Outside the Foul Lines - Book I

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

Reasoning & Mysteries

I was more interested in reading my economics assignment than the food. I ate to fill the hole in my stomach, which grew by the hour. I found if I read my assignment the food didn't make that big an impression on me. It was at times like these that I longed for the table my mother set. Having eatable food was a given at my house and I simply expected it without asking for it. At State I had to ask for my supper and that always left me wondering if I was smart enough to be in college.

"Hey, can I join you?"

"Sure," I said, looking up from my assigned reading to watch Andy brush off the seat left less than tidy by the previous diner.

My interest in economics declined as I watched Andy arrange his food, taking it off his tray and placing it on the table, using his hand to clear the crumbs and food particles out of the way of his grouping of food.

"What are you reading?" he asked.

"Economics," I said, still watching him get everything the way he wanted it.

"How can you read at lunchtime?" Andy asked.

"It's difficult to read at practice," I said in jest.

This observation got a curious look as Andy dug into an odd colored macaroni and cheese with the cheese far too yellow for cheese and the noodles a cloudy gray. My stomach grew uneasy.

"You can't read in your room?" he inquired.

"No, I can't read in my room," I said without explaining.

"I can't think about my school work while I eat. Gives me indigestion. I want to enjoy my lunch."

"That's the reason I read in the cafeteria, but I don't expect to enjoy the food. I eat to stay alive. Enjoyment rarely enters the picture."

"The only reason I do any studying at all is so I can play baseball," Andy said, scooping up a large spoon filled with macaroni and cheese.

"I play baseball so I can go to school," I said, seeing how far apart we were.

"Really? That surprises me. How'd you get so good with the glove?"

"Practice," I said. "I didn't need to study all that hard to get good grades in high school."

"I sure did. If I hadn't played baseball I'd have gone nuts. It's what made school tolerable," Andy said between bites.

"How are you doing with your schoolwork here?"

"Lousy. Coach Bell has two guys tutoring me over at the varsity dorm. It's a hassle. They aren't much smarter than I am. What do you plan to do, anyway?"

"What do I plan to do?"

"If you only play baseball so you can go to college you must have other plans."

"I want to open up a small appliance business. I'm good with my hands. Mechanical things appeal to me but working for someone else doesn't."

"Me, I'm planning to play ball."

"What will you do after your playing days are over?"

Andy chewed on the food and my question. It wasn't something he'd been asked before.

"I don't know. I haven't given it that much thought. I like playing baseball. It's mostly what I've done the last few years. I guess I should think ahead. There's no guarantee I'll get past college ball. I'm just not all that smart."

"Maybe you're smarter than you think. It doesn't sound like you've applied yourself. You're majoring to be a gym teacher?"

"No, I wouldn't call it majoring in gym. I'm more majoring in baseball with a minor in gym. You don't think it's enough?"

"I'm not a job councilor, Andy, but you might want to find something else you like and get some credits under your belt. I'll help you if you like."

"You aren't tired of looking at me. I'd figure two or three hours of practice a day would be enough," Andy observed, watching me for a reaction.

"I like you. If I can help you I don't mind. I don't want to offer to help you and you not take it seriously. You need to investigate classes you might find interesting. That will make studying easier and we can meet at the library a couple of times a week to make sure you don't get stuck."

"That's cool," Andy thought out loud.

"Wouldn't it be easier if I came over to your room. That way you wouldn't take as much time meeting me somewhere else."

"No, that would never work. My dorm is like a constant rock concert. Half the time I don't get enough sleep to feel like I want to study. I don't go to my dorm until I've got my studying done. We have a lot of football players and they're a pain in the…. They're loud."

"Sorry to hear that. My dorm is quiet. We have a curfew and Coach Boil makes sure we don't violate it. Our senior dorm resident tells Boil any time there's a disturbance after curfew."

"You don't know how lucky you are," I said, taking some food and wondering why my plate was still full.

Even with our chat, Andy was finished and ready to leave; I was still in the middle of reading my assignment and had way too much food left to throw it away.

He stood and bid me farewell, saying, "I'll see you at practice."

I watched him walk away, deposit his trash at the exit and drop the tray in the appropriate pile of trays. I felt good about our talk but I didn't know why. Liking Andy was the only hint of why I liked being around him. Tutoring him wouldn't be a big deal and it would allow me to get back to my dorm even later. I liked the idea of spending more time with him.

