As soon as I got back to the Quinta Real, I decided that the hotel was no place for me. I had left el Estadio rashly, I berated myself. I should have hung in there and batting practiced until it was having some positive effect,
So rather than crash in my room or grab some lunch, I hailed another beaten Toyota and headed back to the field. Once again I stripped down and suited up.
This time, however, instead of waiting my turn in official batting practice I found a young pitcher on the Saraperos, a 21-year-old righty named Misael Verduzco and offered him $50 to throw for me for an hour.
We set up a net backstop and he threw gently. I smacked them back, doing little more making contact, trying to get my eye back, trying to waken my dormant eye-hand coordination.
Verduzco was a machine, tossing in strike after strike. I smacked and smacked, swinging little half strokes. Every fifteen minutes or so, we'd take a break and fetch the balls I had smacked around the grass. Then we'd go again. Verduzco grooving them, me slowly getting both my timing and some semblance of a swing back.
After what must have been 150 pitches my torn rotator screamed and I had had enough. If I stunk up the juegos de viejos now, at least it wouldn't be for lack of trying. But just for good measure, I went to the Saraperos cage again and again waited my turn behind two kids. When it came my turn, the intricacies that weren't working before were working now. My bat was high, my weight shifted, my elbow stayed away from my ribcage. Pitches would come in and just as quick or quicker, I'd spray the orb around, hitting a fair degree of imaginary basehits and a double or two. For the last ten pitches I decided to see if I could summon my old man strength and hit one into the stands. I took ten massive cuts and ten times I hit major league pop-ups, nothing longer than it was high. But that's ok I said to myself. Come game time tomorrow, I'd be focused on getting good wood on the ball, not hitting the benches black with people.
Next I went to third, el esquina caliente to see if I could field my place. A coach fungoed grounder after grounder to me, and I fielded the ones close by with some dexterity. My arm, which had deserted me after a foosh (fall on out-stretched hand) injury seemed to have come back to life. No longer was I lobbing the ball across the diamond, between my adrenaline and my gradual healing I was able to snap my throws to first.
I was still no Brooks Robinson, but my fears of playing like I had clown feet and a straight-jacketed arm had dissipated.
Toward the end of my short fielding stint at third, Buentello and Diablo came over to rag me. I fielded a shag to my right, back-handing a grass-cutting, taking a hop step and throwing across my body a strike to first.
"Bueno," I said.
I saw the wind leave them.
"Bueno," they admitted.
I was ready for the game.