Chapter 5 The Dreamers
After supper Gus and I helped Mary clear the table then left to go meet Red Dodge, the Manager. We were leaving a little early, but I could tell that Gus did not like to keep people waiting, especially his boss and manager. I made a mental note of that fact.
Red lived in what looked like a new condo-development on the west side of town near the interstate. It was an attractive building done in gray double 4 1/2 vinyl siding with white trim. There was a small overhang over the porch area with a beautiful sculptured wooded front door stained a dark walnut, almost inviting you to come closer for a better look. There were some dried flowers of bright yellow, orange, and brown hung on a nail just below three small panes of glass near the top of the door. Gus moved ahead and rang the door bell.
"Don't be nervous," offered Gus. "You'll like ol Red. Great guy." The door came open.
It had to be Mrs. Dodge, a very tall, thin woman, well over six feet tall. Her hair was balled up into a bun at the crown of her head. She was so prim and proper looking, almost like a School Marm. No, she looked like a skinnier and taller Mrs. Olsen from the Little House on the Prairie TV show.
"Come in Mr. Lollar," she announced. "Have a seat. Red will be with you shortly." That was all she said. Not, how are you Gus. Who is this fine gentleman with you, Gus? Could I get you something to drink? She said absolutely nothing else and left the room.
"Don't worry about her," said Gus. "I should have warned you on the way over here in the car before we got here. Nothin to worry 'bout though." Red entered the room with a big smile on his face and an outstretched hand.
"Good to meet you Mr. Bill Alan," said Red genuinely. "I'm glad ol, a what’s his name, here, brought you by tonight so we could get acquainted." After Red shook my hand he took his fist and gave Gus a shot in the shoulder. You could sense immediately the affection and genuine friendship Red and Gus felt for one another.
"What would you guys like to drink," asked Red. "You're usual Scotch and water, Gus? Gus nodded. "How about you Bill?"
"Coke or Seven-Up will be fine," I replied. I was waiting to hear how alcohol dulls the senses and how he was glad to see me not drinking alcohol. But, then I realized I probably wouldn't hear that kind of a lecture from either Red or Gus. This was no longer high school. I would be responsible for what I do and my performance on and off the baseball field.
This was not kindergarten. I was now on my own and would be in complete control of my life from now on, much more than ever before. No supervision, no baby sitting. It was now time to be a stand-up-guy. It is up to me to make and stay a member of this ball club. Red and Gus will help all they can, but it is really up to me. I started to feel a little scared for the first time. Stupid, self-doubt. Red handed me and Gus our drinks, snapping me out of my daydreaming.
"Bill, I first want to welcome you to the Monarchs," began Red. "You may become a little overwhelmed at first, but just try to relax. There will be no need for you to try and win us the pennant on your first few days here. From the reports we have and the film we have seen, we're all impressed already. My job is to help you feel comfortable in this new environment, get you adjusted to playing games almost every day, and help you reach your full potential. The season is long, the food on the road lousy, and the long bus rides the worst. But trust me, if you want to make it to the "show", it will be worth the inconveniences. Gus and I will do all we can to make it happen for you. Who knows, maybe along the way we might even win our own pennant," said Red with a smile.
I got a good feeling from Red. His experience showed in the fatherly way in which he spoke to me. I had hoped his reputation for a hot temper was only partially true. I had hoped that like most tales, the actual events were smaller than the tall tales being told. Time would tell, but for now, it was enough that my first impression was a favorable one.
"Bill," Gus interjected, "Red is the finest baseball man I've been associated with in all my thirty-plus years in this game. If you have any talent, which we believe you do, Red will help mold you into a great baseball player. When you leave this team you will know how to really place this game the Monarch way, the aggressive way, the intelligent way. Billy Martin played under Red and Billy got more out of his limited ability than anyone could'uv. You'll see. Just trust ol Red's judgment and work hard. The best you have will come out."
"I appreciate what both of you are doing and are going to help me do," I said. "I'm very serious about this game of baseball and the opportunity being presented to me. There is nothing I love more than this game of baseball, a boy's game, now being played by men for huge sums of money. I almost feel guilty about how much money the Monarchs have paid me to play this game for them, a game I'd probably be playing for nothing somewhere. The money is not my primary motivation, although I do like a buck as much as the next guy."
I'll give you all I've got," I add, "one hundred and ten percent, every at bat, every pitch, every ground ball, every out. I am a little apprehensive about making the jump from high school to Class AA ball, but you must think I have a shot or I wouldn't be here. I hope we all have a lot of fun this summer. I'm planning on it."
