Outside the Foul Lines - Book VI

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

Good News Week

We drove to Louisville to have Thanksgiving dinner with Mrs. Olson. Andy was looking well and he'd begun to use his left arm, putting a little more strain on it. Mrs. Olson thought Andy looked better than he had since the ordeal started, although his hair hadn't grown back.

According to the scales at home, Andy was gaining weight. It wasn't a lot but enough to be encouraging. With his regular exercise routine, his body hadn't undergone major changes, but I could see he'd lost all the weight he put on after he left college.

We had no trouble at all packing it away at Mrs. Olson's table. She didn't know anything about the boat and when we showed her a picture, she was flabbergasted. She'd never had one of her ballplayers buy a yacht before, although Evan Lane collected 1960s muscle cars as a hobby.

We told her that we'd take her out for a couple of days once we got accustomed to boating as a regular feature in our lives. She wasn't sure she was the boating type, but Andy and I still hadn't got our feet wet as far as boating was concerned, but we were looking forward to it.

Even packing up leftovers so we could enjoy turkey and dressing at home and turkey sandwiches for lunch, Andy wasn't sure about his ability to eat them. The next round of chemo was looming and it was already on Andy's mind.

Mrs. Olson told him he was going to be fine and she wanted him to eat until he couldn't eat anymore, and then when he was having the chemo, he'd have reserves to live off of if eating was a problem.

The boat had been moved to Destin, Florida by then and the interior was slowly being redesigned by Gene, John Paul's partner. They were living on the boat and were anxious to make the changes and charged nothing but the cost of materials to do it.

Buying a boat had been the best thing we'd ever done together. Andy was no doubt the captain and his spirits were being raised by the constant conversations about what he wanted to replace what was on the boat when he bought it. He'd ask me what I thought and he'd be back on the phone relaying the information to John Paul.

The plan was to drove to Florida as soon as Andy was able to stand the journey after the early December treatments and exams. We'd stay out until after New Years, working our way down the coast toward Key West, where we wanted to spend New Years.

In December we got one of those surprises you can't prepare for. We were prepared. The physicals surrounding the next round of chemo were extensive and lasted two days. We saw enough doctors to staff our own hospital. Throughout it all, Andy remained ready to be made sick again for the sake of his health.

We had taken a seriously nice hotel room. Andy picked it because it had excellent food and they would deliver anything to the room. While his appetite wasn't what it had been for the past couple of weeks, he still managed to enjoy some of the food.

On the morning of third day we met with the doctors. They looked down their nose when Andy brought me into the consultation with him. We all sat around a walnut conference table too big for the occasion.

"Mr. Green, we've gone over all your exams and we wanted to explain our findings to you."

"Just tell me if I failed. I never did well on exams," Andy joked.

"Failed?" the spokesman said, seeking rescue from one of the other doctors and got none.

The four doctors looked from one to the other, baffled by the reference to failure.

"It's a joke. Sorry," Andy said, regretting wasting his good humor.

"Yes, well, there's nothing on any of the exams… tests we've conducted over the last few days. We all concur and we've decided that more chemo at this time is unnecessary. We will want to see you in February to check again, but you are cancer free at this time."

"Wait a minute," Andy said. "You're telling me what? Try English and skip to the good part. I want to hear that again"

"Your body is cancer free. Your arm is healing remarkably well considering the damage you did to it. We'd advise that you take two more months of very light rehabilitation on the left arm. At that time we'll want to examine you again, but I see no reason why you can't begin training for your return to baseball."

"You aren't kidding me?" Andy asked.

"No kidding," the doctor said. "You passed, Andrew, and you can get ready to play ball. Congratulations! We'll pass the information along to your club if you like."

The doctor smiled and Andy was the one who failed to get the humor in his remarks.

"Yes, by all means. I'll talk to them later today," Andy said.

The doctors filed out of the conference room without anything further to say. Andy sat immobilized by this turn of events. He didn't try to get up or speak for some time.

"You okay, Andy?" I finally asked.

"I've been ready for them to tell me the arm has to come off for four and a half months, Do. I'm ready every time I come up here for them to tell me the arm has to go. I want to be able to grab the arms of my chair so I don't scream. I wasn't prepared for this."

"What wonderful news, Andy. No more chemo."

"I didn't ask if it was okay for me to sail," he said.

"Ask me. I'll tell you it's okay. We're going to have one hell of a vacation now. Call John Paul and tell him to get the boat ready. We'll close up the house, drive by to tell Harold the news, and it's Florida here we come."

"Lets drive down. I want to drive. I want to see the country between here and Florida. I want to eat the food and see the people, Do. I want to be alive. I want to feel completely alive."

"That would be nice. Maybe Big Barney Bostic will give you a new car if we drive by Pittsburgh," I said.

"The car only has a few thousand miles on it, Do. I like it. I've never driven a car that rides as smooth as this one. I get another one and it might drive like a tank."

"My love, expensive cars don't drive like tanks."

"I don't want to take any chances, This one is fine for me," Andy said.

"Anything you say, my love," I said.

Andy laughed and held my hand tight. We kissed and he held me in both of his arms. It's the kind of thing he wouldn't do before, when someone might walk in on us. I felt a sob of relief escape from him as we held each other. I prayed it was over.

There had never been a better hug. He was cancer free. Our lives were cancer free. Lives that were suspended without futures until the doctors cancelled the suspension. We could go on with our lives and be confident we'd be alive to enjoy them, and each other.

Andy had changed. Everything he'd worked to become had been changed now. He wanted to go back and play ball, but it was made different by his fight to beat cancer. He'd been blessed with a rare talent. How far he could come back was the question. It was going to take a major effort.

