Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Dreamers Chapter 15 of 47

Chapter 15 The Dreamers

I drove Gloria back to the diner, but refused her invitation for a free lunch as eating was the last thing on my mind at the moment. I kissed her very warmly and held her in my arms for what seemed like an eternity.

“Bill, you OK,” she asked?

“Promises me that you will never keep secrets from me, of any kind, no matter how bad they are, will you promise me that,” I ask in my most serious tone. “NO secrets, ever”!

“OK, I agree and promise, really Bill, what is going on,” she asked?

I told her that I didn’t want this to happen to us, terrible secrets being keep from loved ones. I needed her to promise me this one thing. She did and kissed me warmly once again. “I think I’ve learned my lesson,” she said with a wry smile. “Look at the mess I’m in already.”

I could see her point. I reached out and touched her sweet face. “I’ll see you later,” I finish, getting back in my car.

“See you first,” she replies. She head into the diner to get ready for the lunch crowd.

Gus and Mary were home when I got there. Gus told me to try and get some rest if I could. I informed him that Dave Bolton had left me some sheets to go over at the ballpark on the Cub hitters. If Dick was around I might even take some hitting under the stands again.

Gus informed me they were going back over to the Dodge’s and help set up some lunch with them for the Curtains.

I went up stairs and kicked off my shoes before lying down on the bed. I started browsing through some magazines that I had bought: Stereophile, Absolute Sound, Time, and G.Q. I soon realized that I was not really interested in reading any of them. I dropped a CD of Robert Silverman’s Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas from his 32 Sonata boxed set from Stereophile Recordings and closed my eyes, hoping the music would put me to sleep.

I was awakened by the telephone down the hall. I looked at the clock which read 2:58. I quickly jumped up to answer it.

“Hello,” I answer, “the Lollar residence.”

“Well, hello,” said a deep, resonant voice at the other end. “Who is this”?

“This is Bill Alan,” I reply with some trepidation. I really didn’t need any more surprises today. “I’m a guest of the Lollars,” I add. “The Lollars are over at the Dodge’s. I can give you the number if you like”?

“Bill, we finally get to meet,” said the voice. “This is Bob Lollar. I just wanted to tell Mom and Dad that I still coming. Guess we’ll finally get to meet in person in a few days. I’m looking forward to it.”

“So am I,” I add.

“I hear you are really tearing up opposing pitching from what Dad tells me,” he adds. “Good for you. They needed someone after last year. Dad says you are the real-deal. I hear you can pitch some as well.”

“I can throw a little bit, I guess,” I add. Bragging is not one of my strong suits.

“Well, from what Dad says, it is more than a little bit,” Bob adds. “Well, listen, just tell the folks I called and I’ll see you all soon. Take care.” With that he hung up, not waiting for a reply from me. Must be counting his cell phone minutes I thought.

I went back into the room, took out some paper to write Gus and Mary a note bout Bob’s call. I needed to get to the ball park. I put on my shoes and took the note and put it on the kitchen table. I stopped off at McDonalds and polished off a Number 1 and took the last of my Coke with me on the ride to the park. Not quite the training meal I needed, but it sure tasted good, which is a bad sign of my dietary habits. Schindberg’s car was in the lot. Jocko was manning the parking lot as usual.

“Hey, Jocko,” I said warmly. “See anybody suspicious lately around here? Any Cub spies?”

“You kiddin,” said Jocko with a laugh. “I’d zap’em with my special ray gun the Boss gave me. “This place is secure.”

“Thanks, Jocko,” I add. “I knew there was a reason I was sleeping so well at night.” With that I wave and drive up to the player parking and go inside.

Dick is sitting in the training room going over some papers. The newspaper is sitting next to him, with the sports section torn apart. What else would you expect in a baseball club house? The rest of the paper looked untouched.

“Bill,” said Dick as he saw me walk in. “Bolton left you some info on the Cub hitters for the game tomorrow. Said he was off to Vermont I think.”

