A Major Success|
Book 6 of Outside the Foul Lines
by Rick Beck
"Andy & Do Pass the Time"
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Having left their small farm in south central Indiana, where Do and Andy have called home for several decades, they get ready for an induction ceremony in a hotel room near Cincinnati.
Can't help it."
Andy, I can't get it straight if you don't stand still."
"Sorry. I'm nervous."
Do untied the mildly red tie to tie it again.
"Hall of Fame. That's a big deal, Do?"
"I know, Andy. It's only the team Hall."
"Some pretty damn big names on that circle of Fame," Andy said.
"All the more reason not to get too excited about it."
"Can't help myself. I want to look nice. How's my hair?"
"Andy, you haven't had hair in ten years," I reminded him.
"Don't remind me. You think I should shine my head?"
"Just asking. Don't want the shine to blind anyone."
"How's the arm?" I asked.
"Same," he said.
It was always the answer.
"You didn't wear your hat when you mowed yesterday. Your head is red, but it looks good. Goes with the tie."
"Thank you. Not nearly as good as you look, Do. How do you stay so young? What's your secret."
"I have to take care of you, remember?"
"I don't take a lot of upkeep and I do mow your lawn, Do."
"Our lawn, Andy."
"Yes, I mow them all."
"There, look in the mirror. It's the best I can do with your Adam's apple bobbing up and down."
"Damn nice, Do. You do good work. Don't know what I would do without you," Andy said.
"You'd wear snap-on-ties," I said, admiring what a fine looking man Andy was.
He still filled a shirt like it was tailored for his broad shoulders and big chest. In spite of the wear and tear on him, he remained at his player's weight.
"You like this shirt? Maybe something with a little more color."
"Andy, you don't want to look like you're going to a circus. The shirt is fine. It's respectable for the occasion."
"That's me, Do, respectable. I want to look good."
"It'll be fine, Andy. You always look good."
"You just say that because you love me. You aren't nervous at all?"
"No. As long as I'm with you I'm fine. You keep me calm, Andy."
"That's not what you said last night. You were pretty damn excited, as I recall, and you were with me then."
"That hasn't changed much. You light me up, Andy. I can never get enough of you. You're all that's important to me."
"Don't know, Do. The Hall of Fame is a big deal. You might not look at me the same way. You think it won't change how you see me?"
"I've been seeing you the same way for 25 years, Andy. No, it won't change how I see you. You'll still be my one and only love."
"That's good. I don't want anything to change us. Do you remember how many home runs I hit my last season?"
"Twenty-seven home runs. The popular opinion was that you'd hit fifty or more that year. How could I forget that. You hurt your arm in July, and your season ended. You'd have hit fifty easy. You always hit best in September."
"Twenty-seven. It was mid-July when I broke my arm. It was all over that fast. Fifty or more and I ended with twenty-seven. That's good for half the season."
"Shit happens, Andy. You'd have hit sixty if you'd played the final two and a half months. You'd have been MVP, but it wasn't meant to be."
"You think so, Do?"
"You were swinging better than you'd ever swung before. Every time you came to the plate the outfield backed up, hoping to rob you of a homer if you didn't get all of the ball."
"Yeah, they did, didn't they? I didn't want to retire?"
"Andy, quit it. The break didn't heal properly. You couldn't play another season. You hit fifty home runs the year before. You know how many players hit fifty home runs in a single season?"
"No, how many, Do?"
"I don't know. Not many. You were one hell of a hitter, Andy. You were one of the best sluggers. You can't dwell on what might have been. Few people who saw you hit a homer will forget it."
"I could have hit more. I was feeling good. We were winning big time and I furnished the power. We would have won the pennant if I kept hitting that way."
"Yes, everyone said that, but it isn't what happened and you've got to be satisfied with what you did, not what could have been, Andy. They still write about you. People still remember you."
"They do. I still get invitations to the team banquet. I get invited back for the big team events. My team remembers me."
"You haven't played in fifteen years and they invite you back for all the big team events. You can't let an early retirement eat you up, Andy. I don't want anything eating you up but me. That's my job."
