I arrived in the lobby like I said I would, at ten this morning, hoping that one of the boys—the 60-year-old boys would show up. But as I expected, no one did.
That’s ok, I figured. I’d taking a lot of batting practice in my time, and for me, it’s something of a solitary affair. I really didn’t need the ragging I was sure to receive, neither did I need the advice.
I took a beaten Toyota truck—a pick up with two wooden benches bolted into the bed, the two point seven miles to Estadio de Beisbol Francesco I. Madura. I had thought about running the distance, but for the last year, I’ll start running tomorrow. Tomorrow may or may not come. My heart hopes it does. But for now, the will of my beaten knees is prevailing.
The locker-room hadn’t changed much since I left. It was still a jumble of equipment scattered here and there and inspirational posters of Mexican stars, or Mexican-American stars who had made it into the big leagues. There was also a poster of Hector Quesadilla hanging above the guest locker that I took.
“Hector,” I said to the poster. “I’ve come back for you.” Hector smiled at me blankly, but I knew he heard.
I put on a pair of padded shorts—the padding protecting my hind-quarters in case I had to slide, but the likelihood of me sliding was about the same as Hector answering my salutation. I tied up my spikes and trotted (trying not to run like a fat man) through the cinder-block tunnel to the greensward.
There’s something magical about seeing the green, seeing the stands, seeing the flags and bunting. My blood still gets up like a mountain river when the melt’s on. There were a few Saraperos bouncing about the field. A couple hurlers throwing loosely to catchers on the sidelines. There were a few outfielders shagging in the nether regions. And an infielder or two was picking bad hops out of the turf.
There was a short line at the backstop waiting for batting practice and I joined it and tried kibitzing with the 19-year-old Saraperos. No dice. “El Abuelo,” one called me—jocularly, I suppose. And another called me “El Viejo.” The grandfather. The old one.
This is exactly as I feared. These were two kids, one long, strong and sinewy, the other short and heavy. One of them would surely laugh at me.
“I was a Sarapero back before you were born,” I said by wait of introduction. “My name is Jorge Navidad. One season. .277 and 13 homeruns. Hector Quesadilla was my manager and my mentor.”
“Jorge Navidad,” the tall one said. “Un amigo de Generalissimo Hector.”
“No,” I answered. “Su hijo Americano.”
Age before beauty and all that, the young men encouraged me to bat ahead of them. I picked up some wood, the lightest bat I could find, figuring I couldn’t get around on a teenager.
“Facil,” I shouted to the arm who was tossing BP. “Soy un veterano.”
The kid on the hill grooved one in. I swung and nobbed it into the dust. He grooved another. I did my best to remember how to hit. But remembering how and doing it are two different animals. I kept my elbow up and away from my ribs. I held my hands high. I leaned back and shifted my considerable girth forward. Again I hit the ball on my hands, a nibbler down third base.
I got 20 pitches in all and hit not one of them good. No matter what adjustments I tried to make, no matter what coach I heard in my ear, the flesh was not willing.
By this time, it was almost noon now, Buentello and Diablo showed up. They were already in their cups. They took their swats and couldn’t do much more than I. By the time they were done, there was a new kid on the mound and I went up again.
“Facil,” I said again.
The kid took pity on me and threw a grapefruit, up where my power used to be. I swatted at it and struck the ball on the label of the bat and muscled it into the outfield just past second base. That was enough for me.
I showered, dressed and walked back to the Quinta Real.
I was beginning to dread this.