“Thanks Dick,” I reply. “Ya, he is picking up Becky Lollar from college for me. Some day off, huh. I was supposed to be going somewhere my self, but this Curtain thing put that off until next week. “

“Ya, I heard about the Curtain thing on the radio,” Dick added. “Cocaine, who would have thought that would be a part of it. This is going to make all of our lives difficult for a while,” he said shaking his head. “The league is not going to take a player going undetected for drugs without a big investigation into this random testing that is supposed to be going on.”

I hadn’t thought about that. Well, for those of us who have nothing to hide it will just be inconvenient, but if someone was helping Curtain cover up his drug use that would be something else again. Dick was right.

Dick hands me the computer print out of the Cub hitters, including ones just up from the rookie league and Class A. A couple of rookies have made the big jump to AA, just like I did. They would be worth looking out for.

“Hear you and Gloria are back together. Good for you,” adds Dick. “She is some beautiful girl. You guys belong together, just like Ken and Barbie.”

“Alright, watch it,” I said jokingly. “I never asked for a modeling career, just to play baseball. I’m not looking to be on the cover of GQ or anything.”

“Don’t worry,” said Dick. “It will happed whether you want it to or not. Comes with the territory.”

“Can we just go hit some balls and make this a productive afternoon,” I ask? “Unless you want to become my agent?”

“I can assure you,” Dick responds, “it would probably pay more that this job does. This one does come with more job security. Once you get old and wrinkled you’ll be yesterday’s news, kid. Then where would I be?”

“Come on, we’ve got work to do,” I conclude. “We’ll deal with this agent thing later.”

We start walking down toward the hitting cage. I am looking over the Cub hitters as we walk.

“Don’t worry about memorizing everything on those sheets,” states Dick. “Meyers will be charting your pitches for you tomorrow night and he will feed Bolton info on how to consider pitching each batter. You will have final say on pitch selection, but usually this info is pretty accurate about player’s tendencies.” We walk into the cage area and close the door.

“Come over here, I want to show you something I made that might help you,” informed Dick. It was the strangest contraption I had ever seen.

I move around a plywood structure that has opened vegetable can stuck in holes drilled out to the same diameter as the cans. It is 4 foot by 8 feet tall and is held up with a 2” x 4” frame, slightly tilted back. There is a green and red Christmas light in the back of each can and wires running all over the place. The cans fill the center space of the plywood, about the perfect size and position of a batter’s strike zone. The vertical edges are over the black rim of the plate area. The top and bottom edges are near the knees and the letters of a 6 foot 2 inch player. The entire strike zone is fill with these cans and can be turn on and off at will. It is truly amazing.

“Bill, stand back a little bit and I’ll show you what I have created,” states Berg. “You should like this.”

He flips on rows of red lights that are near the center of the normal strike zone. “These areas do not belong to you if you are the pitcher. They belong to any good hitter in just about any league. You might get by throwing a pitch in this area, but only if you throw 95 MPH or more, or if the batter is taking all the way. This is the area where 20 game losers go to die. If you want to join them, just pitch in this area most of the time.”

He turned off those lights and turned on 3 rows of green lights on the outside edge of the strike zone and across the top near the letters.

“These belong to you most of the time,” he continues. “The bottom left here is where sliders kill most hitters. A good fastball can live here to. Across the top is where you can walk-the-ladder on a hitter and most can’t catch up to good, high, heat. The most good hitters can do is foul off these pitches. You can just turn it around for a left-handed hitter. Remember though, each hitter has certain pitches they can handle and each hitter is different. You must play to their tendencies and weaknesses if you intend to win most of the time. Control is absolutely essential if you intend to make it to the SHOW and stay there. Honesty, most pitchers just throw so hard and rarely can spot most of their pitches unless they take a lot off, then it is just batting practice. Control is the key. If you can pitch to these spots that these individual cans represent, with something on it, you can succeed. If not…? You must pitch to the count, the situation with runners, and the number of outs. Lack of control just makes this all just a game of chance.”

“I never thought much about it, at least not like this,” I stated with some amazement. “You’ve really done your homework, haven’t you? I know about pitching up and down, in and out, but not on such a precise table such as this.”