"You're bad, Do. You always turn our conversations to sex."
"That's because you pull my chain, my love. You pull my trigger. You light my fire."
"As often as I can," Andy bragged, and he smiled, kissing my cheek and hugged me close.
"I've never been happier. We've had a good run. I'm lucky to have had you all these years."
"I wonder how Coach Bell is doing? Did we get a Christmas card last year?" Andy said.
"We'll find out in a few hours. He'll be there."
"He's coming tonight?"
"He was invited. I haven't heard he wasn't coming. He'll be there. He wouldn't miss the induction for love or money."
"He was a hell of a coach. I liked him. He put us together you know?"
"I know, Andy. I was there."
"You were? Good thing too. We wouldn't have met otherwise. You knew him a lot better than I did. You played for him a lot longer than I did."
"Yes, I did. He was good at what he did. I'd never have stayed in ball after college if it wasn't for him."
"Quiet though. Didn't talk much."
"Except if you pissed him off."
"That's true, and that look he gave me when I pissed him off."
"He followed your career as if you were on his team. He was always handing me a paper with your picture on the sports page or an article about you."
"I didn't have to look for the Pittsburg paper to find out what you were doing. Coach Bell always had a copy in the dugout at game time. If you didn't call me the night before, he'd tell me what you did."
"I told you he did, Andy. He knew about your arm before I did."
"Yeah, I know. I like hearing you talk about it. Not about the arm though."
"I never forgot a minute of it. It was like living in a story. I've never forgotten. Some mornings I wake up thinking I've got to get ready to play ball. Baseball was good to us, Andy."
"It was in our blood, Do."
* * * * * * * * *
Two decades earlier in Louisville. It's almost July, the heart of Louisville's baseball season is at hand. It's hot. It's humid. It's game time.
"Hey, John, get over here," Coach Bell said as Do came in from warming up before the game.
"Yeah, Coach? What do you need?"
"See the paper, John?"
Do didn't need to ask which paper. There was only one Coach Bell brought to his attention from time to time.
"No, I haven't had time, Coach. You been working my butt off."
"Quit your complaining. Your boy hit three last night. Got another headline. They're a shoe-in for the pennant if Andy keeps hitting that way he did in June."
"Let me see," I said, holding up the sports page.
"Three in one game. I'll be damned. He's done it before, Coach."
"Three times. This is his third time hitting three in one game."
"He's good," I said.
"He could break all the records if he keeps up this pace," Coach Bell said.
"No, I'd never mention that to him. You know how superstitious he is. He's always worried if he'll hit another one when he comes home. I keep telling him he's going to be great, but he seems determined to doubt himself. He doesn't believe he will."
"Best slugger to come along in a while. He could go a long way if he stays healthy," Coach Bell said.
"Healthy? He's twenty-six and strong as a bull," I said.
"John, if anyone knows you should know, but nothing ain't for certain, until it's done, son. I been in ball all my life. You never think you'll do a thing until it's done. If one thing is for certain, nothing is for certain until it's done. Look up the names Roberto Clementi and Herb Score."
"I never figured I'd be playing for you in Louisville. When you called me up, I never thought I'd play ball regularly. Now look at me. I'm your starting shortstop."
"You have no shortage of talent, John. Speaking about not believing in yourself, you do your share of doubting," Coach Bell said.
"I never figured on playing minor league ball, Coach. I thought college ball was it for me. I didn't think I was good enough for pro ball. It's only because of you I stayed in the game."
"John, you're the best shortstop I've ever coached. There are no limitations to how far you can go, except the ones you put on yourself. Don't think a dozen teams haven't taken a look at that glove of yours."
"You think so, Coach? I'm only batting two-fifty. I can't seem to get it up. I should hit better. I do walk a fair amount."
"I didn't bring you to Louisville for your bat. Walks count and you've got a good eye."
"I know, but I wish I was batting twenty points higher. Chance is batting over three hundred, isn't he?"
