A Major Success|
Book 6 of Outside the Foul Lines
by Rick Beck
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Leaving The Do was difficult. After nearly three months of bliss, it was time to get back to our regular lives. The baseball season was in spring training mode. We docked in Destin, said goodbye to John Paul and Gene, telling them we'd see them again in the fall.
We'd had a lovely time together. We'd been on the water nearly all of the time after Harold left to return to school. Putting into port for fresh food and fuel from time to time, we didn't hang around, preferring the solitude of the gulf. It was a peaceful life without conflict.
I don't recall ever having a better time, but I was with Andy, and that was always good for me. Thinking about another long separation for endless months wasn't on my mind until it was.
"I really don't look forward to being away from you," I said, as we moved down Route 99 from Destin, driving toward Mobile, where we'd pick up Interstate 65, which took us almost to our door.
"I know, babe. I got to do rehab. You've got to play ball. We've been separated before," Andy said, sounding comfortable with it.
"I know we have. I didn't like it then. I want to be together."
"Do, we're always together. What if I drive you down to spring training. I'll say hello to Coach Bell and whoever else is around."
"Cincinnati will be playing a half dozen games near where we train in week 2 of spring training."
"Oh, maybe we'll see Even. I need to thank him for the flowers he sent. I meant to send him a note. I'll kill two birds with one stone. I don't need to buy a stamp to send Evan a note and we stay together a while longer. It'll only cost $300.00 in gas. What a bargain."
"You just can't live without me, Andrew. Admit it," I said, putting my hand high up on his thigh.
"You got me, babe. Want to stop at a motel?"
"Andy, we just got out of bed an hour ago. Let's get a little way up the road before we go back to bed."
"It's been too long for me. We need a motel room. I don't want to waste a good erection. We can make love and start again tomorrow. We've got a week before you need to be there," Andy said smiling.
"At that rate it'll take us a week to get home," I said.
"You're no fun, Do. Having you so close to me for so long has spoiled me, you know? I will need to adjust to not having you with me all the time. I don't know I want to do that. We've got enough money we can sail off into the sunset and never come back. That is a tempting proposition."
"Say the word, Andy. The day you want to do that, I'll be ready. You think you can walk away from ball?"
We drove into Pensacola and decided on a seafood lunch next to a fish wholesale house, someone directed us to, when we asked where to get fresh seafood. Joe Patti's was a wholesale fish house, but they had a small restaurant just to the west of where the fishing boats unloaded their catch.
That was fresh.
The seafood wouldn't be nearly as good as we got further from the gulf. The food was delicious. It lacked the gourmet flare Gene spoiled us with, but it had great flavor at a modest price. We both packed it away.
We were in no hurry but Andy couldn't hold back the horses in the Town Car once we hit Interstate 65. A few hours after we finished lunch, we were half way through Alabama by.
"Want to stop?" Andy asked, as the light of day began to fade.
"No, let's drive. I'm enjoying this. Let's get home."
"Good as done, babe. I'm just waking up. I think the next bed we sleep in should be our own," Andy said.
"I like that idea. It's pretty warm for this time of year. We'll open up the house when we get home. Let the fresh air in. It's been closed up all winter."
"Won't be this warm up there. Indiana is way north of Alabama."
"I've heard. It's still warm. I kept reaching out to steady myself when we got to that restaurant. I forgot we were on dry land," I said.
"Me too," he said.
We laughed at the problems befalling a couple of landlubbers.
It was nice being on solid ground. It was sad leaving the gulf behind. We'd had the first vacation of our lives and it had been a big success. I'd never had more fun or felt more at ease with the world. With all the turmoil from the year before, it was a wonderful way to get our lives back on track.
We hadn't listened to the radio. Typically Andy would be looking for something to listen to within a couple of miles from the house, but he never turned the radio on. We'd become accustomed to peace and quiet. The only communication were voices speaking about what was relative to us in that moment.
Our lives had been devoid of the constant alerts and things we should fear. In three months the world hadn't stopped rotating, the economy didn't get so much worse that we couldn't afford gas, and people drove like they had a little sense, but no more than when we'd last driven the highways of the south.
We didn't need to be reminded of anything. We weren't worried about anything. I assumed Louisville would be there when I needed to find it. I was sure Indianapolis and Pittsburgh would be there too. I didn't need to listen to the radio to be reassured. The Interstate was still there and cars still drove it. Nothing had changed.
We gassed up north of Birmingham and again in Nashville, wasting no time. It grew still in the middle of the night. We'd be in Louisville by first light and at home shortly after we stopped for breakfast. Andy showed no sign of tiring. We'd been resting for months.
"I want to give it a try," Andy said after breakfast. "I think I'll be able to get back. I'll give it two years. If I'm not rehabilitated and playing in the bigs, I'll reconsider putting anymore effort into it. Can you give me two years, babe?"
