Outside the Foul Lines - Book I

by Rick Beck

Chapter 6

Baseball School

Leaving home and everything I knew behind me wasn't the piece of cake I'd thought it would be. I was about to walk into a world where I was a total stranger to everyone I encountered. I knew I was a big boy and acquiring knowledge by playing ball didn't worry me. Being alone worried me, even though I'd been alone in my own world since I gave up on Ryan. Leaving home seemed the only answer, but leaving home created difficulties.

My mother teared up each time we crossed paths my final week in Statesville. She'd then hug me and tell me she knew I was going to be alright. I never had much doubt that I'd be alright until my mother started bawling at the sight of me. Was life really that tough? Were there unknown forces bent on stealing my soul? I wasn't so sure about what it was that so moved her.

Gradually I collected my favorite clothes and jammed them into one of my two bags, once she'd washed and ironed all of it. There was a new package of socks, a new package of briefs, and a package of white undershirts.

My final night in my own bed wasn't filled with restful slumber. I tossed and turned and dreamed of horrible things that lurked just beyond Statesville. I finally fell asleep for the last time at about sunrise. When I woke up, I was in the middle of another nightmare. I saw Ryan sitting at the foot of my bed and I put the pillow over my head, waiting for it to pass. This vision wasn't so easily driven from my room

"I've come to say goodbye," I heard the apparition say in Ryan's voice.

"What?" I said, still thinking my room would be empty when I was fully awake.

"You heard me. Get up. Your mom is cooking breakfast."

I pulled the pillow from my head and Ryan was really sitting in my room. I stretched and yawned before I had the energy to throw my legs over the side of my bed.

"What are you doing here?" I asked in my dismissive voice.

"I didn't want you leaving without clearing the air," he said.

"How did you know I was leaving today?"

"Our mother's talk even if we don't. My mother told me. I came over to thank you," Ryan said.

"For what?" I asked.

"Well, you were always so bitchy to me. I thought you might tell people about what we used to do."

"I didn't and I wouldn't. That's between you and me."

"Yeah, you could have and you didn't. I wanted to thank you for that."

"You didn't know me very well even though we'd been friends all our lives."

"You knew something about me that could have done me harm. What came before didn't matter much."

There were many answers and I could have stretched out our final scene, but it wasn't going to accomplish anything. He had come to say goodbye and thank me for having some sense. I was always angry around him and the best thing to do was push it aside for the few minutes it took for Ryan to satisfy his need for confession. I used none of his own actions against him and I didn't question his credentials as a well-functioning straight male.

We shook hands, and he left feeling like we'd resolved something. I was just glad he left. I dressed and went for my final breakfast at home. My mother served me coffee, which she'd been reluctant to do for most of my eighteen years. I ate in silence and with much devotion, understanding the food I'd be getting at State would be fat filled, low nutrition waste products for the most part.

It was an amazingly perfect day. The sun was high with enough clouds to hold down the heat. The temperature was near eighty and there was no sign of autumn in the air. I sat in the backseat watching Statesville disappear behind me. Once we hit the Interstate it was only thirty minutes to the State College exit. In five more minutes we were on the street where my dorm was located.

I had to convince my parents to leave me off with my two bags, so I didn't need to explain them to anyone. I was going to college and my parents making sure I was comfy in my room was the last thing I needed. They reluctantly said goodbye and drove off with me standing at the curb.

I examined the old brick structure that looked a little like an old brick apartment building. There was one on each side of my building and so on and so forth down the entire block. I was greeted at the door by a friendly fellow who directed me to the office where I'd get my key.

"John Dooley," a sandy-haired fresh-scrubbed lad said as he looked at his list. "Lucky lad. You are on the top floor."

"Why lucky?" I asked.

"You've never lived in an apartment before."

"No, I live in a house. I thought these were rooms with a bunk and a few wall plugs."

"It is, but this is an athletic dorm. Athletes tend to come with great quantities of energy. When you get a half dozen or so romping on the floor above you, it can disrupt your studies."

"Never had the experience," I explained without paying much attention to his description.

I climbed the stairs passing a dozen people on my way to the fourth floor. My room was in the middle of the building with a lot of other doors lining the hallway. The room was small with bunk beds taking up all the room behind the door and a space about ten feet wide on the other side of the door. Both mattresses were rolled up and that indicated I was the first getting to my room. It was smaller than my bedroom and it seemed a bit much to ask to have two boys live in that space.

