Outside the Foul Lines - Book VI

by Rick Beck

Chapter 12

Languid Days

Time stands still when you pull the plug on the world around you. I didn't know what day it was and I knew what time it was by when Gene served us meals. Lunch was loosely planned for around one and dinner was at seven.

With two other men on the boat, we could go without seeing them for hours on end. Some of each day was devoted to Andy's renewed passion. I was never happier. We napped after lunch each day, which was preceded by sex. After our passions were spent, we needed a nap.

Most days we spent walking hand in hand around the deck. We'd look in the water, at the horizon, and at we'd watch the sea creatures that abounded. Dolphin were our favorite entertainment. Some would travel with us for long periods. They sought eye contact and seemed to want to communicate with us. They jumped, flipped in the air, and chased one another around the boat.

We had all sails full of gulf breeze, but we were no match for the speed of the dolphin who ran circles around us, when they tired of the slow pace.

If we looked up on the bridge, which was directly in front of the main salon, elevated six feet or so, and it was wide enough not to make you feel closed in. It was surrounded by windows that offered a view on all sides.

As we walked passed, we might go up to chat and have a cup of the always fresh coffee Gene supplied John Paul. It was superb coffee that made the Eight O'clock beans we often used at home seem as if they lacked something.

We would be adjusting our beans once we were back in Indiana. Gene was spoiling us in many ways. The cooking lessons I planned after retirement, might need to come between seasons. My basic cooking skill wasn't going to hold us between visits to the Pines or meals with Mrs. Olson. I never knew food could come in such a variety.

John Paul had a GPS along with all the other gear needed to locate us, keeping us on some kind of course, and well out of the way of larger vessels.

The Do had been equipped with all the latest electronics you needed to stay safe and out of trouble. We could monitor local weather, or contact Miami Weather Center for a detailed analysis of impending storms. This time of year was relatively quiet, but we encountered two rough days in a row sometime in the second week out.

John Paul apologized for being unable to avoid it. The entire gulf was rough. He secured the sails and kept us at a steady two knot speed to counteract the waves. I didn't get sick any longer, but my stomach didn't love the rolling of the boat. Andy and I could always find something to do in our cabin if being on deck became unpleasant.

Andy and I were forward one afternoon. It was warm and calm. The sails caught what there was of the light sea breeze. Andy had his shirt off so his body could catch up with his head in the tan department. We decided to go swimming off the boat before we had lunch.

There was a solid ladder we hung off the back of the boat. Andy could climb it easy enough. The rope ladder that John Paul and Gene used at the front of the boat in the evenings didn't offer Andy the support he needed to climb with his one and a half arms.

This was only done nude and when dolphins were trailing the boat, which was often. It seems dolphins are deadly enemy to the shark and therefore it was safest when we had seen dolphin first.

It didn't quiet my fear of being eaten by a shark, but I overlooked that possibility to get naked with Andy. Any time Andy was naked around me, I wanted more than to swim, but with his arm less than strong, I settled for getting him excited when he swam with me. When we got back on the boat, we were heading for the cabin to relax before lunch and reduce Andy's tension.

John Paul and Gene assured us that we could have sex in the middle of the deck and they'd hardly notice, as they'd both lived in Europe, where sexuality was enjoyed and nudity wasn't discouraged or hidden beyond ordinary politeness.

They laughed and told us the American ideas about sex were Victorian at best and Puritanical at worst. I didn't think that was good, but it did nothing to quiet my appetite for the man I loved. Andy swimming naked was an open invitation for me to get Randy.

One afternoon as we stood on the bow of the boat, Andy saw something that looked like a stain in the water off to the starboard side.

"What's that," Andy yelled, waving to get John Paul's attention on it.

Andy pointed and directed John Paul off to starboard as we were about to move away from what he had found. As the boat moved closer to the substance, I could hear the sails being lowered to a position that would slow the boats forward progress to nearly nothing. The nose of the boat eased closer to what Andy wanted to see.

The chain on the anchor jangled as it spent some time stopping the boat dead in the water. John Paul came down the stairs and walked to where we stood, looking at something out of a crankcase, but way more gunk. It had collected every conceivable kind of plastic within it.

It smelled awful.

"What is it?" Andy asked, leaning halfway over the rail.


"Oil?" Andy said, turning to face John Paul. "Oil?"

"Not so much in the gulf. The gulf has been relatively clean. The north Atlantic has gigantic pools that float on top of the water when the conditions are right. In World War II thousands of ships were sunk. Millions and millions of gallons of diesel fuel and oil run in rivers below the surface, or so I'm told."

"World War II was fifty years ago," Andy argued.

"I know," John Paul said. "Oil and water don't mix. Oil sticks together. I didn't make it up. It takes many years and many storms to break it up, but it's still in there. A lot was frozen under the ice in the Artic, until now."

'Here? In the gulf? They sank ships?" Andy asked.

