. He intended to win.

It wasn't life threatening. We weren't in trouble that way, but the arm was not saved yet. At what point Andy would tell them to take it, I can't say. That would be a decision he would make on his own. How he'd handle that I didn't know. We never talked about the unthinkable. If I advised him on this and he lost the arm, he could blame me. He'd have to decide when enough was enough. I wouldn't, unless it became life threatening.

I'd rather give up my own arm than let them cut off Andy's. We wouldn't get to make that kind of concession. Giving my arm would do Andy no good. We would not speak of it now, but it was on our minds. When you are as sick as Andy, you can't help but think of the worst possibility.

I just wanted Andy to be well. Whatever it took was what I wanted. Seeing him smiling, able to joke, and the way he made life for me was a memory. I could picture it but we weren't able to go there right now.

"You want to try some more soup. I'll heat it up and bring it in to you, babe?"

"My mind says to go for it, but I already got away with it once. I don't want to risk getting sick again. I'll just stay here and not move. Maybe put a log on the fire before you go up. Pick one that won't burn down until morning. I'll be fine."

I got up and picked out the size log I wanted, easing it into a place where it would take an hour or two to start burning good. The embers were glowing as I set the log in place. I ran up stairs and yanked the comforter off our bed. I brought it down and I arranged it all around us as I held him close to me.

"Good night, my love," I said, kissing the top of his head.

Andy did not move or speak. I listened to the fire and watched the glow. Andy's breathing became slow and steady and this was my crying time.

I built the fire back up, after making sure Andy was covered completely with the comforter. He had turned over to face the back of the couch when I got up. He slept like a rock once he went to sleep.

I went into the kitchen and fixed a half pot of coffee. In Louisville a steaming cup would be sitting on the table with the cream next to it each morning when I came downstairs at Mrs. Olson's. It was a good life when the woman who runs the boarding house you live in treats you like her son.

I was her only boarder for several years now. Mrs. Olson had closed the boarding house. Keeping six rooms and caring for ball players the way she wanted wasn't possible for her any longer. Taking care of me and Andy when he stayed wasn't too much for her. We tried to clean up after ourselves but we were guys.

Andy sat and talked to her while I was over at the ball park being a ball player. Andy was in the dugout during games and he paced when the chips were down. The other ballplayers could only hope to achieve a tenth of the success Andy had. They were young, unnerved by his arm, and intimidated by the pacing man.

"Sit down, Andy. You're making me nervous," Coach Bell would bark.

"Yes, sir," Andy would say, and it would be five minutes before he paced some more.

Andy was out of his element. He didn't want to be around ball. He wanted to be in ball. He didn't want to be called a great hitter. He wanted to be a great hitter, and he couldn't stay away from baseball.

There was no greater harm done to a man than to give him a great love for something and then take it away from him. Even worse was letting him watch other men do what he was no longer able to do. Andy wanted to be in the game not watching a game. It was painful for me to watch, but being at Mrs. Olson's was just a little worse than being here. Leaving just before the season ended, Andy still stayed until he had to leave to begin the next round of treatment.

Now we were home together and I got to watch him be sick, and each time he'd begin to feel just a little better, he'd go to get more chemo and it would start all over again.

I watched out the back window to see if maybe a deer might pass or perhaps a bear with her half grown cubs. There was still plenty of wildlife on and near our farm. Drinking coffee and relaxing was good to get me ready for the day and whatever came next.

What came next was this afternoon's chemo. Whatever was waiting for him when he woke up this morning, this afternoon all bets were off. We'd take his car. It was bigger and the ride was smooth. It was the one thing Andy owned that screamed big bucks. He'd driven it home from Pittsburgh and it was in the driveway when I got home.

The house was a present to me. It was how we kept sanity in our relationship. When he paid off the mortgage, against the advise of his tax attorney, he said, "We'll always have the house. No matter what happens. The house is ours."

What happened had happened. We were in no danger of being put out on the street, but somehow that wasn't as important as it once had been to us. The seven figure salary over the past few years was in accounts to assure we couldn't be wiped out by a bad economy.

Andy was still a poor boy in his mind. We wouldn't go broke and people who knew what to do with money were advising Andy about what he needed to do with his to provide a good standard of living if the money stopped coming in.

"What you looking at?" Andy said from the doorway.

"Just looking. Thinking how lucky we've been. This is such a perfect place to live. How you're the perfect man for me. Just little stuff like that."

"It is, isn't it?" he said. "The perfect place to live, I mean."

"What can I get for you. I won't suggest coffee."

"No, not coffee. Let's go to Sammy's. I want toast," Andy said.

"I can fix you toast. I can fix you anything you want," I said.

"I want to go to Sammy's Diner and Gift Shop. I want some of their rye bread toast."

"Okay, babe. Sammy's it is."

As we got ready, Andy leaned on the sink, looking into the mirror to look at the circles under his eyes.

"Maybe they have a new Dracula movie for me to be in. I'd make a good Dracula, don't you think?"

"No I don't. Be careful buster, you're insulting the man I love."

"I look awful. Well, one good thing, today's chemo day. By this evening I'll be too sick to care how I look. That's the gift of cancer. It keeps on giving."

"You look good this morning. We'll go get you that toast and we'll take the back way to Indianapolis. We'll take your car. We'd probably get lost in a pothole if we take mine."

"Okay. I'll drive to Sammy's. You can drive and take whatever road you like going to Indy. It's a nice day for a ride. We can come straight home once I'm done," Andy planned.

"Whatever you want, babe. I'm here to serve," I said, taking both his hands into mine. "Andy, where's your ring?"

"Came off. I was washing my hands yesterday and it came off in my hand. I thought of how easily it could have gone down the drain." he said, picking it up out of the empty soap tray.

"I'll be right back," I said.

I went to the dresser and took the gold chain I gave Andy last Christmas out of the jewelry box. Sliding his ring onto the chain, I took it to Andy, slipping the chain over his head. The ring hung around his neck and he tucked it into his shirt.

"Now it's close to my heart," he said. "Makes me feel better."

"Me too," I said, kissing him passionately.

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