Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Old and young in the Mexican League.

When Guillermo Sisto joined the Seraperos in late August of 1975, he probably wasn’t slated to get much playing time.

He was already 43 years old—ancient for a ballplayer in that era—and he had already played for a record number of teams throughout the Mexican bushes, 50 in fact spread over 28 seasons as a pro.

Hector had him pegged to fill in here and there. An extra coach on the bench, an extra arm coming out of the bullpen, or an extra bat to pinch hit for a struggling regular or for a jolt during a close game.

What Hector hadn’t counted on was how there always seemed to be a regular player who had a pulled this or a strained that. Or who was hung-over, or dizzy or just tired from playing too many games in too few days.

I’ll be honest, we played a lot of day games in those days. And playing through the heat of a Mexican summer was no siesta. The sun was strong, the temperatures often triple-digits. A game took a lot out of you and it took plenty of pollo y cerveza to once again fill up your tank.

In any event, Guillermo Sisto became our regular irregular. Hector stuck him wherever he needed a plug. One game he might be filling in for Adame at second who had an ankle. The next game, he might be on the mound to get one tough batter out. The next day, he might be a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield.

To see Sisto after—or even before—a game you had little idea he was a functioning ballplayer. He often walked like a cheap aluminum chaise lounge unfolded. Moving, cranking, jerking, creaking. But when the game started, Sisto’s muscle memory kicked in and he moved with the fluidity of a big fish.

Though I was the youngest on the Seraperos and Sisto was the oldest, though I was playing my first season and Sisto was playing his 28th, though I was on my only team and Sisto was on his 50th, our lockers abutted each other and he became my second second father, after Hector.

We spent hours, as ballplayers do, sitting on low wooden benches and either getting dressed for a game or undressed after one. Sisto in his quiet sotto voce way would tell me what he’d seen and learned and done along the way.

He would stare into the deep of his glove and spit into the pocket, rubbing the wet deep into the leather.

“You must be like the feather of a bird,” he would say. “You must be ready to fly at any moment.”

Or he would be lacing up his cleats.

“Today,” he would say, “I will lace not so tight because I will be running around the bases. I will be ready to round second and slide into third.”

“Today,” a rainy day, “my right shoulder will be rubbed with extra liniment.”

One night, all the other players had left the locker-room. We had lost a squeaker—had lost six out of our last seven—and the mood on the team was bad. The locker-room was so empty, you could hear the drip drip drip from the overhead plumbing.

I was just about dressed and about to head back to my room in Hector and Teresa’s house, where Karmen would be waiting for me.

It was then, Sisto taught me all I needed to know about playing ball and, yeah, about life.

Sisto sat there on the pine in front of his locker in a tee-shirt and his shorts. He was rubbing neat’s foot oil from an old can into his glove.

He rubbed the ointment deep into the dark leather. He spit into the trench of the pocket. He hammered his fist into his glove and spit again.

“Tomorrow, I will be ready,” he said. “Tomorrow, I will be ready.”

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