“Bill, most pitchers at this level know this stuff,” Dick added, “but then they loose their concentration or are just cocky enough to think they can get by on their physical skills alone. They start to think some of those red areas belong to them, but they don’t, usually. This is the biggest mistake they make here in double A ball. They are here because they have talent, but never really start using their head. Macho men become history up here.” Dick continued.

“Meyers, Como, and Jackson seem to have started to get it. Morse just has lightning stuff right now. He will have to become smarter if he intends to get to the Big Apple. He is coming around, though,” adds Dick. “If we score more runs then you can try and become more aggressive as not all mistakes fly out of the park. Singles and doubles can make your life just as miserable. Hitters can get real stupid as well, and often do help pitchers out by swinging at stuff way out of the strike zone and guessing. That is a big plus for you.”

“I think I am getting the message, loud and clear,” I state enthusiastically. “Now, if I follow these rules and still get shelled, you’ll take the blame, right?”

“R-i-g-h-t,” added Dick! “That’s the way it works around here. I always take the blame for hitting slumps and pitcher’s mistakes that leave the park with motors on them. Sure! And pigs fly!” We both start laughing.

“And besides,” adds Berg in his worst God Father impersonation, “Now that we’ve had this little chat there will be no need for my boys to come around and give you a little pep-talk, you know Vinny Bodda-Boom Badda-Bing and Luigi Ta-veee-geee. People who don’t follow the rules end up as part of the New Jersey Turnpike. To get your attention my boys have a motto: A rubber hose leaves no lasting marks. Capisch?”

“I think I get it,” I reply. “Make sure the boys know I understand and I don’t need no stinkin visit from them, OK?” I join in the fun. “We’re just one big happy family here. No problems.”

“Can we get in some hitting, now,” I ask? I may need to drive in some extra runs for myself tomorrow.”

“OK, let go,” said Dick.

We finished hitting practice round 5pm, clean up our balls and gear and head to the locker room. It was kind of eerie being the only ones at the ball park. I was starting to get a little nervous thinking about pitching my first professional game tomorrow night. Dave left a message on the clubhouse phone saying he picked up Beck alright and should be home by 8pm or so. I would be getting to meet another Lollar in a few hours. I ride by the diner only to find out that Gloria had gone home a little early as it got slow around 4pm and the night girl came in early. I drove over to Gloria’s house. Mrs. James answers the door.

“HI Bill,” said Mrs. James, “come on in. Gloria is upstairs taking a shower and will be down in a minute. Can I get you some lemonade or some iced tea to drink?

“That would be nice.” I reply. “Lemonade if it’s no trouble?”

“No trouble at all,” she replies sweetly. “Come into the kitchen with me will you?” I follow her into their large kitchen.
“I hear you and Gloria are taking a little trip, to California she said,” stated Mrs. James. “That will be nice for the two of you.” She continued to prepare our lemonades. I knew then that she did not know the real reason for our trip at all. Maybe it was just as well. What did I know at this point? I’m leaving the sleeping dog lie as it were. We sat down at the kitchen table to have our lemonade. I could hear Gloria coming down the stairs in the hallway.

“Gloria,” I began, “your mother was just telling how glad she was that we were gong on our little trip next week to sunny California. She was also right about us having lots to talk about on the way out and back.”

Mrs. James had not idea what I was implying and as Gloria entered the room she had no intention of spilling the beans about why we were really going. My voice only hinted at how disappointed I was that Gloria was still not coming clean with her mother about this trip.

“Bill, it is obvious you are becoming upset with me, again” said Gloria. “Please don’t. Mom, I have something to tell you about why were are going to California. I am going to apologize to someone form something malicious I have done. I have caused great harm to a number of people and need to make it right, if I can. Bill has offered to take me there. It really was his idea anyway. It is something that I must do.”

“Gloria,” said her Mom with great concern, “What could you have done to anyone? We don’t know anyone in California.”

Gloria had a hard time holding her head up as she told her Mom about Bob’s recruiting nightmare, the whole story about what she did to Chris Tavy, everything. She told her Mom who much all of this hurt her and how she let her feeling for Bob get in the way make her do something very stupid. Gloria’s Mom was having a hard time believing it.

