Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Squint" Quinones in the Mexican League.

I got a call last night at nine, just as I entered my still-being-renovated apartment. It was German "Squint" Quinones, a pitcher on the Seraperos whom I played with in the Mexican League 40 years ago. 

Squint was in transit, from Mexico City, where he lived, to Boston, to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where he played AAA ball for four seasons before giving up the ghost. The Pawtucket squad was having a reunion--a Juegos de Viejos--before they closed the old ball park for good and had invited back every player who ever wore the Pawtucket flannels.

We met at a little bar down the block from me, Bailey's Corner, a suitably dim place without too many hipsters and too much noise. After downing a Leinenkugel or two, Squint and I were decently lubricated and began, as old men do, to talk about old times, back to the when the right-hander first appeared for the Seraperos.

We had our usual line-up that night. After playing a week in right, with a rookie filling in for me at third, because Bonilla was out with a hamstring, I was back at the hot corner. 

“Brutus” Cesar, CF                .308  4   47
Arnulfo Adame, 2B                .277  2   40
Daniel Garibay, LF                .293  20 103
Salome Rojas, 1B                 .262  22  91
Jorge Navidad, 3B                .287  11  73
Clemente Bonilla, RF            .252   8   44
Isael Buentello, C                  .244  13  65
Angel Diablo, SS                   .217  0    19
German Quinones, RHP         0-0  0.00

I'll admit, I didn't mind my six or seven games way out in right. But playing out there is not the game I signed up for. 

You don't think, maybe, of ballplayers being lonely in the field, but it is, in right anyway, a sort of no-man's land. It's not unusual to go three innings or four without a ball hit in your direction. And aside from a desultory backing up of first base lest an errant throw escape the leather of Salome Rojas, there just wasn't that much to do.

What's more, you are too far away to participate in an activity I excelled in, that of infield chatter. I could gab with the best of them and, once I learned the lingo, argue with umps, insult batters and their mothers in gutter Spanish and, in general, make a bi-lingual nuisance of myself. There was none of that out in right.

I'd read, of course, in "The Catcher in the Rye," how Allie, Holden's Hollywood older brother had written poems on his glove to memorize while stationed on the greensward. But I wasn't about to scribble John Donne on my Rawlings, no matter how often and for whom my bell was tolling.

We had a new pitcher on the mound that night who had come up from a lower level of the Mexican League, having, we heard, lit up the dusty little town he pitched for with a wicked speedster and an unorthodox delivery.

As he took his pre-game tosses, we infielders gathered around. No one else was yet in the ballpark, it was just us Saraperos, playing ball and warming up.

German Quinones wore cerveza-bottle thick glasses and was throwing loosely, almost gently to the plate. Nonetheless, and seemingly without effort, his fastball cracked in Buentello's mitt. The man had stuff.

"Toss something hard," Hector told him. And Quinones kicked his left leg high in the air and leaned back to put something extra on the pitch. Buentello caught the strike, then stood up and walked to the mound.

"It's good," he said. "He is fast."

We left the mound area, went to the locker room and generally goofed off until it was game time. There's so much waiting time when you're a ball player. Waiting for the ball to come your way. Waiting for your ups. Waiting for the game to start. Waiting for it to end. Most of all, waiting to for the bumpy bus ride into another too sunny town to be over so we could wait around for yet another game.

The game began and Quinones did something I've never seen before or since. As Buentello entered his crouch, Quinones took off his lid, wiped clean his thick lenses and squinted into the stocky backstop's mitt. He looked for all intents and purposes like a latter day Mexican Mr. Magoo on the hill, as if he couldn't see the 60-feet 6-inches from the slab to the plate. Once he squinted for a good five seconds, he let go of his hard one. It sailed a good six feet over the head of a leaping Buentello and into the stands.

All of Quinones' warm-ups went this way. He was firing like a blind man with a rifle, squinting with each pitch into Buentello's crouch.

Buentello went out to calm his rookie nerves, but Quinones calmed him down instead.

"They call me 'Squint' he said. "Soy practiamente ciego." I am practically blind, if anyone asks.

The game began and the first batter stepped in. Quinones wound and knocked the straw hat off a woman sitting in the stands eight feet down the third-base line. Then he came back with a fastball right down the center of the plate. Then came another mis-guided missile, this one almost decapitating the umpire.

Finally, after three walks and two conferences on the mound, Squint began finding Buentello with some regularity. In fact, he struck out six of the next nine batters, the other three grounding out harmlessly. In between throwing strikes, Squint mixed in a pitch now and then that went 20 feet over someone's head, or into the opposing team's dugout, or would plunk the opposing batsman on the square of his back.

Squint went on like this for about six weeks, scaring the crap out of the other teams because of his bad eyesight, erratic control and blazing fastball. He was striking out dozens and gaining wins.

After those six weeks, Squint had moved to second in our rotation behind the Seraperos' perennial all-star, Tito Puente. He was, if memory serves, something like 6 and 2.

But eventually it caught up with him.

We were playing a three-game set down in Campeche, all night games, which left us nothing to do all day. Squint headed out to the racetrack to bet on the ponies and at the racetrack one or a couple of the Piratas de Campeche spotted him.

They saw him sans specs,  reading the small type of the Racing Form. They saw him following his horses around the track. All without squinting, all without his blind man's glasses. Word quickly got around. Squint could see.

From that day forward, Squint's squint scared no one. He still had good stuff, but once the opposing batsmen were no longer afraid of being beaned and maybe killed by an errant pitch, Squint's edge was gone.

Squint began to be hit and eventually fell back in the rotation, ultimately becoming a little-used reliever.

Squint and I talked about old times for a couple hours, until it was time for him to cab to LaGuardia to make his flight to Boston.

The drinks were on me.

Squint couldn't see his way to paying.

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