"Oh, not so much here. This oil is from oil rigs. The rigs leak. I'm told the floor of the gulf leaks oil without even drilling for it. I don't know if I believe that one or if it's a rumor spread by oil companies so they don't have to pay to clean up their mess."

"This is common in the gulf?" Andy asked, becoming more angry as he spoke.

"First time I've run into this much in the gulf. I've seen this amount in seas around the world. Find a way to get all the oil out of the sea and you'd have enough oil to run the world for a year," John Paul said. "I've got to go start the engines. We're drifting into it. We get the hull coated with that crap and it'll take a major clean up. You seen enough?"

"I've seen more than enough. It's the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. This beautiful water polluted like its some cesspool you pour your waste in. Get us out of here. I don't want to look at it any longer."

That was the first order I ever heard Andy give John Paul. It wasn't a difficult odor to follow. It was the order John Paul was waiting to receive.

The movement of the chain told us the anchor was coming up. John Paul started the engines, reversing them. He eased back a few hundred yards from the stain on the water. He steered to port and we proceeded at the same steady pace we'd maintained for days. The sails propelled us faster than the engines, but John Paul rarely pushed the engines beyond a low idle. We only used the engines when it was required.

We didn't forget what was behind us. Andy stood for a long time watching the dark spot growing smaller. He was very quiet and I knew our vacation had been interrupted by real world destruction.

Our lives were lived in a bubble that was kept pristine. It was rare that we came face to face with ugly realities. We were purposely protected from it so we could play ball without any cares and woes. The world was less than perfect, even if it could be hidden most of the time.

We sat on the fantail and continued to watch the spot fade in the distance. It wasn't gone. It wasn't any less of an environmental disaster. It didn't kill less of the dolphin who came up close to the boat and watched us when we stood at the railing watching them. Maybe they knew how to avoid it. Maybe it didn't kill so many of them.

Nothing changed except after a while we couldn't see it anymore. That was good. I didn't want anything to destroy Andy's good mood. We'd been in the gulf going on two weeks and it was the first ugly sight we'd seen.

Andy couldn't stop looking back at the dark stain on the gulf. The water was quite beautiful otherwise. When it stormed it was dark and looked dirty but on clear days in calm conditions there were several shades of green depending on its depth.

We could sail away from the ugliness. The marine life wasn't quite so lucky. They were stuck in it. It was done now and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Spills happen. The world still turned and we had our coffee each morning.

We sailed eastwardly when we were well away from the oil, giving up our southern route for the time being. The breeze was light and the sails were once again filled with the pleasant breeze. It was a comfortable partly cloudy day.

It was nice for the middle of December. The water became placid. The sailing was easy. December had always been a month when I shivered and prayed for spring training. That's when we basked in the southern Florida sun as the Grapefruit league funneled baseball royalty and baseball mediocrity into the same venues for weeks on end.

Most of the royalty had personal trainers, their own gyms, and people who were paid to make sure they stayed fit and trim. They came to spring training when they were ready, and you don't rush the royalty, because they were readying for another record breaking season. You didn't want to disturb their preparations.

It's the only time I got a close up look at Evan Lane, who traveled in a caravan and his wife of a year would kiss his cheek as he went off to the baseball factory and she went home to lollygag next to the pool at the Ritz Carlton.

I caught sight of Chance now and again in spring training. We'd never been able to take a day to renew old friendships, but we promised we would one day. As college faded further into our past, memories of old friends faded away. Chance was a big league second baseman, and I was a shortstop he played with for a few years.

In December and before Christmas we were already basking in a warm southern sun, a few hundred miles from where I'd hear the reframe, "Play ball," in early March. Coach Bell expected me to show up when I showed up. He wouldn't be expecting me to show up more tan than I was when we usually left spring training for Louisville.

For the first time in our lives, Andy and I did not talk ball on a daily basis. Often at the morning breakfast table at home, we'd get around to ball by the second cup of coffee, but we hadn't talked ball at all. I didn't bring it up because for Andy ball was in the past and perhaps in his future. I was still in ball and Andy was on the outside looking in.

For now we were suspended between real world considerations and a fantasy life neither of us anticipated, before cancer came to call.

One night later than we were usually awake, Andy whispered in my ear.

"I wish we could stay on The Do forever. Never go back to our lives. Just keep on sailing. We could you know. We have money. We have time."

It was a fantasy. I knew it and I suspect Andy knew it. He knew that as soon as I got to spring training, he'd be on his way to Indianapolis for rehabilitation. I knew that every ounce of his strength would push and drive him on his return to being the player he once was.

In the fantasy we could sail off into the sunset. In real life we had obligations, responsibilities, and the desire to become better at what we did. Andy might never again be the premier home run hitter he once was, but he'd be the best damn leftfielder he could possibly be. If he didn't get back right away, he'd work harder, longer, and be noticed for his ability to push himself to his very limits.