“Oh, Gloria,” said her Mom in a pained voice,” this must be so awful for you. Are you sure you can and want to do this?”

“Mom, I have to,” said Gloria firmly. “It is the right thing to do, no matter how embarrassing it is going to be. The hardest part will be if Chris and Jon can ever forgive me. That is the big unknown. I may be unable to fix this. I do know what a broken heart feels like. I know how you must have felt when Dad died. ”
Gloria kneeled down at her Mom feet and put her head in her lap. Her Mom gently stroked her hair.

“Mom, don’t feel bad about this,” said Gloria. “I know Dad’s dying was tough on you. He meant so much to both of us. We can work this out with Bill’s help. I love you very much. I’m so sorry.” Tears were streaming down her face.

I left the two of them alone as I walked into the living room. I looked out the front windows and saw what a beautiful day it was outside. Kids were riding their bikes down the side walk. The lady next door was playing with her dog. Across the street the old man was cutting his grass, what little grass he had, with one of those old rotary lawnmowers that had no motor. You could see how each push was hard, but it was the last remnant of his younger, muscular days. I knew it was important to him to do that job. Just like Gloria and I had to do ours. I let myself out the front door. I got into my Taurus wagon and headed over to the Lollar’s. It would be nice having a night off I thought. I was kind of glad the Disneyland trip was next week. I’ve had enough excitement for one day.

When I got to the Lollar’s house I saw Dave’s truck in the driveway. I went in the back door just like always and found Dave and Becky in the living room with cold drinks in their hands. He went early as a surprise to all.

“Hey, Billy,” said Dave taking charge, “come on in and meet Becky.

“Nice to meet you,” I said waiting for her to reach out her hand, the gentlemanly thing to do. She did. I’m sorry things have been so crazy since you’ve been home.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Becky. “Dave has told me so much about you and what a great player you are. I guess you have been through a lot?”

“Well, only believe about half of it and I paid him to say the rest,” I add laughing. “You know Dave, not one to miss out on a buck.”

“Alright,” said Dave. “I didn’t tell many big fibs about you, but I will take the $20 anyway.” He and Becky started laughing.

“Just put it on my tab, will ya,” I add.

“No problem,” answers Dave, “but I am keeping track. As much money as you’ll be making you’ll never miss it.”

Mary and Gus show up about a half an hour later and they are so happy to see Becky. We talk for about 30 minutes more about all Becky’s been up to. Mary heads out to the kitchen and informs us it is going to be simple eating tonight: macaroni and cheese and a big green salad which is jut fine with us. They insist that Dave join us, which he does and he is not one to miss a free meal.

I give them my note from earlier about Bob’s phone call and that only adds to the excitement of the evening. Becky asks about Gloria and Dave is only too happy to inform her that Gloria and I am an item. Becky is very pleased as she likes Gloria very much and seems to have given up on any chance that Gloria and Bob would come to anything, you could tell she, Mary, and Gus were all pleased. Now if Bob would just fall into place all the pressure would be off. Maybe.

We talked long into the night, but by 10 O’clock I had had enough and asked to be excused and when up stairs to get a good night’s sleep. I said my round of good-nights and told Bolton I had gone over the sheet he had left on the Cub hitters. I thanked him for it. I wished everyone a good night.

I slept until after 1PM the next day. I couldn’t believe it. I had never done that before in my life. It was a good thing we had a night game. I stuck my head out in the hall way to see if the coast was clear and quickly went into the bathroom, shaved, showered, and rushed back into my room to dress. I got down stairs and found Becky at the kitchen table.

“Hey, sleepy-head,” she said smiling. “Can I make you something to eat,” she offered.

“Oh, I can’t ask you to do that,” I reply. “I think I’ll just head over to the diner and get a quick bit and see Gloria anyway.”

“Would you mind if I tag along,” asked Becky? “I’ll try and not get in the way,” she added with a wink.

“You are more than welcome to come,” I said with a big smile. “Let’s go.”