"He is. Three-twenty-three as of Saturday. You and Chance made a beautiful infield. You knew where he'd be on every play. He knew where you'd be. Two very good gloves in the middle of my infield. Having you both on the same team was something to see. I was blessed as a couch at State."
"Chance went to Chicago last season, as I recall. Chicago gave up two players and future considerations to be disclosed later, or something like that."
"He'll have a home as long as he wants it. The infield is anchored on him now. Their last second baseman played twelve years for Chicago. Chance has at least that many if he stays healthy."
"He was a good guy. I'd like to play with him one more time."
"Would make for an impressive infield, you boys being together again. I'd pay to see it."
July in Louisville was always hot and the humidity was reaching its peak as the first week of July came to a close. Do stayed at Mrs. Olson's, except when he and Andy had a day off at the same time, and then they'd be home together, seeing to the chores and making sure the house was in good repair for the coming winter.
They'd discuss moving when Andy went to Pittsburg but Do loved the house, the land, and it was only a couple of hours from Louisville. When they could get home the same day, Andy flew into Indianapolis and drove to the house. Do drove up from Louisville if he was playing a home game.
* * * * * * * * *
"John," Coach Bell said as Do kneeled in the on-deck circle.
"Yeah, Coach," Do said, carrying his bat over to the dugout.
"Bunt, John," Coach Bell ordered.
"Coach, we're two runs behind and no one is on base."
"Bunt, John," Coach Bell said again.
"Yes, sir, but I can't bunt. I know ... bunt."
The batter hit a looping pop fly the second baseman backed up a few dozen feet to catch. Do moved up to the plate, banging his bat on it twice before shouldering it to wait for the pitch.
"Bunt!" Do said loud enough for the plate umpire to respond.
"You okay, son?" the umpire asked.
"Yeah, I'm just spiffy," Do said in his less than happy voice.
The count went to two and two when Do made an attempt to bunt the ball. He missed it and was automatically out on the third strike. He slammed his bat back into the rack and sat down feeling like he'd just been told to make a fool out of himself. He'd always been a lousy bunter. He didn't have the feel to drop down a good bunt.
"John," Coach Bell said in his expressionless voice.
"Yes, sir," Do said, walking over to where Coach Bell leaned his chair against the back of the dugout.
"I want you to do that every third at bat, until I tell you not to."
"Strike out. Sure, Coach. I'm good at striking out. It'll do wonders for my batting average. You're the coach," Do said.
Do couldn't stay mad at Coach Bell for long. He liked baseball too much for that. If the coach wanted him to bunt every third at bat, there must be a reason. 'Early onset Alzheimer's?' Do wondered.
The visiting teams didn't know it was every third time or they'd have pitched him differently. Most minor league clubs were too busy trying to attend to team business to do a lot of scouting in other minor league parks. So Do got away with bunting every third time without a lot of notice, except when the Louisville paper printed his two thirty-eight average, All the teams knew his batting average.
By mid-July the bunting was just something else he did. He was never going to hit for a high average, but giving up one at bat every game seemed goofy to Do, but Coach Bell didn't call it off.
It was well into the second half of July when Do saw Andy for the first time since mid-June. Mostly Do read about Andy in the papers Coach Bell brought to the dugout. It was one of the hottest days of the summer. They were locked in a 2-2 deadlock with Omaha. Men were on 1st and 3rd in the 8th inning. Everyone dreaded extra innings on a Saturday afternoon that was sure to see temperatures hit a hundred.
Do knocked the dirt off his cleats as the humidity made everything stick to him. He had sweat running down from his batting helmet and his shirt was soaked by inning eight. It was his third at bat and Coach Bell hadn't called off the bunting, and so Do was ready to go after the best pitch he could get.
The first two pitches went by for strikes. One was too high and the other was further outside than Do wanted to reach for. The third pitch was a curve, breaking in and low. It was a good pitch Do thought he was going to get, and he dropped it down toward third base.
