A Major Success|
Book 6 of Outside the Foul Lines
by Rick Beck
"Back to Ball - Good Days"
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Being with Andy improved my disposition. I didn't have time to be hard to get along with. We spent Friday at Mrs. Olson's house and we decided to drive to the house on Saturday. I didn't need to report back to the team until Monday afternoon for a short practice and team meeting before opening day on Tuesday. This gave us more time to spend with Harold at the house and it saved him from making the roundtrip to Louisville to bring me my car.
Andy was as glad to see me as I was to see him. At a time when he was usually waiting for opening day, he was struggling with hours of rehabilitation each day and a long way from the playing field. It was determined his range of motion was about seventy-five percent.
The seventy-five percent he could use was fairly strong and flexible and the other twenty-five percent was nearly useless. When Andy was working in that range, he could hardly lift any weight at all. In nearly a month he'd recovered possibly one percent of the motion in his left arm. This wasn't progress that made Andy happy.
He understood it was a long slow process but the progress was so slow it was difficult to measure at this point. While working on the seriously impaired twenty-five percent, he was strengthening the seventy-five percent without a lot of pain or discomfort.
The doctors were encouraged. Andy wasn't. After we talked about his arm and how its rehabilitation was going, the rest of the conversation switched to Louisville ball. Andy wanted a blow by blow description of what I did after he left me.
I gave him a rundown on our less than adequate team and he remembered his first year in the minors when all he wanted was to get it over with. My view was less sympathetic than his, but I had to play with the new players. Sensing my frustration, he didn't dwell on how to approach a rebuilding year and make the most of it.
We stayed in bed much of Friday, visiting with Mrs. Olson when we got up. She loved having us in the house with her and was sad to hear we would go to the house Saturday, but it was the start of a new season and I would be staying at her house when I couldn't get home.
The five hour roundtrip from Louisville to the house and back meant I wouldn't go home as often as I liked. Andy was in rehab three or four days a week and he stayed in Indianapolis when rehab was on consecutive days. He stayed at the house when there was a day in between days when he was working with the trainers to gain some motion in the damaged arm.
Harold was excited to have us back in easy driving range. He was also going to come home on the days Andy wasn't in Indianapolis. His studies had increased in difficulty now that he was taking all pre-med courses. On the days when he was allowed in the operating theater, he stayed at school to be well rested. This was what Harold loved and lived to do. He talked excitedly about such experiences.
Harold was growing more reserved and less hyper. The change since Christmas was easy to notice. The doctors had begun to influence him as he sensed he'd be one of them soon. Time was speeding up for Harold. He remarked several times that it seemed like yesterday we were all on The Do. It seemed like forever to me, and yet it didn't seem all that long ago I was playing college ball. Time played out in odd ways inside my head.
Being back home, even for a couple of days, improved my disposition even more. Knowing I could make it home from Louisville in a little over two hours made life easier on me. My underlying feeling of being ill at ease so far away from Andy was better explained once we were together. His first month of rehab hadn't gone that well.
It was only month one but he wasn't seeing any progress when working in a range of motion he no longer could access without more pain than he liked. It wasn't a surface pain that ached and was annoying long after he took the medications prescribed. This pain ran to his core and told him how far away he was from swinging a baseball bat again.
He had to force his arm to go where it had little interest in going. After doing it for hours a day, they did it some more. Andy was no sissy and he played ball when he felt lousy, but he never played ball with his body working against him.
A simple thing like having my arms around him made the mental strain, and the overwhelming nature of the task at hand, take less out of him. As it was during the darkest days of his chemo treatments, we laid together every time we had a chance, and this too gave Andy the strength to continue.
This was my trouble all along. It had nothing to do with ball. It had everything to do with what Andy was going through. We began planning a schedule that gave us the maximum time together. When Louisville was away on a road trip, Andy turned up the number of days a week he did rehab. When I was playing in Louisville, he would spend more days in Louisville, which got him closer to the playing field and baseball. His spirits were raised the more time we spent together. When we had a Sunday afternoon game and didn't play again until Tuesday afternoon, I would go to our house after the game Sunday, returning to Louisville before the game Tuesday. This was a bonanza of time, after a month when we didn't see each other at all.
I realized it was easy to talk about rehabilitation, but doing it was tough work. It was easy to become pessimistic. Andy wasn't given to depression. His career hung in the balance. He had to believe he was coming back before he could come back.
He didn't say he couldn't do it but he was worried he couldn't. I knew by what he didn't say, he was doubting himself. Being together several times a week was good for both of us.
My job was no big deal compared to what Andy faced. Being frustrated by new players who weren't as good as they'd been led to believe, was child's play compared to the strain and pain on Andy's daily schedule. If it got him down or he needed to be encouraged, I was close enough to get to him, or him to me, which made life easier.
I was back in Louisville for a light lunch at Mrs. Olson's and a long shower before I suited up before opening day. Mrs. Olson had my uniform clean and pressed for me by the time I got out of the shower. It felt good to be back in one of my regular uniforms. The idea it wasn't too tight in the waist or the ass was nice to see.
