A Major Success|
Book 6 of Outside the Foul Lines
by Rick Beck
"Back to Ball - First Ball Game"
Back to Chapter Twenty-Five
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Sitting in Cincinnati, I thought about my past and considered my future. It was too much for one person in a new setting, not knowing what to expect. I had been playing ball since I was fourteen. That was half my lifetime.
As I sat with my thoughts, someone was coming my way. I expected to be rousted out of there by an usher or a security guard. I was sitting in reserved seating, but I wasn't done yet.
"You must be John Dooley," Someone said, sitting in the seat next to me. "I'm Leon White. I brought you a hot dog. I put mustard on it. Can't beat a stadium dog with stadium mustard."
Leon White was in a light gray suit, red tie, white shirt. It was an expensive suit. I took the hot dog and unwrapped it, taking a bite, savoring the flavor. It was still hot. It was a treat to eat a ballpark hot dog. They were good in Louisville. They were better in Cincinnati. I didn't think it had anything to do with location.
"I'm Evan's agent. He asked me to represent you until you decided on an agent of your own. You don't want to face management alone, John. Do you mind if I call you John, John?"
"No, John is fine. How did you know where I was."
"Gus. I asked him if you were here yet. He said you wanted to see the field. I figured you'd be early. I figured I'd come early so we could have a few minutes before the meeting. I'm here to talk on your behalf.
"When they see you with me, they'll know certain things. They'll put the real offer on the table. I'll nod or shake my head to tell you what I think. You'll decide for yourself but that'll tell you where I am. They may try to low ball you. They know what you make at Louisville. They know the bright lights and glitter might have you signing anything they put in front of you."
"It's all moving too fast for me. I'd play for nothing. I'd pay them to play in a yard like this."
"Yes, that's why there are agents. You are worth a lot of money, John. Letting the rich bastards have your services at a cut rate price is just encouraging them to be assholes about it. You play for nothing and they think the next guy might play for nothing. They have no conscience when it comes to money. They'll screw you right to the floor if you let them."
"The closest I got to management at Louisville was Coach Bell."
"Evan says he's one of the good guys. I'm more about the players. Management is management. We can't play ball without them, but they love taking advantage of someone. They love a bargain. When it comes to money, nothing they won't do."
"You're a cynical son-of-a-bitch," I said, not softening my first thought.
He went silent. I finished my hot dog. He waited.
"This is the only time I'll get a first time sitting here. I'm not ready to deal with what the world is like behind the scenes. I want to sit here and take in the perfection right here, right now."
"Yes, sir. I got it. I'll go up and wait for you outside the offices if that's okay with you?"
"That's fine. Thanks for the hot dog."
I waited for him to go.
Leon was a reminder that baseball wasn't all double-plays and sacrifice bunts. Enjoying the moment was over but I wanted to take in what I could for a few minutes. He was part of the big picture and dealing with the money wouldn't be as simple as it was in Louisville.
I never wanted to stop loving ball. I didn't want the money to get between me and my love for the game. I didn't mind finally getting paid what I was worth, but my life wouldn't be about the money.
That's probably easy to say when my lover made millions playing ball. Andy provided a service that filled ball parks, padding his employer's pocket. The amount of money he got was humbling, but when you measured the value received against the dollars spent, Andy was a bargain.
Louisville didn't pay me enough to live off of. If it wasn't for Andy I wouldn't have been able to stay at Louisville for six seasons. Being able to stay for six seasons put me in the position of being available when the Cincinnati shortstop job opened up. Now I could mark my time in Louisville as training for a better job.
Now came the payoff. I was about to go to a meeting where I'd receive more money for playing the next six weeks than I'd made in my entire life. It was ten times what I'd made in my life. It's not a meeting I could attend without getting ready. I had to come to see where I was going to play and think about all the places I'd played before. I played in backwaters and now I was going to play the Palace.
This was the big time. It was a dream I'd always had but never saw being within my reach. I was grateful for being able to play minor league ball under someone like Coach Bell for six seasons. When the call came from Cincinnati, I couldn't process it at first.
Last week I was twenty-seven and content with playing one or two more seasons. This week I was twenty-seven and starting a new career. You just never know.
I'd feel good about whatever they paid me. It would be a raise, but I had no illusions. They'd give me the six weeks. They'd pay me the big bucks for it. I better produce right out of the gate. I had my six seasons. Now it was time to put up or shut up.
Baseball was my game. I could play baseball. I would produce. I'd run the infield and do a damn good job at it. I didn't doubt it, even when I wasn't expecting to be here. I knew my business.