I came to have a better appreciation for the description of apartment living as days passed. I made a point to study at the library, where threatening monitors kept the peace and quiet. I found studying there far easier. The apartment building I lived in was more an asylum for wayward youth. There were mostly Freshman away from home for the first time. I didn't understand insanity or what motivated it, but it seemed to run rampant around me. My doctor had given me all my shots the week before I departed for State. I hoped there was one to fight off the lunacy that afflicted most of my dorm mates.

My roommate, Big Barn Walkershaw, was a tackle on the freshman football team. He'd commuted from his home for summer practice, not moving into the dorm until school started. His parents figured he should use the time to study that he'd have wasted at home, but I never saw Big with a book, and I had no indication he attended any classes. He loved leaving the door open late into the night. He liked roaming the halls and invading other rooms for chats or to help the more industrious boys who found a way to smuggle beer into the dorm.

It took some adjusting to get used to university living. I knew I'd be able to sleep again some day, but I wasn't sure when. Night after night I was awakened by the thundering hordes racing up and down outside my door. It was usually after midnight when our senior advisor came in to restore order if he didn't get offered a beer first. I couldn't imagine what it was like living on a lower floor.

Early in my residency I got a map of the athletic complex folded into my mailbox with a schedule of meetings and practices. My first meeting with the freshman team gave me a glimpse of my competition. There were a couple of faces I thought I recognized from my high school games, but I wasn't good with paying attention to who's who on other teams. We did a lot of fielding the first week. Coach Moore was actively involved with the plays.

In the second week we were organized into teams. It was a loose grouping that had members of one team moving to the other team in the middle of a game and some times in the middle of an inning. There were no winners or losers. We played a few innings, did drills, ran around the immaculate track, which required sneakers. To be caught on the track with spikes was automatic reason to be dropped from the team. Running in sneaks on a track was easier than trying it in spikes, but I imagine there are some boys who aren't that smart.

The first game of pepper we rotated eleven infielders. When you booted a ball, you sat down, until there was only one boy left, and Coach Moore might or might not recall everyone and start a new game, depending on his mood. I booted a ball right away the first game and felt like a real dope sitting by myself on the bench. It didn't last long. His line drives and sharp poppers that always seemed to make a bad bounce had everyone sitting down in short order. We were a restless bunch, hoping the pepper game was short and we'd be back in game formation before we were all red faced.

Little was said the first few days. Anyone who booted the ball didn't need to be scolded. The lonely walk to the bench was a sufficient motivator. It took me until the third week to be the last man standing. The pepper games weren't all that bad. Harvey Chance was my biggest competition by October. We became the last two standing in most pepper games. Coach Moore went out of his way to give us each the same opportunity to catch or miss a hit. One afternoon we went fifteen minutes, Chance and Dooley, missing nothing hit within our range. I felt like a million bucks.

I was standing out in a way that I expected and Chance wasn't a bad sort. He laughed when he screwed a catch and lamented the pressure got him. We were in competition with one another and we knew it, although he was a second baseman and I was a shortstop. The competition wasn't really between us. We were in competition with Coach Moore.

The first lineup for a game with another school's team had Chance at second and Dooley at shortstop. I was thrilled to see my name in the starting lineup. I didn't even worry about my bat before the game. I didn't come to bat until the second inning and the pitcher blew three straight strikes past me. My bat haunted me yet again.

"Dooley," Coach Moore growled as I returned to the bench. "You got to get it off your shoulder if you want to hit anything. That's why they call it a bat."

I was sick. I'd spent several weeks showing him what I had and in one at bat I showed him what I lacked. I felt really bad until I got back to the field, even with my pathetic bat. After the first man walked, I got my glove on a hard hit ball, tossed it to Chance to get the runner before making the throw to first to get the batter there.

"Way to mow 'em down, Dooley," Chance said, once we'd sent the ball around the infield for good measure.

"That's what I'm saying," Coach Moore yelled, clapping his hands and moving up to the third base line applauding our heads-up play.

I had two more balls hit in my direction and I threw a little wide to first base on one, but the first baseman stretched out to make the play. The other opportunity was a routine play. As we fell behind 3-2 in the fifth inning on three straight singles, my career took another unexpected turn once we got them out.

I knew I was the second man to bat in our half of the inning and I was trying to stay positive about my prospects.

"Corry bat for Dooley. Higgins warm up. You'll pitch in the sixty."

That was it. Sit down and shut up. My day was over. I never got accustomed to the ups and downs but I was just as happy not to bat. Of course I'd never learn to bat by sitting on the bench. Corry got a single and Chance hit a homer to put us back in front. It was a team sport and we won and that was important in college. I felt secure with my fielding but my nemesis bat kept me from getting too cocky.