We head out to my car and go over to the diner. When we get inside Gloria rushed over to us and nearly knocks Becky to the floor. They hug, twirling around in a circle like a couple of school girls. You would have thought no one else was in the diner. Maybe we weren’t.

“Billy, where did find this little girl,” asked Gloria? “Was she hitch-hiking or something?”

“No, Dave picked her up Thursday at college to come home for this weekend,” I reply. “They got home earlier than we thought. Once Bob gets here the family will be all back together.”

“I think you and Billy being together is just great,” says Becky. “How do you get so lucky and get all the handsome ones, anyway?”

Gloria looks at me with a warm smile that only she could give. “I am very lucky,” she says to Becky with all the sincerity she could muster. “I am luckier than you’ll ever know. I think this one’s a keeper, what do you think?”

“I think you are right,” said Becky with a big smile. “If you throw this one back I’m taking him, so you better hold on tight.”

Gloria come over to me and puts her arms around my neck and warmly whispers in my ear, “I’m never letting you go Bill Alan, never.” She gives a warm kiss on the cheek.

“You guys want something to eat,” asks Gloria? “Come sit over here and I get some menus for you.”

We follow our orders and make our choices. We eat a nice lunch with Becky filling me on some other bits of Lollar info I was unaware of. I finally realize it is after 2:30pm and excuse myself as I need to get ready for the game tonight. I kiss Becky on the cheek and thank her for a nice time and give Gloria a warm kiss before I leave.

“Knock’m dead tonight Billy,” yells Mel from back in the kitchen. “The pressures on to go 4 and 0 tonight you know.”

“Thanks, Mel, I really needed you to remind me,” I shot back. “Don’t worry, I don’t think I’ll give up more than 10 runs, but with our hitting we should win 15 to 10 anyway. See Ya.”

With that I am out the door and hop into my car and head out to the ball park. It seemed too early to go the park, but I was getting to nervous just to sit around anymore. I went out to the mall and just walked around for over an hour. I left and went over to the local stereo shop, Distortion Limited, and asked the salesman if I could just look around. He said no problem, but asked me to come into one room they had set up, strictly 2-channel stereo, and my kind of room. I didn’t really care for this new surround-sound that many were calling: surround-a-clown. Pretty funny. My dad had all tube McIntosh audio gear that sounded so good to me. His collection of vinyl was to die for. It was mine now along with his old Thorens 125 turntable with an SME 309 arm on it. The old Shure Type III cartridge still sounded OK to me, but then…

Then Walter, the sales guy, took me in this room and showed me this new SME model 10 turntable with this stunning open plinth. It looked like something out of NASA. I could see my face in the side of the platter that was so thick. He took out Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue LP and it was all over for me. He let me know that it sounded so good partly because of the
Acous-Tech Phono Stage that it played through and that it probably cost more than my Dad’s old turntable rig by itself. The cartridge was an Ortofon Kontrapunct B, a grand by itself. I knew then how much I missed home and listening to records with my Dad. I told him I’d be back. It was time for me to get something to listen to for my self. I put his business card into my wallet that I somehow new was going to much thinner very shortly.

In the locker room the guys were getting dressed slowly and milling around, shooting the breeze. Some were walking around in the sanitary hose, stirrups, pants on but jerseys opened. Some were drinking juice or water. I move over to my locker and began taking off my shirt when I feel a tapping on my shoulder. It was Reggie.

“Good luck tonight,” said Reggie. “I don’t want to jinx you or anything, but have a great game tonight.”

“Thanks Reggie,” I reply, “but don’t worry about any jinx. I don’t believe in jinxes any way. Just don’t tell Bolton as we don’t want to burst his bubble about his eliminating the Voodoo curse from the team. He needs to know he has something to do with this team’s winning.” We both start laughing.

Reggie slaps me on the back. “You’re really something, man, you know,” he says laughing as he walks away.

As I sat down red stuck his head out of the office. There was the usually noise floating around the room, so Red spoke loudly.

“Alan, after you get dressed come into my office,” he said in a business like fashion. A chorus of “OOOOOZZZZZ” when out like I was told to go into the Principal’s office at grade school.