I was ready. I stood up and moved back to the long entry ramp and reversed my steps on my way to the offices. I dropped my hot dog wrapper in the first trashcan I came to. When I turned the corner, Mr. Leon White, my agent, waited for me near a series of doors. He led me through the right one.
The meeting was more than I expected. The general manager, manager, and one of the owners were delighted to welcome me to Cincinnati. I was offered a drink. I took coffee but needed something stronger.
They made me feel welcome.
Leon looked on, apprehension on his face. I was collaborating with the enemy. His enemy not mine. I sensed the sincerity and these men loved baseball as I did. They needed me. They wanted me, and I wanted to be there. We would make a deal.
There were three envelopes beside the owner's arm when we sat down at the table together. He slid the first envelope aside and picked up the second envelope, putting the third envelop with the first. This would be the middle offer. They had been prepared to show me the $600,000 Coach Bell told me about first, but they didn't waste time with it. They went right to door number two.
I didn't know what was in the envelopes when they handed the middle one to me, but it was obvious once I opened it. I looked at the contract and the amount of money, $750,000, and handed only the contract to Leon without looking back at the owner.
Leon looked at the number, knowing the contract by heart, and he nodded as he handed the contract back to me.
"Pen," I said, and three came toward me at the same time.
I took Leon's and signed. A man who had entered during the meeting and sat in a corner stood up to take three pictures while I signed my name.
"Welcome to Cincinnati," the owner said, coming around to shake my hand.
There were handshakes and more pictures; smiles all around.
The manager said he'd meet me at the clubhouse door when I came downstairs. Leon was waiting for me just outside the door, after the meeting broke up.
"No charge for that, John. I was doing a favor for Evan. I'll let you make your own arrangements for an agent. I'd advise you not deal with them alone. You're going to be doing this again in October and probably another time if they go to the World Series. You'll need representation."
"You'll do. You got a card. I'll call to tell you where to mail your bill and you can mail me any information you think I need. Tell Evan I said thanks."
"You'll see him in the clubhouse. His car was in the lot when I drove in."
"The Bentley?" I asked.
"No, that's for show. He drives a 70 Camero to the ballpark. That's his favorite."
"Leon, I figure you're as good as any as far as agents go. You interrupted a very special moment. I love ball. I love playing ball. You stick to agenting and I'll stick to ball playing. I don't need to know how you feel about my employers."
"Yes, sir," Leon said. "They're going to the playoffs. You're going to make a lot of money, John."
"Yes, I am," I said. "A lot."
Leon smiled before walking away. He was going to make a lot of money too.
The manager met me at the door to the clubhouse as he said he would. When I say clubhouse, forget Louisville. Louisville had a few rooms behind the dugout that was called the clubhouse. Cincinnati had a fabulous clubhouse with everything you could need or want. There was wall-to-wall carpeting throughout. Even the locker room was carpeted. It was a first class facility.
The manager introduced me to the team as they got ready for the game. My arrival created no excitement whatsoever. I was unknown and untested. These guys were the class of baseball and I was nobody. I'd need to prove myself before I became one of them.
"I'm Malone. I'll play second to your shortstop," an approaching player said.
"Hi, I'm looking forward to it," I said, happy to be talked to.
"Hey, buddy," Evan Lane yelled all the way across the locker room. "Come on down here. I had them put your uniforms in my area. You can put your things here until we figure out where you'll have your locker. I've got plenty of room. Gets kind of lonely down here."
I was laughing by the time I got to Evan, who was shirtless, and sounding very much like he owned the whole damn place, or at least was in charge of it. I remembered him from my first days at Louisville. He'd been the one to set me at ease then too.
Every eye was on us as he opened his arm and gave me one of the warmest hugs I'd ever received from anyone but Andy. The Evan Lane stamp of approval had been put on me.
"Hey you guys, this is John Dooley. He taught me everything I know," Evan said as mouths opened and surprise showed on more than one face.
"I didn't teach you everything I know, Evan," I said in the only comeback that fit such a reception.
Everything was there I'd need for bench sitting. I'd be in a Cincinnati uniform, but the only announcement about my arrival was in an article that mentioned three pickups Cincinnati made to strengthen the club in preparation for the playoffs. I still hadn't been named as Prather's replacement.
The game was a blur. My first big league baseball game was over almost as soon as it began. I sat on the end of the bench and Evan came over to sit beside me after he batted. The one vivid memory was a seventh inning three run home run by Evan that went high into the bleacher seats. It was the difference in the game. Cincinnati won its fifth game in a row. Malone played shortstop.
The reporters hadn't picked up on me staying at Evan's or that Evan was making my transition easier. Whatever Evan Lane said or did was just fine with the rest of the team. As long as he won games, they'd follow him anywhere. I felt the same way.