I'd managed to confine my weight gain to my chest and arms with a bit of new muscle going to my thighs. I felt good and I was ready to play ball. Coach Bell was in better spirits by game time and we both accepted we had the team we had and that's all we had. There was always the chance we could be pleasantly surprised.
When Andy came to watch our first game, Coach Bell had a deal ready for him. He'd set a chair down next to where he sat, and he indicated for Andy to sit there, when we came into the dugout.
"You look like a caged animal, Andy. I've got just the ticket for you to get out of Louisville and let the wind blow through your hair for a few days. How you feeling?"
"I was fine when I got to the dugout. I'm not sure about the sounds of this, coach."
"I have a prospect in Arkansaw. I'd like you to take a look at him for me. The kid was a second baseman. We drafted him as a junior in high school. He told us he planned to play ball in college. Last year's draft was full of top notched prospects, Jackie got lost in the shuffle. Our scout never got back to him. Now, his family is having financial problems. He's working in the local mill to bring in a paycheck," Coach Bell said.
"The point is, he isn't in college, and his family is in financial difficulty. They depend on his paycheck right now. I don't know what he's making, but you go take a look see. I told the club what I'm going to do. Tell him we have the option on him, Andy. Unless he's a flash in the pan, guarantee him more money than he's getting at the mill. The club will make good on it. They'll give him a bonus if you say he's got the right stuff. Can you do that for me?" Coach Bell asked.
"Beats sitting here watching the grass grow," Andy said.
"I don't want another club to get to him first. We need to talk to this kid and see what he's all about, Andy. Do is going to need a good second baseman. Maybe I can talk the club into letting me have him. The other scouts are all too busy to get away."
"Sure, Coach. It'll only take a day if the kid wants to show me what he has."
"I'm told he's playing pickup games in Stuttgart, Arkansas. He works at the Comet Rice factory. He might recognize your name, which wouldn't hurt. I'd like your opinion before we get him up here for a tryout," Coach Bell explained. "It would be a big help."
"The boy's in rice?" Andy asked.
"I don't write the details. I merely report the facts. That's what the letter from his coach says, "Works at Comet Rice," Coach Bell said.
Andy agreed to make the trip on one of his days off. He could stay the night before at Mrs. Olson's and leave early the next morning.
In the first game of the season we won 2-1 with our only returning starting pitching. Blanchfield struck out seven and gave up three hits and one run in nine complete innings. I walked my first time at bat, singled and knocked in a run my second at bat, and then I struck out.
Jackson made one throwing error, but Babshaw was able to reach his inconsistent throws the rest of the game. We could use some help at second base. Considering how we played in spring training, this was a good start to the season. It got Louisville off on the right foot and the fans appreciated that we started with a win, after all the talk of a rebuilding season.
Nothing flies quite so high as a win by the home team on opening day. We lost the next two games in the series and won one out of three games over the weekend. The stands were nearly full on opening day. We didn't come close to filling them again by the end of our six game home stand. Louisville was 2-4.
It was during the second week of the season that Andy went to Stuttgart, Arkansas to see Jackie Parks. Coach Bell had already had enough of Jackson and put our utility infielder, Jim Jacobs, in at second. Our fielding improved immediately. This tightened up our double play threat and allowed Babshaw to become more relaxed at first base.
After making arrangements to meet with Jackie Parks and his father on a Wednesday around noon. Comet Rice agreed to let him have a long lunch so he could get a shot at playing minor league ball.
Just before seven that evening, Andy was standing in the Louisville dugout before we went out to warm up before our only home game that week. He looked a bit tired but he looked happy.
Andy and Coach Bell spent quite a bit of time talking before the game and they sat together once the game got underway. I didn't have much time to ask Andy what he thought of the kid, but he was spending the night at Mrs. Olson's before heading to Indianapolis for two days of rehab the next morning.
That night Andy told me that the kid was the real deal and while he wasn't playing for any organization and he hadn't signed any contract with an intent to play for a designated club, there had been some interest after a Little Rock paper did a feature on him two Sundays before. Andy was the first person from baseball to come to talk to him.
Andy wasn't able to show the kid much but he gave him some tips when it came to hitting for power. He thought the six foot one, one hundred and sixty-five pound boy was going to grow into a good hitter. He had Andy's long arms and broad shoulders and his swing hadn't been developed because of where he played ball.
There was no telling how Jackie Parks would react to a minor league club, because he hadn't played for people who knew how to train a real talent. Once he'd finished high school it was taken for granted he would go to work at the mill, putting baseball aside, except as a weekend past time and at the company picnic.
Andy watched Parks' father hit his son grounders. The kid could cover a lot of ground. It wasn't possible to do much but watch the kid go through what Andy considered to be routine drill. Jackie took it all in stride and the only time he appeared awkward was when he talked to Andy faced to face. He had no training in self promotion. Andy thought that was Jackie's best feature.
"He reminds me a little of you," Andy told me that night. "Fields like you did at nineteen. Needs some practice time but he had good range around second base."
"Did he know who you were?" I asked. "Thinking that was the most important thing."
