Chapter 12 The Dreamers
We leave the church at about 9:15am as the early service get out right before the Sunday School crowd show up at 9:45am. We head out to the car as Mary and Gus thanks the Minister for a good sermon. I look back and find him motioning for me to come back, which I do. He tells me that he would like to have lunch with me sometime next week, if possible. We arrange to meet on Wednesday at noon over at the diner.
Mary smiled as we made our way back to the car. Gus unlocked the car doors and well all got in and headed back to the house. Mary just smiled as I made my way to my car. I made quick time getting to the ball park in record time. There was only one car in the lot; it must be Dick’s.
I made my way into the locker room and find Dick taking a couple of bats from my cubical. He had a large leather bag at his feet full of baseballs, and under his arms were a couple of VCR tapes.
“Hey, Dick,” I ask, “what is this clandestine meeting all about? “You know if you steal all my bats it will make it a little tougher for me to go 5 for 5 tonight.”
“The way you are hitting right now, I think you could break off a chair leg and hit a double,” he said with a grin on his face. “That’s why we are here right now.”
“I’m hitting so well now you want me to take some extra hitting practice,” I state? “That’s a new one on me.”
“I want to accomplish two things today,” Dick goes on. “First, I want to get your swing on tape now that you are really in a groove. You are swinging so well from both sides of the plate now is the perfect time for that. It is time to capture you perfect mechanics so we can study them, compare them if you will to when you are not hitting so well. Then we can make the necessary adjustments and get you back into the groove. Sometimes when you are not hitting so well it is some little quirk you have developed, some little hitch in your swing, something you don’t even feel you are doing. Where you hold your bat when you start your swing, the movement of your hips, or even your feet in relationship to the plate. It can be something so small you wouldn’t believe it. It doesn’t take much to miss-hit the ball, a fraction of an inch either way and a hit turns into an out.
“Boy, you are really into this aren’t you,” I respond somewhat amazed. “I’ve heard of video at the Major League level, but not in the minors. What’s the other thing?”
“After what happened last night the best thing for you is to get right back in the batters box as soon as you can,” stated Dick emphatically. “You must keep on ripping the ball the way you have since you got here. Your at-bats after Curtain were pretty pathetic, but you probably didn’t notice. That seeing eye single to left was not you. It kept you 2 for 4 for the night, but those swings were not Bill Alan swings at the end of the game. We are going to fix that right here and now. It is important mentally and emotionally for you to get back in here right now without the least bit of apprehension and trepidation. If you do you could get hurt and give the opposing pitcher the greatest advantage of all, fear! Come on now we have a lot of work to do.”
With that Dick made his way past Red’s office, through the doorway leading under the stands. I sat down in my locker and began getting dressed. I stood up and took a towel and my batting helmet and took the same path Dick had done. It was time to get back to work. That is what professional baseball was now…work.
Dick and I worked out for about 2 hours, spending about 10 minutes hitting in intervals, then taking about 15 minutes analyzing the videos. He was intense about his job, braking down each swing into the mechanical movements, defining each part until the bat hit the ball. By the last half-hour, Dick had Harvey, our pitching machine, throwing over 90 miles an hour, but I was on every offering, hitting each one solidly. After about 15 more swings Dick turned off the machine and began picking up the balls putting them back into his leather bag. I picked up my bats and helped in the “egg hunt” Dick was finishing.
“Dick, I want to thank you for working with me early this Sunday,” I respond. “I see what you mean about how I need to get back in there after last night. I was really in a funk about Curtain. I still don’t understand it. This was great. Thanks again for all your help and support.”
“Bill, sometimes you can’t repair things,” said Dick in a serious tone. “Life is made up of opportunities, some good, some bad, and once in a while something bad happens we can’t explain. Sometime life brings you a great opportunity, like what you have here with the Monarchs. If you succeed it can bring you great joy and happiness. You have to try and make the most of it. For Christians like us there is only one Savior in the world we live in and the one we go to after this is all over. Jesus IS the answer, no matter whether life throws you a curve ball, a fastball, or a wicked slider off the plate. It is most of the time not a fastball right down the middle. No one can even begin to make a dent in the world’s problems like Jesus can. We each can only help our little bit. You can’t change the past. You can brighten the future if you trust in him. You have the most remarkable gift I have ever seen since I’ve been in this game. I have never seen any one person pitch and hit like you do. No one has ever done it at this level before. I think you have what it takes to do this in New York City. It is up to you work hard enough, want it bad enough, and remain focused through all of the ups and downs that are to follow. You have a gift, Billy, take it and run with it all the way to the top. You can live the life thousands of kids can only dream about. You can live it for them.”
I started laughing at the thought of someone wanting to be me. How could that be real? I’m just some guy from Illinois.
“Go ahead and laugh,” said Dick. “Millions of people come to ball parks like this one to relax, to cheer, and to look at ballplayers just like you and fantasize. They dream that they are Don Mattingly, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken, Ernie Banks, and Roger Clemens. And then, Billy Alan comes along. What I am telling you is true. When you were a kid, who was in your dreams? Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Randy Hundley, Glen Hobbie, Fergie Jenkins? Can’t you remember the crowd jumping to their feet, cheering wildly as Ernie Banks rounded the bases after hitting one onto Waveland Avenue? Billy, that is going to be you.”
“Dick, I think I understand what you are saying,” I replied seriously. “It’s just that it is hard to say my name in a sentence with those great players. It is hard to believe that my name even belongs in the same sentence as theirs. I would be afraid to think it for fear of jinxing myself or something.”
“Billy, I know, but listen to me,” said Dick. “You belong with them. As sure as I am standing here talking to you I have never felt it as strongly as I do now. Many guys have left this team and made it. Many others could have, but didn’t. They wasted their chance. I am not going to see that happen to you if I can help it.”
“I will try and put last night behind me, if I can,” I said to Dick. “If only for myself, I must still try and make some amends, somehow, someway, the problem is I do not even know where to begin.”
“Bill, let me give you one more piece of advice before we leave here today,” added Dick. “The things that Curtain and his family need right now are things you can’t supply. He is going to get the best doctors money can buy. The team and the league will pick up all his medical bills. He has people around him that truly love and care for him. Then, he will need time to heal, time to think about his future without the game most likely. That will be up to him and his family. Later on there may be things you may want to do for him and his family, but right now he has everything he needs. What you need to do is get on with YOUR life, YOUR career, and then when the time is right you can be there for Curtain if it is the right thing for everybody. When the times comes it will all fall into place. Just be patient and let things happen in their own time.”
He tapped me on the shoulder as he left the batting cage with his gear. A lot of what he said was true. It just wasn’t making things easier for me right this moment, but it would. What I was going through was noting compared to the Curtain family. Dick was a class guy and a good friend. I walked back into the locker room with my bats and towel. Dick was standing outside Red’s office door. I could see Red at his desk.
“Hey, Dick,” I shouted. “Maybe you could come over to Gus’ house for dinner some time?”
“That would be great,” he responded. “Mary is a great cook. Clear it with her and let me know. I’ll get with my wife, Suzanne, and we’ll reciprocate.”
“Deal,” I replied.
Dick headed into the equipment room and I made my way to my locker. I had just enough time to get fully dressed and get out the field. The locker room was filled with players, but they all just nodded to me or waved. What cold they say? It was just going to take some time for us to get back to normal.