The ball died half way between the pitcher and the 3rd base line. Twenty feet from the plate. All three players went toward the ball. The catcher hesitated, realizing his mistake too late. The runner on 3rd was charging home. The man on 1st never stopped as he rounded 2nd. The catcher retreated back to cover the plate as one run scored and the second runner was almost on 3rd. The pitcher reached the ball first and threw it three feet over the head of the catcher. The second run scored and Do ended up standing on 3rd base. It was his first bunt hit.
Louisville led 4-2. Do's first successful bunt was a beauty.
When Do came in to get his glove, after being stranded on 3rd, he saw Andy standing in the door to the clubhouse. Pittsburg played in D C Saturday afternoon, after completing a six game home stand. Do couldn't add figure out what Andy was doing in Louisville, but the sling on his left arm was a clue.
"What did you hit this time?" Do asked Andy, remembering the errant punches surrounding Evan Lane's appearance in Louisville.
"The ball. Didn't have much to do with it. Just Broke."
"Tests are out. Just broke," Andy said. "No point in hanging around there. Teams in Washington. They operated and put me back together again."
"John," Coach Bell said. "Ballgame."
Do got his glove and looked back twice at Andy. Something didn't add up. He went over what Andy said and the sling again. Andy stood beside Coach Bell's chair as Do pounded his glove, watching the pitcher readying for his first pitch.
On the first pitch the batter hit a sharp ground ball to shortstop. Do slid over in front of it for an easy out at 1st. The second batter struck out on four pitches and the third batter popped up to second base. Do looked back at the dugout, feeling uneasy even though Andy was there with him.
The game was over. Louisville won 4-2.
Andy didn't have anything to say and Do stood looking at the sling. Andy had grown to be tall and muscular. His shoulders were wide and he filled up a shirt like it was tailored for his big arms and chest, but the sling threw everything out of balance. Do felt off kilter. He should be delighted at seeing Andy, but he wasn't, not this way.
"I want you two back in my office," Coach Bell said, as the ballplayers happily headed for the clubhouse, talking loudly about the win and the nice cool shower they were about to have.
"When did you do it?" Do asked, walking behind Andy.
"Thursday night. Second inning. I hit the ball to deep center field. Something just snapped in my arm. They had to take me off on a stretcher. I was in the hospital until a nurse slipped me out of an unguarded exit yesterday afternoon. I flew into Indy and spent the night at the house. Put on the air conditioning so it would be cool when we get in tonight. I won't be playing any time soon. I don't want to be in Pittsburg. The team was gone. I wanted to see you," Andy said.
The door closed to Coach Bell's office.
"You didn't clear it with the team to come here?" Coach Bell asked.
"I play ball for Pittsburg. They don't own me. They were flying to Washington after yesterdays game," Andy said.
"No, I guess not," Coach Bell said softly.
"You didn't know he hurt himself, Coach," I asked suspiciously.
"No matter what I say here, I'm going to be in trouble with you, John. I knew. I read it in yesterday's paper. Didn't want to worry you until they knew what happened to his arm."
"You didn't tell me?" I asked angrily.
"I didn't say anything because of this right here. You'd have gone flying off to Pittsburg to get to Andy, and he was more likely than not flying home from Pittsburg the way I saw it. So if I'd told you we wouldn't be holding this meeting, now would we, John?"
I calmed down. Coach Bell had played it perfectly.
"No, sir. You wouldn't. We wouldn't. Thank you."
"You two sit down. I want to talk. Andy, when you play ball, your life isn't your own," Coach Bell said. "You know that."
"Tell me about it. The hospital was crawling with reporters when I slipped out a side entrance. They never leave me alone," Andy said, unhappy about it.
"It comes with the territory. I figure this is the best place for you right this minute. It stinks Andy and I hate being the one to tell you, but I don't see as I have a choice. If I don't show you now, you're going to hear it out in the street or when someone comes to your door. It's not like Indiana is a secret," Coach Bell explained. "I can't let you find out that way. You should have stayed in the hospital until they were done with you. You've got to go back."
"What, Coach?" Andy said. "Find out what?"
Coach Bell pulled out the Pittsburg paper he'd sent out for during the pre-game activities. He tossed the sports section with a picture of Andy lying across home plate. The headlines above the picture read: "It's Cancer"
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