Outside the Foul Lines - Book I

by Rick Beck

Chapter 11

Moving On Up

I decided to shower so I could gather my thoughts. There's nothing like the spray of hot water to wash the cobwebs out of my brain. The showers at my dorm were at best warm. At the athletic complex you could make it as hot as you wanted. The cobwebs hadn't cleared by the time I sat in front of my locker. I could always pass on seeing Coach Bell before I left, but he wasn't the kind of man who would take a snub. The thought of him ending up in my dorm room again cleared my brain enough where I decided to get the meeting over with.

I dried as much as necessary to get into my clothes without getting that soggy feeling. I set my books out on the bench beside me, neatly folded my game uniform, and hung the hangers back inside for the next guy. Stopping at Coach Moore's office, I set the uniform just inside his office on the chair he kept by the door. I walked the extra half hallway until I stood in front of the door marked Coach Bell, Baseball Head Coach.

I knocked on the door while hoping he wasn't there, but I thought twice when I imagined him sitting in my dorm room.

"Come in," the unhappy voice ordered.

He looked up out of some papers on his desk and hesitated.

"What happened to you?" he asked.

"Nothing. Coach Moore said to see you before I left."

"Left? Oh. You did talk to Coach Moore?"

"Yes, sir."

"It's customary not to keep your coach waiting, when you are told to report to his office."

"Yes, sir," I said.

"I'd offer you my comb but as you can see, I don't really have a need for one. Do something with your hair."

"Yes, sir," I said, using my hand to push down the hair I never dried.

"Well sit down, Dooley, you ain't going to grow any more and my neck's getting tired of looking up at you. You know what's going on then? I guess Coach Moore was none too happy with me. Can't be helped. I don't have any options left and I've been thinking about this for half a season."

"What?" I said, thinking it made me sound a bit absent.

"What did Moore tell you," he said, his two chubby hands resting on top of a file he was looking into when I arrived.

"Clean out my locker, turn in my game uniform, and see you before I left. That was all," I said, trying to remember words that had sucked all the air out of me.

"Damn it. No wonder you look like a deer in the headlights. Garnett hurt his ankle again. My backup shortstop isn't as good a fielder as you are. We've got to work on your hitting, but for what's left of the season you'll be my starting shortstop. You're on the varsity. I don't usually touch Moore's boys and I wouldn't be sniffing around you but there's more to it than playing ball.

"Can you field, Dooley?"

"Yes, sir."

"Can you hit, Dooley?"

"No, sir," I confessed.

"I found me an honest man," he quipped and smiled real big. "You're a pretty good student. You're one of the top third in GPA out of all my players. You still want to tutor Andy?"

"Yes, sir," I said, still processing my dismissal's being replaced with a ticket to the top squad.

"Good. I've made arrangements for you to move into the varsity dorm. You are on the varsity. Andy hasn't had a roommate since the beginning of this semester. He's no Einstein and his grades are barely enough for him to play ball. Now that he has those glasses you recommended, he's making most of the catches hit in his direction. Questions?"

"I'm moving out of my dorm?" I repeated, trying to recover from the shock of defeat turning into a major victory.

"Can't be helped. You've got to get your rest and I want you next to Andy's elbow. When he isn't playing ball or in class, I want him studying with you. I ran it by him and he's okay with it. So, Do, welcome to the varsity," he said, standing and offering me his hand. "Welcome aboard."

"I work at the Pizza Palace three to four days a week," I said. "It's late, ten or eleven before I'm done."

"What do you make, minimum wage?"

"Seven an hour."

"I can work something out for you to be paid for tutoring Andy. He'll need you there at night. I'll see what we can arrange so you aren't working for me or doing something that might damage your eligibility. How's that sound?"

"Fine. It all sounds fine. I can't wait to get some sleep."

"Dooley, you're a fine little fielder. You've got the poise of a fielder with a lot more experience. I want your glove in the lineup, but there are going to be times I need a hitter and I'm going to pinch hit for you. We've got to work on your bat so I don't need to pinch hit you. I just want to let you know where we stand. It's not all a bed of roses here. You'll need to work even harder."

"Yes, sir. Sounds good to me. I've been working on my batting. Andy has been showing me some things."

"Good. I was going to make it official with the squad today, but you aren't in your uniform and it can wait."

"I turned in my game uniform," I said.

"Yeah, that's true. I've got one here that should fit you. I guessed at your size," he said, turning around to the table behind him and scooping up a folded varsity game uniform. "If these fit, I'll get you another pair so you can always have one clean. I want the team looking sharp when we face the competition."

"Yes, sir," I said, taking the uniform from him.

"You've got all the time you need to move your things. It's way late for them to worry about reassigning your room to someone else. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. The varsity dorm is monitored by my coaches. There's a resident player coach who takes names and kicks asses when necessary. He'll know you might be staying up late studying with Andy."