It was mid-October and probably in the high fifties. I almost put an insulated shirt on under my uniform shirt to assure I wouldn't get cold. Once again we went back to the tried and true. Chance and I were the last men standing in the infield practice game of pepper. Coach Moore drove one ball to my right and the next ball to Chance's left. It was where we each made most of our plays. After fifteen minutes I was soaked. Each time I caught my breath, the coach drove me far afield, after he'd done the same for Chance. It was all crack of the bat and the sound the ball makes as it hits the soft leather of my glove. By the time I was soaked in sweat the sound of panting accompanied each move we made.

I don't remember a game of pepper ever lasting so long and Coach Moore wouldn't trip either of us up to end it. Each hit was fair and we both had an opportunity to get to the ball. Some times it went between us and one of us would say, "I got it," and playing together meant we knew each other as well as you can expect. I always let up when he said he had it.

Finally Chance booted a ball that was just out of reach. Coach Moore apologized and said it was his fault and not the fault of a fielder. It gave him an opportunity to come out to greet us and tell us how good we looked. I was panting as I walked in to get some water. A heavy-set man was behind the backstop staring out into the infield. He was dressed like a coach complete with a silver whistle. His eyes were on me as I went toward the water fountain.

When I turned away from the water fountain the same man was standing in my path. I showed my surprise finding him in my path.

"You Dooley?" he asked, seeming not to know who I was.

"Yes, sir," I said, waiting for more.

He turned and walk away, just like that.

"Coach," I asked later in the practice, "Who was the big guy watching us play pepper."

"He is the big guy. That's Coach Bell," he said.

Coach Bell was the varsity coach. I'd seen pictures of him but none that looked like the guy watching us. My curiosity was getting the best of me.

"Did you tell him who I was?" I asked, expecting he had.

"No, Coach Bell isn't one to do a lot of talking. I do recall he asked me about you at a meeting a few weeks back."

"What did he say about me?"

"Nothing at all. He asked if a kid named Dooley showed up. I said you had. That's all."

Now my curiosity was working overtime. He'd asked about me and then at the most aggressive game of pepper ever, he just happens to be watching me. How the hell did he know who I was?


"Yeah, Dooley."

"The big man shows up and you just happen to run us all over god's half acre. What was that about? You've never kept us out there that long before."

"Dooley, you have a lot to learn. The big guy comes for a look-see and you give him something to see. I got my best two fielders out there and I'm going to show him what they got. I didn't do anything different, you two did. Neither one of you gave an inch. I wouldn't expect any less from either of you, but Coach Bell doesn't know you from Adam. He'll remember you and Chance because you're varsity bound. He is always complaining about his infield. Can't hurt you none."

"No, I expect not," I said thoughtfully.

"Of course he hasn't come to watch you take batting practice. We need to do some work on it before spring."

"Yes, sir," I said, not paying all that much attention.

That was my big moment. Autumn practice ran into cold weather. We met in the gym twice a week for exercise and conditioning. I was doing fine with my classes and I'd grown accustomed to the noise where I lived. It wasn't the perfect start to my college baseball career, but I felt pretty good about it.

When I decided to go looking for Bobby Henry, I ran into Coach Bell near his office.

"Coach Bell, I've been meaning to look up Bobby Henry. Do you know where I can find him?"

"You're John Dooley?"

"Yes, sir."

"You play shortstop."

"Yes, sir."

"I went to school with Coach Price. He told me you were a Nifty fielder."

"Yes, sir," I said, not wanting to sound dopey.

"You just missed him?"


"Henry? You just missed him. He put his name in the draft. He's in Tulsa waiting for the season to start. You got some big shoes to fill, son. Bobby Henry had it all. I was sorry to lose him, but he wasn't going to get any better playing college ball. You think there's things you still need to learn, son, or are you ready for the Bigs?"

"The Big Leagues. I don't think so. I got a lot to learn."

"Well, at least you know it. That's a start," he said, turning to walk away and hesitating to dispense some wisdom. "When the season starts, get a local paper and check the Tulsa box-score. Henry's name will be there. I'd bet on it. Big shoes, Dooley, awful big shoes to fill."

"He's why I started playing ball," I said as he walked away.

He put one big hand in the air and waved to indicate he'd heard what I said.

I didn't know what to make of it. I liked that I met him and he knew me. I didn't like that he knew me without me knowing why he knew me. He said he went to school with Coach Price. Maybe that's all there was to it.

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