In about a month I will be in Saltillo, Mexico, in uniform, playing in my first-ever juegos de viejos. I got home Friday night, late again, and my doorman gave me an oversized envelope that was too big to fit in my undersized mail slot.
It was from the team, with a hand-written note from the manager, Juan Jose Pacho. Friday evening, May 29th, will be a comidas de veteranos--the veteran's dinner. Then Saturday at 1:15PM before a 2:30 game against the Rieleros de Aquascalientes--the Railroaders, we'll play ball for about an hour.
Sunday, again against Aquascalientes, there will be a day in Tribute to Hector Quesadilla before a twilight twin-bill. Pacho said that over 200 former Seraperos will be there to honor the man and a monument will be placed in a grassy little area they call monument park in left-centerfield. The club will also unveil a life-sized bronze statue of Quesadilla outside of Estadio de Beisbol Francisco I. Madero, where Quesadillo spent over six decades playing and managing.
I'd be lying if I said that the upcoming game wasn't sending shivers up my spine and down my torn right rotator cuff. It's been forty years, literally, since I played competitively. While my wife is afraid I'll permanently damage my as-yet unoperated upon shoulder, I'm afraid I'll have a throw to make from third and bounce the ball around the pitcher's mound.
The last thing I want is 16,000 avid Mexican fans laughing at an old, fat Americano who, in the words of the great Ring Lardner, 'shoulda stood in bed.'
With that in mind, and my wife out of town for the weekend, I woke up early, found my old, worn, Vesuvian-dust-encrusted Brooks Robinson fielder's glove and headed over to Modell's, the last sporting goods shop in the neighborhood, and bought a dozen baseballs. Then, I headed over to Central Park where I figured I could find someone with whom to have a catch. The Yorkville Spring Baseball League is starting, I supposed, and there must be some pity in the world for a viejos looking not to embarrass himself.
I found--at field three on the Great Lawn--I had played there in 1973 and hit two doubles against a strong Collegiate squad, a group of yellow-t-shirted ninth-graders waiting for their team to arrive.
"Anyone for a catch," I asked to the gaggle, motioning to the bucket of balls I had dragged with me.
Two long-banged mops stepped forward and we made an isosceles and threw the ball around. My shoulder hurt like it was twisted backward, and in-between throws, it burned. However, I caught what they threw and looped the ball back with a lazy trajectory. I was too fearful to bring my arm down and put some zip on it.
Like I said, not only have I not thrown a ball with intent for forty years, my shoulder is crying out for the surgeon's laser.
After about 20 minutes the rest of the yellow-t-shirt team showed up, as did 15 or 20 red t-shirts. And my catch-mate victims headed off, politely with a handshake and a wave. Soon two fat umpires appeared too, as did the requisite moms with strollers and dads, like me, wishing they were again young.
I watched the yellows versus the reds for another hour, my shoulder still throbbing and burning. It was time to go. The still cold Spring was wreaking havoc on my right wing and I headed home.
I left the bucket of balls by the yellow-t's bench.
I figured they could get more use out of them than I.