You're not, they tell me, supposed to take a Juegos de Viejos very seriously, but I did.
I wasn't drunk like some of the boys and I wasn't horsing around like some baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters. Maybe because I had played just one season in the league, I had more to prove. Maybe because I had laid-off the game so assiduously since 1975, I had to do more than show up. Maybe I felt some touch of god, being back where Hector, mi padre Mexicano had toiled so long had had an effect on me.
Whatever the case I ran out and took my position at third like I meant it. And when the first batted ball of the game came my way, I hopped to my left, picked the ball clean off the grass and nailed the runner with a step or two to spare.
How was that, Hector?
The second ball came my way, too. It was a slow roller down the line. I was able to pick it up barehanded, twist and throw their trotting fat man out by a yard and a half.
We disposed of their third batter as well. Our man on the mound, Celerino "Chile" Gomez, a tall righthander had thrown well. I kibitzed with him on the way to the Saraperos dugout. "You're pitching better now than forty years ago," I told him. "And you are fielding better," he shot back.
We went down one, two, three as well, though Garibay, our best hitter back in 1975, sent a high fastball to the warning track. That got the crowd on their feet, but in the end, nothing.
If you don't know the players, or the league, an old-timers' game is about as interesting as your ex-girlfriend's high school reunion. This one quickly degenerated into a slugfest. Their first guy up in the second, got a Gomez curve--a hanging curve--that landed in the seats in right-center. I caught a foul pop for out one, then they scored two more before Narcisco Elvira, a lefty in for Gomez in relief retired their last batter with something that looked like an eephus pitch. That one handed a laugh to all of the boys playing and sent some of that laughter through the crowd.
We returned to our dugout down three-zip, hoping to make some back during our ups. Our manager for the afternoon, Juan Rodriguez, the Saraperos' regular helmsman started with the chatter we had heard all our lives. "Let's get something going. Let's make contact. Couple hits and we're back in this." Most of the boys ignored his cheering and went on scratching and chewing, either tobacco or sunflower seeds.
Buentello, batting fourth, hit a towering pop-up behind first base that in a normal game, the first-baseman could have caught in his pocket, but in a juegos de viejos, it fell in and Buentello, all 300 drunken pounds of him was safe at first. Aranjo was sent into run and quickly, or not so quickly to be precise, stole second, the whole stadium chuckling at his base-running legerdemain.
My ups, I took a pitch to get a look and then swung late and hit an assertive ground ball between first and second. It would have been an out in any high-school game in the country, but I was safely on first and Aranjo advanced to third.
"Brutus" Cesar came up and Rodriguez gave Aranjo and me the sign for a double steal. I went first and their catcher bounced his peg to second as Aranjo, still speedy I might add, scampered home, stealing our first run.
In total, we scored three in our half of the second, knotting the contest in a tie. We went back and forth like this for three or four more silly ups and downs. We were even--8 to 8 or something like it, when the umpires called the game. It's best when these things end inconsequentially. By leaving no one disappointed, everyone is.
We felt pretty good in the locker-room, and Buentello and Barojas opened a case of cheap Mexican champagne they had bought and we celebrated like we had won what Ring Lardner's rook would have called the World Serious. We all had a little of the rotten wine, dressed and went into our seats right behind the Saraperos' dugout to watch the scheduled game, the Saraperos against the Rieleros de Aquacalientes, the Railroaders.
In all, it was a fun afternoon.
I got what the great scorekeeper would call was a base-hit and I fielded my position without an error.
How was that, Hector?