After about a month in the Mexican Baseball League, manning the esquina caliente--the hot corner, for the Seraperos de Saltillo, I hit a rough patch.
I had been hitting in the mid-.300s, with decent power and it looked, however feebly, that I might perhaps have more of a career in baseball than I had imagined. Even more than I imagined after I had eight or a dozen beers in me.
Hector Quesadilla--the Seraperos' legendary manager had great faith in me. That boosted my confidence. I was seeing the ball as big as a grapefruit, just chugging to the plate, waiting to be smacked.
Then it happened.
I went a game without whacking the pill. Nothing unusual in that. It happens all the time. That's why DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak was so notable. Everybody, even the greatest players, have a game or two every so often where they fail to get good wood on the ball. Or fail to hit the ball safely. Others have games filled with hard luck. They hit the ball well, but right at people.
In any event, I went 0 for 4 a second game, then a third game in a row.
Before I knew it, I was 0 for an entire week.
"Tal vez deberia sentarme yo abajo," I said to Quesdadilla. "Maybe you should sit me down."
"No," he answered, "Le diste en su manera de salir de ella." You hit your way out of it, he said.
So, I kept playing. And I kept 0-for-fouring.
I tried everything. I pulled my bat further back. I moved my hands further forward. I moved in on the plate. Out from the plate. Up in the box and back in the box. I shortened my swing and crouched like Minnie Minoso. I stood up tall and swung from my heels like Willie McCovey.
One afternoon, as I was in the middle of my 0-for-streak, I even tried to bunt my way on from the left side of the plate, figuring with my speed, a decent bunt and two fewer steps to first might do the trick. No dice. I was chucked out by a step and a half.
In the beginning of my 0-for slump, I was at least hitting the ball with some authority, hitting it hard. But along the way, as I tweaked and tinkered, I pretty much stopped making anything but cursory contact.
I'd hit a soft grounder to second, or pop up to their backstop. I struck out. Swinging and missing.
My batting average was falling like a runaway elevator. And all the while, Quesadilla kept me in the line-up, saying, as he said, "Le diste en su manera de salir de ella." Hit your way out of it.
Nearing the end of three weeks my batting average was approaching what baseball people call "the Mendoza Line," that is, a mark of batting futility named for a journeyman infielder from the 1970s called Mario Mendoza. Worse, I was afraid they'd come up with new jargon: The Navidad Nexus--when a player fails to hit his weight.
I weighed in at 190 in those slimmer days, and my batting average was headed to those lowly climes. The hits kept not coming. And Quesadilla kept saying "Le diste en su manera de salir de ella." But I wasn't hitting my way out of it. I was stinking up the place.
It's not a pleasant thing in any profession when you're confidence gets a one-way ticket to Terry Malloy's Palookaville. But that's what happened to me. I was the Old Man and the Sea. He went 84 days without a fish. His life was over. Even the boy who was always by his side had left him.
I went 19 games without a hit. 76 at bats. I had started my slump batting .355 and as I approached my 20th game, I was batting a plebeian .219.
I grabbed a bat a walked to the plate.
Hector called from the dugout in English. "Put good wood on the ball."
I forgot about all the adjustments I had gone through in the previous 19 games. I just went up to bat. "Put good wood on the ball," I repeated to myself.
And I did.
I hit a line drive off the wall--actually through the wall--in left-center. The ball cracked the wooden fence and stayed there. A grounds-rule double. My first hit in 19 games.
From there on, things returned relatively to normal. I started hitting again, my average began to reverse its descent as did my confidence. I had hit my way out of it, as we usually do when we're mired in a slump. When we can't put wood on the ball. Can't do the job we want to do.
Even today, when I'm stuck on something, I look over to an imaginary bench. I see Hector there, calm and Buddha like.
"Le diste en su manera de salir de ella."