Coach Bell jotted the room number down on his message pad and ripped it off and handed it to me.

"Nice doing business with you, son. See you at practice tomorrow after your last class."

"Yes, sir," I said, standing and shaking his hand again as he walked me to the door.

I'd gone to Coach Bell's office dragging my tail and as I walked away from his office I did a little dance.

"Yes," I yelled in the long empty hallway.

I went back to my dorm and stripped the sheets off my bed, smiling at the maelstrom whirling around me as Big Barn and a couple of footballers passed the football back and forth past me in the hall as I headed for the exit.

"Hey, Do, where you heading," Big yelled from the far end of the hall.

As I turned to make my exit, my arms full of bedding and the gym bag with everything I'd need for the next few days, I sang, "Moving on up to the West side…."

I was doing what all the athletes on my floor hoped to be doing soon, only I was doing it now. It was easy to look fondly on them and their damn immaturity as one more experience it was good to have behind me. It was easy to figure none of them had ever escaped the confines of home before, but neither had I. That brought it down to parenting and discipline, which my folks had rationed in equal doses, letting me know when I was crossing the line and when I was doing well. I knew how to act in the house and it had never included passing footballs or small pieces of furniture up and down the hall. I was trading chaos for something new, but I already knew it couldn't be anything worse, and so, I smiled.

I had one thought as I entered my new world,

'To whom much is given much is expected.'

I was not foolish enough to think that my promotion was irrevocable. The path to my new dorm went in both directions. I had to make certain Andy passed his classes with grades that took him out of danger of being declared ineligible. I'd also practice my batting whenever there was time.

I threw my bed clothes on the bottom bunk, which was the one that was rolled up. The top bunk was a shambles and showed all the signs of someone sleeping in it. There was a big closet with maybe three or four items hanging on hangers and a pile of clothing on the floor below. There were some empty hangers and I used half of those available to hang up a few of my clean shirts.

There were two desks. One had a computer on it. The monitor was on with nothing identifiable on the screen. I clicked the switch to off , put my books on the unused desk, and then stood in the middle of the room to look at all the space. It was easily twice as large as the one I'd just left. Then I noticed something else. Quiet.

It didn't matter the hour of day in my old dorm, there was always noise, but it was worse than noise. I mowed lawns for a living and knew a thing or two about noise. The old dorm was populated with boys who were all infected with the same madness.

The silence in my new dorm was the first thing I noticed. I imagined it would be quieter with more supervision, but there was no sound that wasn't natural. I could actually hear toilets flush and showers running. I made a point of being extra quiet as I went to the window, opened the blind, and looked down on the athletic complex below our window. We were just high enough to have the best view without being so high that it all appeared too tiny to recognize. It was a nice day and I breathed in the fresh April air.

After I made my bed, I leaned back on my pillow and fell asleep. It was the soundest sleep I'd had in ages. I woke up with Andy shaking me.

"Here, I brought you a banana. I looked for you at dinner."

"Oh, I must have fallen asleep," I said.

"I guess," Andy quipped.

"I took the bottom bunk. I'll change with you if you want."

"Nah, I like being on top," he said. "Don't you work tonight?"

"Shit! Yeah and I'm an hour late already."

"I guess they're all standing around waiting for you to take the pizza out of the oven, huh?"

"No, but my boss is an asshole and I don't need his lip."

"Coach told me you are quitting your job. Coach said you were going to tutor me instead. Good luck on that job. You're replacing two tutors fwho haven't made much headway. I've been on academic probabation since I got here."

"Oh, yeah," I said. "I forgot. I don't need to deal with that jerk any more."

"I could have used some free pizza. Too sad," Andy thought aloud as he peeled back the last bite of his banana and popping what remained into his mouth.

"You want to walk over with me. I'm not going to work tonight. I'll tell him I've got to quit and work until the end of the week."

"Yeah, it'll give us time to talk about the damn glasses I've got to wear because of you. Coach Bell threatened physical damage to me if he saw me without them. I've been trying to avoid wearing glasses since I was nine."

"You knew you needed glasses?" I asked in a voice that showed my dismay.

"Sure, I'm blind not stupid."

"All that work we did in the outfield and you didn't think seeing the ball would make it easier?"

"I didn't think much about it. It's the way I've always seen. Things looked okay to me. Glasses make me look like a dork."

"Put them on," I said, as we left the quiet halls on our floor. "Let me see…. You look fine," I said, thinking with or without the gold wire-rim glasses, they actually made him more dignified; they broke up his angular face and the impact made his fairly large ears seem diminished.

"You're just saying that because you're sleeping under me," Andy said.

"Yes, well, just because I'm under you now doesn't mean that's the way it will always be."