"Did he know me? He had the picture of me lying across the plate with my broken arm hung up inside the family chicken house. He also has a poster of Evan hanging on his bedroom wall. I told him Coach Bell was Evan's coach."
"You're in good company," I said.
"With the chickens or Evan?" Andy asked slyly.
"With me silly. I missed you."
Holding Andy always made everything better for me. He'd talked to Coach Bell once he returned and Louisville was going to ask the kid to come to Louisville for a tryout with the club. Andy told Jackie and his father that this was probably a good bet before he left for home.
It took two weeks for Jackie to show up in the Louisville dugout. There were a couple of people from Cincinnati who came to take a look at the newly discovered prospect. Jackie watched the evening game from the dugout. The next morning he'd report for his tryout.
The kid was impressive. From his freckles to his smile, he had appeal before he took the field. The batting coach gave Jackie some hitting tips as he watched him take batting practice. I played shortstop to his second base, and it was a big improvement over Jackson.
I would have told Coach Bell the kid was ready for our infield, but Coach Bell was standing on the dugout steps, leaning on the roof support to watch Jackie take one ground ball after another for a half hour. The kid booted too hard to reach hit balls and got out ahead of the rest that were hit his way.
Some balls were hit to me to test the shortstop to second base to first base double play combination. I could tell Jackie was a bit rusty, but in no time at all he was running through plays smoothly. He looked like a best bet for an infield that needed help.
The following week at the beginning of a ten game home stand, Jackie was to play second base for the first time. He was a bit nervous as he took the field with a minor league team. A few weeks before he thought baseball had passed him up.
As a second baseman he was adequate. A case of the jitters kept him from looking smooth, but he had good moves and he did cover all the ground a second baseman was expected to cover. It was the next day during practice, I took him aside to give him tips on how to hold his glove to make his fielding more effective. I watched him in action before making my suggestions.
These were small adjustments I'd learned in college, but they did allow a fielder to position himself to prevent balls from getting by him. If he wasn't prepared to get down to dig the ball out of the dirt, it might skip by him and into the outfield. It was hard work but Jackie caught on quick. His reward came before the game that evening.
Andy and Evan Lane walked from the clubhouse into the dugout, after we'd ended our practice. Everyone noticed their arrival. The kid stood off to one side as much of the team surrounded Evan, acting like excited kids. Andy was frequently in the dugout by this time, so he wasn't big news any longer.
Right in the middle of being adored, Evan moved through the Louisville players and went straight to the kid.
"I came to see you, son. They tell me you play baseball," Evan said in his booming on stage voice. "So do I."
"Yes, sir," Jackie said excitedly.
"Come on. Let's take a walk," Evan said, stepping up onto the field, waving for Andy to join them as they took a walk down the right field line.
With Andy on one side and Evan on the other, the three walked down the right field line. Everyone stood on the top step of the dugout watching the meeting. We could only guess what was being said. A couple of pictures were snapped as they turned around to walk back toward the dugout. They'd make a nice keepsake for Jackie to put on his bedroom wall at his parent's house. No one could tell if the meeting might have meaning that would stretch beyond Slugger Stadium.
On the return trip they were deep in conversation. Evan was doing most of the talking, but Jackie spoke from time to time. Andy added a comment from time to time. A little way from the dugout they stopped and stood in a tight little circle to continue the talk. Flashbulbs lit them up periodically as fans came out of the stands to record them.
Evan was surprisingly easy to talk to. When you first saw him, he was bigger than life, but he was able to put people at ease if he wanted to do that. He'd changed since becoming a big leaguer, but he was still down to earth to his friends.
Mrs. Olson had agreed to put Jackie up in a room of his own. I was assigned to see that Jackie wasn't exposed to too much too soon. Being an elder on the team made his father comfortable with this arrangement. I was also Jackie's unofficial infield coach.
That night he was excited and wanted to talk about it. Since it was his first time away from home, Jackie wanted to talk about what was going on and Mrs. Olson was the right person to offer her opinion. After his second game, the night he met Evan, Jackie was exhausted by the excitement of it all. Two weeks before he had accepted his baseball days were done, and now he was playing minor league ball.
Mrs. Olson was the loving mother of the house, who could calm him right down. This made Jackie's transition far easier on him. With the routine elements taken care of Jackie and I set out to do the work required to make him a good second baseman. He acted comfortable with the arrangement.
An otherwise dull season had been spiced up by Jackie's arrival. I didn't know if it would be enough to make Louisville ball interesting, but the fans were excited by the buzz that followed Jackie to Louisville.
The image of a squeaky clean lad joining the club was golden. It was what baseball was all about after all.
The most important thing was getting Jackie confident in his ability to play second base at this level. It was a big leap to go from high school to minor league ball. It was made bigger by the year away from ball. At nineteen his reflexes and vision were as good s they'd ever be, and this made the year off less of a factor.
Training him how to make plays and not get caught flatfooted took practice. Jackie was willing to put in the time. His excitement for the game helped to renew my own appreciation for baseball. The extra work it took teaching Jackie kept my mind off of other things. The routine of baseball took a new and refreshing turn early that season.
The drudgery of that spring was all forgotten.
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