Practice that afternoon had me hitting fly balls to Andy before Chance came over to hit them, which freed me to take the field beside him. He was still able to field the grounders on a hop without that much difficulty. The high flies were what gave him trouble. Each time he misplayed one, I asked him to tell me why.

Our cordial chat from lunch did not follow us to practice and Andy got mad by the fourth or fifth ball he muffed. Putting myself into his position, I wouldn't have liked being criticized, even when it was constructive criticism. By five in the afternoon Coach Bell was leaning on the backstop watching Chance deliver fly balls into left field. I found myself talking Andy under the balls so he could make the catch, but even then he had a tendency to put the glove in front of his face. It was as though he wasn't sure at the last second, when he should have been in position to make the catch was when the glove went up to protect his face.

"Why do you keep putting the glove in front of your face?" I barked, unhappy Coach Bell was seeing me fail at the task he was giving me.

"I didn't do that," he barked back.

"Andy, you do it almost every time. If you cover your eyes you aren't going to make the catch."

"I'm not covering my eyes."

When I looked back at the infield, Coach Bell was gone. He'd seen it all and I didn't know what to do next. Andy became more and more angry the more I pressed him. That made me feel bad and even if Coach Bell saw the exchange, there was nothing I could suggest.

Andy returned to the varsity field as the light was fading and Chance came over after Andy was gone.

"What's wrong with him? Can't he see the damn ball? I hit the thing right to him and he still blows it. He catches like a girl."

"I don't know. He won't tell me what's going on and my guesses are all played out. I don't know what's wrong. To make matters worse Coach Bell was watching us."

"Glad he didn't put me in charge of him. I wouldn't want to be you. Good luck with that," Chance said, walking toward the gym.

Good luck indeed.

I showered and felt bad for Andy. If I could figure out his problem, it might help him with Coach Bell, but I didn't have any more ideas.

Uncharacteristically, I went straight to my room, figuring I'd spend my night off enjoying the total chaos of my dorm. Once I got to the hallway that took me to my room, I found it strangely devoid of noise and noise makers. I wondered if I'd missed the fire alarm. When I got to my room, I realized I hadn't missed a fire alarm.

"Coach Bell!" I said, with apprehension. "What…?"

"I watched you working with Andy and I wasn't all that impressed. What's wrong with the boy?"

"I…." I said. "I… I think he needs glasses," I blurted, remembering Chance's opinion at the point I was going to throw in the towel.

"Glasses?" he said back to me. "You mean all this time his problem is he can't see? The boy hits a ton. How do you explain him hitting a fastballs if he don't see 'em?"

"A pitcher is close to a batter but a batter is a long way from the outfield. He can pick up the pitched ball as it leaves the pitcher's hand. A hit ball is a hundred, two hundred feet away. He doesn't pick it up until it's on top of him and then he might not pick it up at all. I think he needs an eye exam," I said, cringing and telling myself to shut my mouth.

"Glasses?" Coach Bell said with a lot of skepticism in the word. "I give you a fielder and tell you to teach him to catch the ball and you give him back and tell me to get his eyes checked?"

I was dumbstruck. What an idiot. Why did I come up with that little piece of advice. What a dope.

"Your roommate, Pig Pen or whatever his name is. You tell him Coach Bell has his eye on him. That boy's a mess. He always yell in the halls that way?"

"I think that's his regular voice. He's a football player," I said, giving him as much information as possible.

"I wasn't impressed. How do you study, Dooley?" Coach Bell asked, as he moved toward the door.

"I study at the library. Sleeping is more of a problem. They won't let me sleep at the library."

"No," Coach Bell agreed. "Tell him I said to shut up."

"Yes, sir," I said and he moved out into the hall.

"Oh, yeah, Andy said you'd help him get his grades up. It's all I can do to keep him on the team. Is that true?"

"Yes, sir, but I told him it would need to be at the library."

"Okay, Dooley. That's all I got. Glasses huh? We'll go into it later. I got my eye on you," he said as I watched him move down the hallway toward the stairs.

One of his big hands shot up in the air in that abbreviated wave of his. He didn't turn around to see if I was still there, but there was that wave and what did it mean, 'I've got my eye on you'? Oh, did he ever. What a stupid thing to say. He needs glasses.