I nodded that I would. I got dressed a little quicker than I normally would have, curious about what Red wanted.

“Bill, sit down,” Red instructed. “I just got a call from Doc Martin and the final results from the autopsy, double checked by the staff at Yale. They were right; Curtain had enough cocaine in him to kill a horse. The town and State Police are going to work together on the case. They want to find out where he got the cocaine, who sold it to him, and if any Pirate players are involved. I talked to Skip McCormick half an hour ago. He told me he had no idea anyone on his team was doing drugs. They do random, independent testing just like we do, but never turned up anything before. He said he would have never suspected Curtain anyway. The team is staying right here in town for a few days. Their game will be made up at the end of the season if they need them. They started interviewing every player on the Pirates this morning. What I am telling you is his death is not your fault at all. He should have never made it to the mound or pitched as long as he did. He was a walking time bomb and you just happened to be around when he went off. The Police will get to the bottom of this. The drug dealers are the ones who killed him. His doctor at home should have pushed the issue of Curtain telling his family about the tumor. His own fear killed him.”

“Don’t worry about me, Red,” I state. “I’m alright with it now. I still feel bad for Sharon Curtain and the family. Keep me posted on anything else you hear. Are the Curtains still taking the body back to Vermont tomorrow?”

“As far as I know,” replied Red. “I didn’t hear about them wanting to keep the family here any longer. How do you feel about tonight?”

“I feel good skip,” I offer. I feel good. I slept until after 1pm today. I never thought I could get that tired in my life. I guess this has been one hectic weekend.”

“Good luck tonight,” said Red. “I know you’ll do well. Now, get out of here and let me get some work done, will ya? You might want to address the team with what we know just to stop any crazy rumors that may start.”

Red give me a big smile as I get up and head out the door, back to my locker. Red sticks his head out of his office and addresses the team.

“Boys, Billy has something he wants to tell you,” he announces.

I stand up on the chair from my locker. I glance around the room as the players wait for me to say something.

“We learned today the Chuck Curtain, the Pirate pitcher that died, had a massive brain tumor. He and his doctor kept it a secret from everyone including Chuck’s wife. He refused numerous attempts by his doctor to seek treatment and testing or even consider surgery. The autopsy revealed that it was not cancerous and most likely operable. Worse, they found a huge amount of cocaine in his system and a major investigation is forthcoming as to how and where he got the drugs. Because of this we are all going to come under more scrutiny, even us, and every team in this league. I don’t know many of you well, yet. I want to ask you that if anyone is using drugs now, please stop, see Red and get some help. You will want to come forward now rather than be found-out. Red has an open-door policy. Take advantage of it before it is too late, like it was for Curtain. His manager had no reason to suspect him or anyone. This is a very sad day for the Pirate Organization all the way up the chain. We owe it to each other to care enough to help our teammates. I can sense what a special team this is. Let’s not blow it. I guess that’s about it.”

I get down from my chair as the players go silently back to their lockers and finish getting dressed. A hush fills the normally lively locker room. The room remains silent. I hear red clear his throat behind. I think the silence got to Red.

“Gentlemen,” said Red. “I know this may be unsettling to you, but we still have a game to play, Bill’s first pro-start tonight. He’s going to need great performances out of each of you tonight to get through it. Try and stay loose, just like we’ve been the last three games we’ve played so well in. Jones you are on your own again tonight. Get on often and run like the wind. I think will try some more hit and run tonight, especially after the third inning if the game is close. We may have to manufacture some runs tonight. Smart base running and timely hitting wind most games, not so hopped up strategy. Play good defense and throw to the right base from the outfield. I hear this Cub team is much improved. OK, Boys, let get ready to go get’em.”

The spirit of the team picked up a little, but was still mulling over all I said. Who ever said baseball was a simple game played by men with a lot of little boy in the them wasn’t around to se the game today. Complicated men have made the game complicated now. Maybe it is more about survival than success. I needed some success tonight. I was looking for my life to get simpler. Maybe after next week it could.