I followed Evan home in my car after he took his bows and answered questions after the game. I waited for him in the player's parking lot and we drove into Kentucky and past Lexington to a large plot of land back away from the road. You couldn't see the road from the house but there were no barriers to prevent someone from driving up to the house uninvited.
Andy called once I had time to be at Evan's after the game. We talked about his arrival in Cincinnati for Friday evening's game. The game plan was for me to go into the second of two games in a double header on Sunday afternoon. Malone would move to second base at around the sixth inning and I'd go in at shortstop. The new infield would be in place for the first time. Andy would stay until he saw me play in my first major league game.
"Call me before you're ready to leave," I said. "Have you set up a hotel room?"
"Give me the phone, Dooley," Evan said.
I handed it over when he took it.
"Hey, Green, you skinny mutt. I got a nice room here for you two. It overlooks the lake. You make arrangements for a hotel and I'll break your other arm. You know you're welcome here. We don't have much company. I don't approve of many people. So get your ass down here," Evan ordered.
Andy and I had no desire to put anyone out. We were used to doing things our way. Evan only knew about doing things his way, but it was nice and he was easy to be around. He only sounded like he wanted the world to run according to his wishes. Strangely enough, it ran according to his wishes much of the time in Cincinnati.
His wife was out with girlfriends and Evan said that wasn't unusual during the season. She had a life of her own and she wasn't involved with baseball wives. I knew just how she felt.
Friday night we lost. We left the ballpark and went out for dinner before heading for Evan's. Andy looked good and Evan was in rare form. I stayed nervous. It would be easier if I just played ball.
Having Andy there was a distraction and I felt better about being nervous. We won Saturday night. Evan's bat was quiet. The double-header on Sunday started at one. The stands were full of happy fans rooting on a team that was playoff bound. It was exciting to see.
After the fifth inning ended in game two, we led 6-2, the manager said, "Dooley, go in at Shortstop. Malone take second base."
I took the field with the Cincinnati team and passed the mound on the way to my position. Malone ran out beside me instead of going to second base, where he moved once I went in at shortstop.
"You'll be okay. I've seen you play," Malone said, patting my ass.
There was a pitching change announced. They announced Malone moving to second base. They announced a change in right field, as Cincinnati rested its starters for the stretch run. Last but not least they announced a change at shortstop and the words echoed inside my head.
"Now playing shortstop, John Dooley."
As with any inning change, the fans were busy buying beer and hot dogs and stretching their legs. With a substantial lead the fans thought the game was in the bag and the beer was more important than fielding changes. If anyone heard the name of the guy going in at shortstop, they didn't react to it. This was the plan.
Being on that field, feeling the infield dirt under my feet for the first time was a good feeling. It exhilarated me to be playing. I was super alert to every sight and sound in the ballpark. I heard the Cincinnati bullpen door slam as a pitcher came out to warm up. The first base coach chattered endless nonsense words. The third baseman pounded his glove with his fist twice. The first warm up pitch stung the leather of the catcher's mitt. The umpire swept the plate before calling, "Play ball."
The pitcher stepped off the mound and faced me as he rubbed up the baseball. He stepped back up on the mound to make his pitch. I stood in one spot, moving a foot to one side, and then a foot to the other side as I waited. This was it. It was a waiting game now.
Once I made my first play, I'd be fine. Thinking about that first play would keep me on edge until it was over. We went back to the bench in the sixth inning without the infield making a play. Only one ball was hit in the top half of the sixth inning. It was a fly ball to right. There were two strike outs to go with it. I was still waiting.
I batted fifth in the order and I wouldn't come up until the seventh or eighth inning. I didn't dread batting, which was strange. I was a far better fielder than I was a hitter, but coming to bat didn't bother me. I came to bat three or four times a game. I was in the center of the infield nine innings a game.
The seventh inning began with a strike out. I was afraid it would be another inning when I just stood there. The next batter went to 3 balls and 2 strikes before a really good pitch was just off the outside corner of the plate, and we had a runner on first base.
The pitcher stood facing me and rubbed up the baseball. He couldn't see me. His mind was inside a baseball and he didn't like giving up that walk. It took a minute for him to step back up on the mound and stare at the catcher. He shook his head twice, shaking off the first two signs, and he nodded on the third sign. He was throwing a curveball. I already knew his best pitch, and after the walk he wanted to throw his best pitch.