I thought about ball. Andy probably did too. We just didn't speak of it. Life was suspended for a few more months. We could do anything we damn well pleased. Then I'd go off to play ball, because I told Coach Bell I would. The first time Andy said, "I need you," I'd be at his side and Louisville would be looking for a shortstop.

I'd already used my one and only pass on an unapproved absence. Coach Bell turned his back and said nothing, but it wouldn't happen again. I could either play ball or take a hike. If Andy needed me, I needed to take the hike.

If it came down to my loyalty to Coach Bell and to Louisville and my loyalty to Andy, there was no decision to be made. I knew Andy would never call me away from Louisville, unless he really couldn't make it without me. That's when I'd hang up my cleats.

Seeing Andy back in ball was the ultimate goal for both of us. My career had peaked and playing ball was something I loved. My spot on a minor league club didn't amount to much in baseball circles.

I played well. I was even hitting better, thanks to Coach Bell, but Louisville was my last stop, and Louisville wasn't the Bigs and it was no big deal. It's where I could play baseball for a living, but I could walk away at twenty-six. I was ready to call it a career if Andy needed me.

I rarely saw Andy play after college. I'd watched Evan Lane and Andy bat home funs out of Slugger park in Louisville one lazy day. Lane was heading for Cincinnati. Andy went to Pittsburgh a year later. They now squared off against each other a couple of times a year, glaring at each other from opposite sides of the diamond.

Since the day Andy tried to K. O. Evan outside the back fence of the stadium, they'd been pals. Once Evan was in the Bigs, we would watch him on television from time to time as he came or went from some honors banquet. ESPN would catch him getting into this white stretch limo, a girl on each arm, as his entourage headed off to one of the nighttime hot spots. The camera loved him.

Evan didn't really live that way, but give him a camera and he gave you a show. Evan and Andy had traded the home run hitting lead for the past three years. Andy had two more homers than Evan… when his arm gave out.

The first huge flower arrangement Andy got while hospitalized was from Evan.

"Don't think falling down gets you off the hook. The next time we go head to head for the home run title, I'm going to win. Get well Champ, Evan."

Andy won the home run title the season before, taking it from Evan, who won it the year before that. They had almost matched one another home run for home run for two and a half seasons. Theirs was a friendly rivalry, except in the press, where they exchanged pointed barbs for kicks.

I always remembered their brawl. It was hard to reconcile that image with their fondness for one another now. The brawl was Andy throwing one punch and the much more solidly built Evan trying to avoid fisticuffs. With Andy's right arm in a sling Evan wasn't going to hit him.

I suppose Andy and Evan weren't so different. In Pittsburgh Andy was bigger than life. The same was true of Evan in Cincinnati. They each played the role for their fans. Once they left their respective ball yards, they lived relatively ordinary lives. The show began a new once they made an appearance having to do with baseball.

Each of them was available for every interview and every request for time, during baseball season. The unwritten agreement was, you leave me alone in off season and I'll always be available to you during the season. It was an agreement most sports media figures understood and accepted.

Once we bought The Do, we were living large. It's not something I planned, but it could grow on me. Being made comfortable with far more than I needed for comfort, bothered me. The problems with having too much is that you have a lot to loose. I didn't like that idea. I did like the easy life we had on The Do.

I was a no frills kind of a person. I'd traveled light all my life. I'd used the same glove in high school and in college. I wore the same cleats in high school and college. I reluctantly replaced both once I earned my living playing ball. They were tools of the trade I needed to update.

Spending on things I didn't need was never in my game plan. I'd bought a computer once. It was top of the line with all the things I needed. One of my friends came over and saw it. He said, 'You still use the old model, huh?"

Old model what? It was a computer that did everything I needed it to do. When I saw his computer, it looked exactly like mine. It was a little bit faster, had all kinds of bells and whistles, but it did precisely what my computer did, minus one or two functions that weren't important to me. He was excited by his computer being better than mine. I said, "Oh, it's nice," so I didn't insult him.

I still had that computer. I still used it. It was now eight years old, but it did everything I needed to do. I never saw the point of buying each new model.

I suppose when you grow up without a lot of spending cash, you don't buy a lot of unnecessary stuff you can't afford. I worked all through junior high and high school, and at home in the summer while I was in college.

I had my own lawn business. I had people who depended on my service. I couldn't just walk away from them. I saw myself opening a shop in Statesville. I'd repair small household appliances and do my lawn care.

Good thing I didn't follow through with that plan. No one repairs anything anymore. It goes to the dump and you buy a new one the next day, if you can wait that long.

Now time was suspended and life was not simply easy, it was grand. I didn't do anything but breathe. I could stay on our boat forever. I wouldn't, because I'd leave to play ball, but until then, we were free to follow the horizon. Then we'd go to meet Harold in Key West for Christmas.

After Christmas there was no plan. We hadn't talked about it and we hadn't thought about it. The next thing that was on our agenda after Christmas was for me to get ready for spring training in March.

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