"I can give you a hundred, Andy. You do what you think is best. I have no complaints. I may not be in ball in two years. I may not be in ball in one. I'm getting a little long in the tooth for the minor leagues. It's fun. I don't know what I'll do when I don't play ball, but that time is coming."
Andy looked at me as we approached the exit that put us on the road that took us home. He put on the turn signal and slipped onto the exit ramp. We turned right and then we turned left a mile later.
We were home.
It was warm in Indiana too. The inside of the house was cool and smelled musty. I opened up all the windows right away. There was no need to build a fire or turn on the heat to take the chill off the house. There were two drinking glasses on the counter from Harold and there was a bowl that imagined he once put water in it, but it was now dry and ugly looking with the remnants of an unidentifiable substance.
Andy was in the weight room while I ran a damp cloth over the counters and the table. We met near the fireplace as we came from different directions.
We kissed before I thought about a kiss. Andy's once useless arm was wrapped around me with a little strength apparent as he held me close to his body.
"I'm bushed, babe. I need a little sleep," he whispered in my ear.
"Can I help?" I asked, feeling for some evidence that he was looking for such a thing.
"That was my next question. Want to help? I see you've found the evidence of my deep feelings for you. I suppose I can't hide it any longer, Do. I'm crazy about you. Want to fuck?"
"How romantic. I'd love to. We have some catching up to do. We haven't been in bed for almost twenty-four hours."
We held hands going up the stairs. I'd turned back the bed when I opened the window to let the bedding air out. We kissed again and a few more times as we undressed each other with little time spend folding our clothes.
When I hit the bed it was like I'd been on my feet for days. All of whatever energy I had left, draining away.
I wrapped myself up into Andy's warmth and I was sleeping before I remembered what I was there for. It was nice to be home.
* * * * * * * * *
It was three days before we left for spring training. Andy set up his rehabilitation schedule which would begin right after he returned from getting me where I needed to be.
I felt like I did every spring, after too long away from ball. The only thing new was Andy driving me. At this time of year he was usually in a different part of the country from where I trained. We crossed paths a couple times a month, but not this season.
Soon Andy would be working to get strong enough to play ball. Not hitting a baseball for two seasons was not good for someone who makes his living hitting baseballs. Eye hand coordination is part natural and part constantly seeing it and doing it. I wondered if there was a computer that duplicated the visual aspect of batting so Andy could maintain his timing.
There were fast pitchers, slow pitcher, inside pitchers, outside pitchers, curve ball pitchers, fast ball pitchers, off speed pitch pitcher, and a dozen different kinds that you didn't know about until you faced them. When a batter came to the plate, he had to be ready to see almost anything.
Experiencing it was how you learned to hit a good pitcher. The first time you see him, he can tie you in knots. After facing him two or three times, the advantage begins shifting to the hitter, unless the pitcher is very good, and then he's always hard to hit.
Andy was as aware as I was that timing was everything and he lost a little each day. What was coming wasn't going to be easy. It was going to be frustrating, because his team was playing without him and would be until sometime next season. The overall goal was to get back as close as possible to the hitter he was before he was injured.
A ballplayers playing years were limited by time. Some players, like Andy, could play until they were forty, or older if they became a designated hitter, but first he had to play major league ball again.
Most ballplayers were played out by the time they reached thirty-five. The legs go first. There are the nagging little injuries that flare up by the time you're in your mid-thirties. Playing every day can put a strain on joints, muscles, and tendon. The constant conditioning necessary to be a professional ballplayer takes a toll in time. Each body ages differently and the playing life for even the best players is a mystery, until your time begins to run out.
My eyes and legs were probably as good as they'd ever been. Months at sea had given me a peacefulness that I'd never known before. I was prepared for what came our way. I would be there for Andy no matter what he needed or wanted me to do.
I accepted that we faced a section of rough road. No matter how rough, I was going to remember how fortunate we were. No matter what happened, we'd already had better luck than most people get in a lifetime. We played a game for a living. You can't beat that.
Ball is a game of inches as well as a game of minutes. Each player comes with an uncertain amount of good playing years. A slugger of Andy's caliber reaches his prime by his mid-twenties. If he's lucky he plays at his peak until he's in his mid-thirties.
Andy would be thirty in two seasons.
At thirty, getting his timing back was a long shot. Getting some of it back was probably more realistic. Andy wasn't going to settle for some of his talent returning. He wanted it all back. He'd work to get back where he was. Andy wanted to walk to the plate and see the outfielders backing up toward the walls one more time.
His bat had been that respected. Odds were, if he got the bat on the ball, it was traveling a long way. Getting there a second time was a long shot. I'd do all I could to help, but this was Andy's battle and one no one could fight for him. There were no pinch hitters in healing.