If he could come back he would come back. He had nothing to prove or no need to prove it. He had been at the top of the game and he'd live if he didn't get quite so high this time around. Having the chance was a gift he wouldn't abuse.

He'd been a 'bonus baby' who slugged his way from Rookie of the Year to Most Valuable Player. He led the league in homers in his final full season in baseball. That Andy Green left baseball. There was a new Andy Green warming up to play ball.

He would savor ball more. He'd treasure what he'd once found annoying. He'd smile more. He'd be more kind and patient with fans who came out to watch him and his club play. Andy would love it all.

I had no doubt Andy would return to ball. I didn't know how long it would take him. Andy wasn't likely to play any of the next season. Rushing his rehabilitation wasn't going to happen. He'd train, strengthen the arm, and practice as he'd never done before. He should be able to return after a season and a half away if everything continued to go well.

Andy didn't want to ride the bench or to have a club carry him, because of his name alone. If he couldn't play the game at a level that excited him, he'd hang up his cleats and call it a career.

There were ways to be in ball and not play ball. It wasn't something he gave a lot of thought, but he was aware of other ways he could stay in the game. He'd give it his best shot and consider the options if he didn't make it to the majors a second time.

One evening, during his chemo, Andy told me about Ted Williams, who played ball for Boston for a couple of years. During those years he was the last player to bat over .400 for a full season.

He went off to be a fighter pilot in WWII for three years. When Williams came back, he picked up where he left off. He'd never hit .400 again but he batted like a demon and was the terror of the American League. He'd been away three years and he was back.

Williams misfortune was to be born at a time when men were particularly enamored with war. Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, did not question the wisdom of war. He answered his countries call when it came, and for the second time in his baseball career, he flew fighters for his country. This time he flew them over Korea and way out of ball for two more years.

Williams lost years out of the heart of his baseball career. Nearly fifteen years after first coming into major league baseball, Ted Williams came back to terrorize the American League pitching once more. He was a force of nature and was lucky enough to play more years than most players play.

Andy had fashioned his swing after the swing of the Splendid Splitter, Williams. They were of a similar size and build. They had long arms to reach out over the plate for outside pitches.

Andy understood from Williams that a man could be out of ball for several years and come back as good as before. Andy knew it would take a full effort to accomplish it.

Now he was told he'd play again. It didn't mean anything to a baseball player. It didn't tell him he'd play as well as before or that his swing would be the same. It didn't tell Andy his timing would return to what it was before.

Andy had been given permission to return to ball. He was told that physically he could play baseball again. That didn't mean he would play again at a major league level.

Andy was on the first step of a long journey back. We would take that step together. I'd hold his hand and reassure him, but soon, too soon perhaps, he'd leave me to let coaches and trainers give him the motivation he needed. Then he would know if he was all the way back.

There were no guarantees but things were a hundred times better than when we arrived in Indianapolis. I felt a hundred times better. We were going sailing. We had a future and it felt good.

Andy called John Paul from the hotel to tell him we were on the way and would arrive in Destin in three to four days. John Paul said our cabin was ready and that he'd fuel the boat and begin stocking the galley for an extended cruise. He failed to mention that Gene was not only a superb interior decorator but he was also a trained chef as well.

Harold was going to meet us in Key West as soon as he decided to begin his Christmas vacation. He was already half way through his next semester. He couldn't wait to officially start pre-med. He would study the entire week he spent with us, or so he said, and we didn't argue with him.

Harold told us that Christmas wasn't his favorite thing. It was always a disappointment when he was a boy. He was looking forward to seeing us and the boat. We sent Harold pictures John Paul emailed us, and he was fascinated.

We closed up the house and packed enough casual clothes to last us, and after breakfast at Sammy's, we headed south. Andy was more energetic the further we got from the meeting with his doctors.

We headed south, staying close to or on the Interstate much of the first day, getting off on the secondary roads when it was time to find a restaurant, or when we got tired of the high speed driving.

We could go through several towns, coming back to the Interstate periodically as we moved south. Sometimes we got back on the Interstate right away and at other times we stayed on the two lane highway to see what we could see.

We could have made it in little more than a day if we both drove and kept the car moving on the Interstate, but we were starting our vacation and setting a comfortable pace was what we decided upon.

At dinner time we moved onto the secondary road near a town and drove until we found a restaurant we wanted to try. After dinner we'd drive until we found a motel for the night. The weather was mild and partly cloudy. It was good weather for traveling.

We weren't going to schedule anything beyond Christmas in Key West. Both John Paul and Gene were delighted to be going to a place they knew. It was John Paul's favorite port in the states. After we found the boat, Key West was the only definite destination in mind, and that's where Harold would meet us.

I'd never been to Key West. I'd never spent the night on a boat. There were a lot of things I'd never done but was about to do. The one thing I had done and wanted to do a lot more, was to be with Andy in a place where we were at ease, while away from the house.

Andy was at ease behind the wheel of his Town Car. He didn't mind letting me drive it, but he liked driving and that was fine with me. We stopped at some roadside attractions, which were little more than tourist traps for locals to catch a buck here or there.

There were flea markets in many of the tiny towns along the way. The proprietors were all friendly and very southern. It was there we were able to locate a hidden restaurant that had the best food nearby and the next town where we might stay overnight.

We stayed in northern Tennessee the first night and we were well into Alabama when we stayed over the second night. We'd stayed close to Interstate 65 and knew where to get off to drive the last three or four hours into Destin.

This was the part of the trip where the landscape all changed. There were palm trees and fields of grass alongside the road. It even felt as if we were in a different part of the country.

Andy wanted to eat and get the room fairly close to where we left the Interstate behind so he'd be fresh to drive across the secondary roads the third morning. We planned to be in Destin at the marina before noon.

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