It took a few hours but the dorm was back to its normal noise level without regard for anyone else who might wander into our midst.

The following day Andy didn't come down from the varsity field. Coach Bell didn't make an appearance either. If he was keeping his eye on me it was from a distance. Chance and Wertz, our best hitters, were working on bunting. Both of them could rattle the fences if they got all of the ball. It was with bunting they needed the practice.

Because of their power, a well placed bunt was likely to catch the infield flatfooted, allowing them to make it safely to first. The prime placement of a bunt was half way between third base and the plate and an equal distance from the pitcher. A bunt placed there would leave the ball an equal distance from the pitcher, catcher, and third baseman. If done properly it was likely to bring all three of them charging for the ball. By the time one of them fielded it a fleet runner would be safely crossing first base.

I watched Chance show Wertz how he held the bat once he'd pulled it down off his shoulder. This was the first sign he might bunt as the pitcher was ready to deliver the pitch. By allowing it to hit the bottom half of his bat it drove the ball into the turf, which took the energy out of the ball as it bounced and maybe rolled down the inside of the third base line until it lost its momentum. If it didn't go foul or move too quickly, it turned out well for the batter.

With Barber on the mound pitching batting practice, Chance and Wertz alternated as hitter. Chance was by far the most proficient and I couldn't help but get into the act. Barber wasn't a head hunter and he usually pitched batting practice so the batter could hit the ball. It was no different with bunting practice.

The first two or three times I didn't manage to get the bat on the ball. The fourth time the ball hit the bat and my forefinger, causing me to jerk the bat away and dance in a circle to let my finger stop stinging. It was then I realized the stinging passed in a minute or so.

Chance and Wertz looked at it and agreed it was a finger. Barber came in off the mound and was in full agreement with the other two. Wertz asked if I wanted him to kiss the damaged digit. I gave him a suggestion of something else he could kiss. Everyone laughed and the finger was none the worst for wear.

"Look at the ball," Chance said.

"Perfect bunt," Wertz said.

After smashing my finger the ball had bounced to a spot halfway between third and the plate just on the edge of the infield grass. Everyone patted my back and congratulated me on getting it right. It was the first time I felt good about bating. Bunting was a specialized art, however, that was employed under certain circumstances to advance runners or for a power hitter to cross up an infield playing back on him at which time the bunt went right down the third base line. No one was going to reach it in time. You couldn't do it very often or it no longer caught the infield off guard.

We had two games that week and there wasn't any time to go looking for Andy. I batted twice in the first game. I walked once and struck out once. It never occurred to me to try the bunt, but the first game we lost 8-2 and the second game we won 6-3. I came up three times, hit a single over the leap of the second baseman and I scored a run.

It was mid-April and between baseball, school, and work, the amount of free time I had didn't amount to much. I went about my business and It was only six weeks before I would be back home in Statesville. For the first time I looked forward to being in Statesville. I knew the city and it was small enough for me to feel like I might belong there.

University life was cool but far more hectic than I could have expected. There was no telling what would happen next. I went to class, to baseball practice, and to work without really feeling I was an important part of any of my activities. I was a freshman and it took four years to attain a degree and it probably became easier as time passed, but looking at it from deep inside my first year at State, it looked like an endless journey.

Then, one day Coach Bell was back. We were going through our paces in a typical infield practice, when Coach Moore interrupted.

"Dooley," he yelled from the plate.

I looked around for Coach Bell but he had disappeared. I jogged up to Coach Moore apprehensive. He was kicking dirt and looking at his feet.

"Clean out your locker. Leave your game uniforms on the chair in my office. See Coach Bell before you leave. Good luck, son."

I watched him walk away without saying another word. My face was flush and the bottom had fallen out of my stomach. What had I done? I'd done everything I was asked. I looked back at my infield and saw that they were doing fine without me at shortstop. There was an empty hollow feeling down in my depths.

Baseball wasn't my life like it was for Andy, Chance, and Wertz. I could take it or leave it, but leaving it like this stung more than being hit on the hand by a pitch. I headed for the locker room to do as I was told before any of my teammates came to inquire. I didn't want to talk about what Coach Moore had said.

I needed to be alone.

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