I'd watched Andy hit all through college, until he graduated and left me behind. He'd always worried pitchers and had outfielders moving back. His confidence was obvious. He stood tall at the plate. He could hit a ball a long way. There was every indication he'd become a good outfielder who hit a fair number of home runs.
After a year in the minors, Andy was twenty pounds heavier. He had filled out. He had the arms of a powerful man. When he held a bat his arms bulged. They weren't obscenely large, but they were large enough to see. Their natural shape and the contours of his body screamed strength. Andy grew into a power hitting outfielder by the time he turned twenty-two.
Coming most of the way back wasn't in his mind. I doubt Andy would have gone to rehab if they told him he might be eighty percent of the player he was, once he was done. That wouldn't be good enough. Andy had always conditioned himself.
Exercising was part of his game. In the off season he chopped cords of wood each month to maintain his conditioning and to keep him strong. He never got out of shape, so when he showed up for sprint training, he was at his playing weight. Andy was a ballplayer twelve months a year.
I knew the design of Andy's future. I didn't know how it would turn out. I sure wouldn't bet against Andy Green. My fate was far less certain. I couldn't keep hanging around Louisville because Coach Bell was a friend of mine. There would be other shortstops on their way up. A shortstop on his way to nowhere had to get out of their way, except I still plugged the holes come game day. I was hitting better than I ever had, but the hands of time were ticking.
My ability to get walks as often as I did probably saved my career. Learning to bunt effectively had added ten points to my batting average. My glove ruled in the Louisville infield. I prided myself on the amount of ground I could cover to get to a ball and throw a runner out. My reflexes were good. My throwing arm was accurate, and no one played in the minors for six seasons.
Plugging holes in an average infield wasn't a career. The only thing in my favor was that Louisville's infield was a mess again. We'd lost our second baseman to the majors, the third baseman couldn't hit, and the first baseman couldn't catch.
I'd be safe holding down the infield this season. New players would come to fill the holes. One day soon a fair hitting shortstop was coming and Coach Bell would show me the hand writing on the wall. He had a certain say in who played for him, but when the general manager told him what move to make, Coach Bell made it.
One day they'd decide that they needed a shortstop with a future, not a past. He could make me a coach again, but I had a good run. I'd stayed in ball longer than anyone expected, including me, and once my time was up, I wanted to be with Andy and not hanging around a clubhouse, trying to hang on to my past.
The motel at training camp wasn't what I'd call five star. I was back in the minors. Andy wanted to get me a first class accommodations, but it wouldn't look good if I stayed separate from the team. I was tempted by the idea of going first class, but I didn't.
I put my clothes in the closet before going to the ball yard to report to Coach Bell. He'd want to see Andy and know what the plan was. After coaching us in college, he'd always given us a helping hand in our careers if he could, especially me.
Baseball was everywhere when we arrived at the park. Both practice fields were alive with activity. The sound of bats cracking against balls rang in my ears. Andy stopped to watch the batter in the nearest batting cage. Excitement ran through me. I'd come back to ball for one more season. It felt good to be there.
Heading for Coach Bell's office, Andy knocked twice and swung the door wide open. Coach Bell was sitting behind his desk with his feet up. His ball cap was pushed back on his head, and he was deep in thought, or maybe he was napping.
"Come on in. Door's open now."
"Hey, Coach, how's it hanging?" Andy said.
"How indeed. How are you? Good to see you, John. Who the hell is this? You be a brother or what, Mr. Green?" Coach Bell said, standing to shake Andy's hand. "You been keeping this from me all these years?"
"We were sailing. I haven't been able to grow hair since the chemo. My head just tanned right up," Andy said.
"It certainly did. I've got to say I like it. We could be brothers if not for my stout build and you being so slim. How's the arm?"
"It's coming along. Didn't do a lot of work over the winter. We have a sailboat now and we spent the winter sailing on the gulf."
"I heard. Queen Mary isn't it? They said you had gone big time."
"Not so much. It's not all that big after a few months out in the gulf. Didn't want to come back. It's a leisurely life, Coach," Andy said.
"Speaking of coming back? You have a plan?"
"I start rehab next week. I'm giving it two years," Andy said.
"You'll know a lot more in a couple of months. You'll see how fast it responds. Good you rested. You'll be ready for a little work.
"John, I was hoping you'd be here today. We don't play for two more days. Cincinnati is short a shortstop. Contract craziness. Sanchez isn't coming and the two kids that they sent me couldn't hold their own in my grandma's infield. You'll have your work cut out with those two, but first, if you don't mind playing with the big boys for the rest of the week, they asked me for you by name. There A squad hasn't reported yet, but it's still called the big leagues."
"Play shortstop for Cincinnati?" I said excitedly.
"Funny, I heard the same rumor," Coach Bell joked.
"You're serious?" I asked.