Andy looked at me curiously. Either one of our statements could have been read as suggestive but not so much so between two college roommates in the early stages days of their developing relationship. It was okay to joke about sexual things as long as you didn't follow through. I understood the complexities of being strongly attracted to Andy, but I was certain I could keep my thoughts and desires under control.

"Dooley, where the hell have you been?"

"Sorry, I got to quit. My studies come first," I said in a relatively accurate statement for my reasoning. "I'll finish the week if you want."

"Nah, I breaking in a new guy who was in my office when they told me you haven't showed up. It's cool. We're not AT&T. You can come down for your check Friday night. Good Luck!"

"Yeah," I said, suddenly feeling quite small.

"Hey, Dooley," he yelled as I was heading for the door. "Here. This has anchovies on it. The customer ordered everything, no anchovies. If you want it, it's yours."

He leaned over the counter with a large box as I did an about face.

"Thanks," I said. "Really, thanks a lot."

"You're the only one of these assholes that ever treated me fair. I'm not going to give it to them. I'd rather trash it."

"Do you eat pizza with anchovies on it?"

"Does a bear shit in the woods?" Andy said smiling as his hand retrieved a big piece of pizza dripping with toppings.

"I don't know," I thought. "I've never followed a bear long enough to see where he shits."

"He seemed okay to me," Andy said, before filling his mouth with another huge bite of pizza.

"Yeah, I've only seen him from behind the counter. Funny how your impression of people can change just like that."

"Any man that gives me food is okay by me," Andy said, reaching for another piece of pizza before he'd finished the first.

"You just ate dinner," I remembered.

"That was an hour ago. This is just to hold me over until my evening snack. Good pizza. I've never been to the Pizza Palace."

Andy was easy going and had an unusual view of the world. He wasn't going to win any academic awards for his GPA, but his unusual wit cracked me up. I didn't regard myself any smarter than he was, only I'd had teachers who taught me to enjoy learning.

Our first night we talked until late. We'd turned the lights out and laid in bed once the nine o'clock lights out had passed. Our voices were the only sound I heard, except for a horn blowing on the street below every now and then.

I was introduced to the varsity the next day. They had all seen me when the starting shortstop had first damaged his ankle. There were nods and the infield made themselves known to me. Garnett had shown up on crutches and told Coach Bell he was done for the season, which meant for good. He was a senior and I chatted him up for as long as he stayed. In general he didn't think there was anything he could tell me that experience wouldn't do better. He wished me well and went off on his crutches making pretty good time.

Coach Bell had us in an intense infield practice for over an hour. I was soaked in sweat and feeling some pressure to perform when he called it a practice, sending his infield to the showers.

Once I'd dressed I went back to the practice field where Coach Bell hit one fly ball after another into left field. Andy caught every ball and looked good doing it, but I may have been prejudiced by my feelings for him. Coach Bell saw me sitting behind the backstop and wandered around and stood in front of me.

"If you can solve his academic problems with as much ease as you improved his fielding, it will be a blessing, son."

"I didn't do that much, Coach."

"How did you feel working with my infield?" he asked.

"I knew Chance. I knew where he'd be according to where the ball was hit. It'll take some time to know Boil that well."

"Don't spend a lot of time worrying about it. They're all seniors. You'll be the center of my infield next year. You'll be playing with Chance, but I want him to be king of the freshman team for a few weeks. I had to move you up to let him develop his leadership skills."

"He's a lot more confident than me," I said.

"Confidence is one element and it can be over done. He's good and that will help him adjust, but the two of your will have three good seasons together, good Lord willing."

I don't know why that made me feel good, but it did. I was the odd man out playing on a team that would graduate most of its starting lineup.

Only in a dream could I imagine everything going as well as it had gone. It was almost like being born again, and I settled into my new role on the varsity and left all my old doubts and concerns behind me.

Chance still stopped when we ate at the same time and he seemed giddy with happiness for me. He kept poking my shoulder with his fist, smiling at the guy who'd made it. He kept promising he'd be up there soon, but I didn't feel comfortable telling him what Coach Bell had told me. I merely agreed that he would look good in the varsity uniform and this made him smile even wider.

I didn't know how someone I'd started out competing with could be so happy I got the call before he did. Injury to a starter had greased the wheels of progress, but Chance seemed genuine in his happiness for me.

Understanding how he could feel the way he did was as difficult as figuring out why the guys in my previous dorm had acted like children whenever they weren't being supervised. It wasn't possible to know how they came to be the people they were. Chance's attitude left me feeling like I wanted to see him succeed. Before our casual meetings in the cafeteria, after Coach Bell had called me up, I had almost no appreciation for Chance, beyond how he impacted my team, but I was genuinely rooting for him now to do as good as I knew he could do. He was a way better and more complete player than me.

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