Red looked at Gus and started to chuckle.
"Looks like we have a junior politician in our midst," said Red. "That's a very good speech, Mr. Alan. Did Gus help you with that? Naw, couldn't uv. Not enough New Yawk in it."
Gus started chuckling, as well. Maybe I was a little long winded.
"I'm sorry Red," I reply. "I didn't mean to sound so...” and Red cut me off.
"Bill, don't worry about it," said Red. "We're just having a little fun at your expense. I know how serious you are about this game. We checked out your "head" as well as your physical ability. We knew what we were getting when we invested in you. You should adjust easier than most. Your old high school coach, Dick Dolan, indicated you had the best work ethic of any kid he ever coached in over forty years. He said you were the best not only in motivation, but in desire and ability. It takes more than just skill to make it to the "show". Every guy you play against and with will have great natural ability. But, those who work harder, stay in better shape and condition, pushing it in the weight room, fielding hundreds of ground balls when others are in the shower, they are the ones who make it. You can not be a primadonna and make it at these levels. It just doesn't work that way," concluded Red with great conviction in his voice.
I had the feeling that Red was trying to prepare me for something that few were really prepared for. At least he could always say he warned me. No, that is not either Red or Gus's way of doing things. They would be taking the bow or the blame along with their players they try to develop. These were not the finger-pointing type. They lived and died with their players and for their players.
They were trying to improve the entire organization. Their Class AA position was an important one along the way in providing New York with new talent. If you were good enough to make it to AA, you had a chance to make it with the big club. I realized that this stop here might be the most important step along my way to becoming a New York Monarch.
"Bill, be at the ballpark by nine-thirty tomorrow morning," said Red. "Gus will help you finish settle in. I'll take you around the facilities when you're ready. I think you'll be amazed at some of the technology we have at our disposal at this level. Most of it can be used on your own and at your own pace. Dick Berg is our technology Guru, an ex-Monarch prospect himself. He got as far as Columbus 'til he tore up his knee. He was probably as dedicated as you are now. He can be a big help to you. You two should get along well. I think he is from the Midwest too, Iowa or Nebraska I think. Anyway, tomorrow the fun starts. Our first game is on Friday night, a three-game home stand against the Providence Pirates. Let's toast. To our success, gentleman!"
We lifted our glasses. As they say for the Olympics: Let the Games Begin.
I couldn't sleep at all Sunday night. I was tired all right, and the bed was certainly comfortable, but my mind was racing at 200 miles per hour. Jumping from one thought to the next, and never staying long enough to come to a conclusion on any one idea. What if I swing and miss at every pitch in batting practice tomorrow? What if I can't find the strike zone or even home plate when it is my turn to pitch? I can envision every ground ball going right through my legs. No! That's impossible. The ones I do catch I'll just throw the ball into the stands over the first baseman's head. Oh my God. This is nuts. I really belong here. I must belong here or I wouldn't BE here. There is no need to start packing yet. No need to leave in the still of the night. No need to make up some lame excuse about some sick relative who needs my help. No need to believe the team would never even miss me. No need to call Gloria at home and explain my insecurities to her. She wouldn't understand any of this. Or, would she? She had a hard time understanding Bob Lollar's dilemma. She would never understand MY running away. This is crazy. I've got to stop this nonsense. I'M NOT GOING ANYWHERE! I AM NOT GOING ANYWHERE! That's better. Calm down. Get a grip. My mind began starting to slow down.
"Hey, Bill, you all right in there," asked Gus as he quietly tapped on the door.
"Ya, Gus, I'm O.K., just ...a...night mare I guess. I'll be all right now. Thanks," I reply. Shoot, I think to my self. He probably heard me talking to myself and thinks I'm a basket case.
"Well, good night Bill," said Gus. "Just relax and get some sleep. Don't worry about tomorrow. You'll do just fine. Sleep tight."
With that said I heard Gus shuffle off down the hallway and close the door to his and Mary's room. Easy for him to say "relax" I thought to my self. The Monarchs weren't paying him a half a million dollars just for showing up, and a guaranteed salary of $3.7 million over the next three years. I WAS feeling the pressure already and I hadn't even stepped onto the playing field yet. That's what the money does to you. You try and play up to the money and not your ability. I have the talent to make it. I know it. Gus is right. No point in worrying about it. It's just like Red said: "Don't try to do it all in one day". Stay within myself, do what I can do, don't try and be something I am not. Every player knows that is good advice. It's making that happen that is the difficult part.