Copyright© 2015 by Bill Offutt
"Hey Bud," the old coach yelled one Saturday, "I see you sittin' over there, hiding from me."
Bud smiled and got himself up off the hillside and walked down to shake the man's hand while he took a break from hitting fungoes to the outfielders.
"Here," he said, handing Bud the skinny bat, "you can do this for a while. I got to check on the umpires, they're late again."
Bud started skying high flies around the outfield, going from left to right and making all the fielders do some running. By the time the coach returned, scorebook in hand, he had worked up a sweat. "Bring 'em in," the man said, "they finally got here. How 'bout you keeping score for me. Sit on the end of the bench. You never did that much when you were in school. My student-manager's playing hooky or something."
So Bud sat beside the players; some knew him since he was only a year older than the seniors. He kept a neat scorebook and tallied it up after the seven innings were over.
"Thanks," the coach said, smacking him on the shoulder, "how's you like to come by and work with the pitchers and catchers a few days?"
"Sure, yes sir, have to talk to my boss, you still practice three-thirty to five-thirty?'
"Yep," the man said, pushing his hat up on his balding head. "I'll try to get you a stipend if you can do it regular; my assistant done quit last week. Goin' in the army."
"All right, I'd like that," Bud said. "See y'Monday, I hope."
"Less it rains," the coach said. "You still got your hat?'
Bud worked it out with his boss at the body shop to come in an hour early some days so he could leave early and go work with the baseball team. The coach tapped the slush fund the athletic department had accumulated during basketball season to pay Bud a dollar a day for his efforts, which was almost as much as he was making at his regular job, especially since he didn't have to pay tax on it.
Bud brought Jeanne and their new baby to the games when they were played at home, and the baby became a favorite of the boys and the high school fans. Jeanne wore a big, floppy straw hat and put a baseball cap over her infant to shade him from the sun. Bud never told her he was being paid for his work, and most of those unreported dollars ended up in the till of the Dew Drop Inn or in the bosom of one of the accommodating Winsor girls.
By the next fall, when Jeanne was pregnant again, Bud became a regular employee of the high school as an assistant coach and started having to keep track of his hours. His pay rose to seventy-five cents an hour, but he had social security deducted from each bi-weekly paycheck.
One rainy day that fall when it was too wet for the football team to practice, the old coach sat in his cluttered office and had a long talk with his popular assistant.
"You could do this for a living, you know," the man said.
Bud nodded. "I'd like to."
"But you'll have to go back to school, get your degree and your teaching certificate."
"I've got a wife and kid and another on the way," Bud said. "I can't do that."
"Junior college has night courses; you could make a start, see if you can hack it." The man chewed on his ever-present dead cigar.
'Wish I could, coach, damn if I don't, but I don't see how."
"Maybe your folks could help, lend you some money."
"Her folks might, but they're already paying for our apartment, forty a month."
The man rubbed his bristled chin and shook his head. "You should a'stayed in school. Damn shame."