"John, I'm too old to be a kidder. If this good looking brother isn't busy, he could run you over there. I assume you came in car. It'll be an hour's drive. I'll call to tell them to expect you. They play at one. It's only ten fifteen. You can get in some scrimmage time if you feel up to it. Otherwise report and listen to see what they want."
"I can drive him. No problem. Cincinnati," Andy said. "The big time. One of us is still in the bigs."
"They want to borrow him. Their backup has the flue and Prather is holding out for some obscene amount of cash. He's 37 and probably looking at his last contract. They'll be in the pennant hunt this season."
Coach Bell dialed the phone and talked to someone for a couple of minutes.
"Ballpark's right off the freeway ramp. Here's the directions, John. Most of the first string players haven't arrived yet but they have five games this week and they want you for those and today's game would make six."
"I can play," I said.
"You look a little heavy, John. You might want to take it easy. Wouldn't do for you to injury yourself trying to make plays you ought not be making at this point."
"We were pretty well fed," I said.
"I can tell. Looks good. You've always stayed pretty thing. Maybe work that into some muscle. We'll see. I'll keep the diapers changed on my new infielders until you get back, but you tell them I'm only lending you to them. I need you here, John."
"Coach!" I complained. "It's big league ball."
"It's a contract dispute, John. I wish they were calling you up to start for them, but that boy Prather is pretty good. They're haggling over how many million he's worth as opposed to how many million he wants," Coach Bell said.
"I'll play for food, Coach. I'd like one shot. I'd like to walk into a big league park to play just once," I lamented.
Andy put his hand on my shoulder. He knew how I felt.
"I know, John. Knock 'em dead. Maybe they'll discover they can't live without you. Do your usual in the infield, John. Don't tighten up at the plate. You'll do fine. Hardly any of the higher ups around to impress this early. It'll be you and a few of the regulars who want to play some ball. The rest probably aren't half experienced as you."
Andy took the directions and we drove to where I was going to play that afternoon. We had to ask directions and be told how to get into the park. We ended up walking down out of the stands and onto the playing field. A few dozen feet away Even Lane was signing autographs for a group of excited kids in the stands next to him.
"Evan," I said.
"I'll be damned. I heard they were looking for s shortstop. I was hoping they'd get you," Evan said, signing one last autograph. "I'll be back in five minutes. I need to talk to a friend, kids."
"Andy, you look like a million bucks," Evan said, rushing us with his usually wide grin. "You going to play with us too?"
"You look like fifty million bucks," Andy said, or did you renegotiated after last years home run championship?"
Andy stuck out his hand as Evan approached, throwing his arms around Andy, hugging him fondly. He patted Andy's good shoulder as they separated. Both realized hugging made them a little uneasy.
"That's the old contract, Green. I got a new one my agent is negotiating as we speak. Whatever they pay me, it's way more than I'm worth, although there are those home run championships."
"I was ahead of you in homers when I broke my arm," Andy argued.
"Yes, but you did break your arm and I hit the most homers. I'll let you win the year you come back to make up for it," Evan promised.
"Let me? You won't have a choice. I'm going to beat you."
"Children, the kids are listening. Maybe act a little mature," I suggested.
"What are you doing here this early? I never reported until week three," Andy said.
"It's the second week. Rookies came last week. Can't stay away. We've got these B team games to get the kids in condition. I figured I'd see come down and see if I can still hit a baseball," Evan said. "I'd been sitting around the house with nothing to do for months."
"Wife told you to go play ball I bet," Andy said.
"You found me out. You're a sight for sore eyes, you know," Evan said, looking Andy over. "You're looking good, Mr. Dooley, for such an old fart."
"You're older than I am, Evan," I said.
"Yeah, I'm an old fart too. How long has it been since we played together? A long time."
"Five years," I said.
"Funny, I've been coming here for five years," Evan said. "Let me finish with the kids and I'll show you where to put your gear. We'll be warming up in a few minutes. You'll have a chance to loosen up. What about dinner after the game? I haven't had a good meal since I got here."
"Sure," Andy said. "We still eat. With all that money, you can take us out, Lane."
"You're on," Evan said, reaching for something to sign as the kids stood around him excited by his presence. "You know who that man is over there," Evan said softly, but loud enough for us to hear. "The tall one with no hair. That's Pittsburgh's Andy Green."
Half the kids took off to surround Andy.
"Can I have your autography?" they all yelled at the same time, pushing up close to Andy.
Evan laughed. Andy smiled and took the pen out of his shirt pocket to sign whatever the kids shoved at him.
Andy beamed. I could see how familiar this was to him. He'd been surrounded by kids before. He smiled at them, answering their questions, signing gloves, baseball cards, and pieces of paper the kids handed him.
I didn't know what to expect. I was nervous as all get out, but seeing Andy with the kids, talking to Evan, got my mind off of playing ball with big league ballplayers. I'd been playing ball for most of my life. I wasn't going to forget how to play.
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