The batter reached out for it as it curved in on him. It was sharply hit on the ground. It took an extra big bounce, hitting the center of my glove as I rotated on my left foot to fire the ball to Malone. He let the toe of his foot touch the bag and pivoted out of the way of the runner, firing to first base. It was the perfect setup for a double-play. I reacted as soon as the ball was hit. The fans were pleased by the double-play, no matter who made it. The inning was over. We went back to the bench.
I didn't even know I was making the play. My infielder's instinct kicked in and it was all automatic. I was watching Malone making the throw to first before I realized I'd started my first double-play at Cincinnati. That's what I'd been waiting for. Let's play ball.
Dooley was my name and baseball was my game. Yes!
"Good play," Malone said, patting my ass on the way back to the dugout, staying at my side.
Evan yelled, "Good play, Dooley," from the other side of the dugout as he came in from the outfield. I wanted to look for Andy but I forgot where he was sitting.
Our pitching was remarkable. The long relief pitcher would take us to the ninth without giving up a hit. He was replaced by the short reliever, but before the pitching change, I'd come up in the bottom of the eighth to bat for the first time.
Malone batted third in the lineup and he was the first to bat in the eighth. He singled. Evan was the cleanup hitter. He came to the plate ahead of me. He doubled Malone to third. A good throw from left fielder kept Malone at third.
As I walked to the plate the crowd was going crazy over the Cincinnati darling, who stood in the middle of second base tipping his hat to the loud crowd reaction to his second hit of the game. By the time things calmed down I was standing at the plate ready for my first official big league pitch.
I didn't have long to wait for a pitch I liked. I saw it coming. It was a change up. The pitcher was getting tired and the pitch hung up a little too long. I drilled it past second base and I drove in both Malone and Evan. When I stopped running I was on second base, after the throw from centerfield went to home plate.
The applause started again, as Evan crossed the plate. The crowd loved him. I pretended they were applauding me. It was 8-2 and we were cruising in the late innings. The fans would cheer a foul ball from Evan.
I went to third on a ground out and stayed there after a strike out and a fly ball to short centerfield. Malone brought my glove out to me as I started in after the third out.
"Well, Dooley, you've already got more hits than Prather got last month. You're going to be okay," Malone reassured me again.
"Thanks," I said, as he split off to go to second base.
I was okay. I would be fine now. I took one ground ball in the ninth and made the throw to first base for the out. I didn't bat again. The game ended after the opponents got their three outs in the ninth.
* * * * * * * * *
At dinner, Evan summed up my big league career.
"Well, Dooley, you're batting a thousand. You knocked in two runs your first time at bat. Your first big league play was an awesome double-play. It's all down hill from here," Evan said.
Andy and I laughed with him. The relief was massive for me.
"I told them a year ago you were the shortstop they wanted to look at. You make me look like a freaking genius, Dooley. I'm going to ask for a raise," Evan bragged.
"You already make more money than God," Andy said.
"Thanks, Evan. I'm glad to be playing with you again. You make the game I love even more fun," I said.
"Wait just a minute here," Andy objected. "Don't you two be getting too happy with each other. I still have a stake in this game."
Evan and I laughed and I was thrilled to be there.
"You think that's funny, Pittsburgh came to rehab to see about my progress Friday. I'll start next season at Indianapolis. If the arm holds up, I'll be back in Pittsburgh by May. They thought I was several months ahead of schedule. That's about what I figured. They were really happy."
"Great news, Green," Evan said, and he flagged down the first waiter to pass to get a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked.
"Didn't want to upstage the man I love. This was your weekend, Do. This is the spice that goes with it. I didn't know where I stood until the Pittsburgh officials came calling at rehab. They laid out the plan according to what the reports told them. Mainly, I'm back in ball and I signed a five year contract contingent on how rehab goes."
"How much they giving you, ole buddy?" Evan asked.
"An obscene amount of money, but not as obscene as yours. You're still the king of the sluggers, but I'm coming for you, Lane. I'm coming."
"That's great, Andy. Both of you are where you deserve to be," Evan said.
"Both of us in the major leagues at the same time. That's special," I said, and Andy squeezed my hand under the table.
"It'll be even harder during the season to get time together, but Pittsburgh and Cincinnati play a ton of games each season," Andy said. "We'll get you a house here and get a hotel when we're in Pittsburgh."
My life had always run down a fairly smooth road. I'd fallen in love with Andy before I knew what love was. We roomed together in college for three years. I played ball in college and when I graduated, I put up my glove. I thought I'd played my last game.
Coach Bell called me back to coach at Louisville. I took over at shortstop the first time the spot opened up. I'd played in Louisville for six years.
In one week my world was turned upside down. I went from playing minor league ball to playing majors league ball by week's end. I was a big leaguer. I was at the top of my game.
Life was pretty damn good.
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