Slowly, the stadium started filling in around me. Some of the regulars on the 2016 edition of the Seraperos would trot onto the field in little clumps of two or three or four.
They'd go for light runs, like I was doing, from foul pole to foul pole on the dusty, not-yet-watered-down outfield warning track. Or they’d play a rapid, Spanish game of pepper, which is faster and more aggressive than the style we played up north. Fielding sharply hit ground balls more in the manner of dodging the thrust of a rapier than handling a bounding ball. Or they’d arrange themselves in far-apart triangles and play long, looping games of catch, slowly, slowly, slowly loosening their strong sinewy wings for the day ahead.
After a while, the grounds crew brought out a small podium on the green grass half-way between the pitcher’s rubber and home plate. It was from there the VIPs would conduct their ceremonies and their tributes to ballplayers past, most-especially, Hector Quesadilla, who had managed the club for 34 years and led the Seraperos to their first League championship, winning it all twenty years earlier in 1996.
Issy Buentello showed up as did Guilliermo Sisto. I played catch—gingerly, with Issy, protecting my torn right rotator, but still trying to loosen my wing enough so I could make, with some snap, the long throw from third to first. Sisto stood by me—85 years old—and mostly kibitzed, though occasionally he’d cut in front of me like an NFL cornerback and intercept a lazy toss from Buentello.
I saw Teresa in a Seraperos-green matching outfit on the field with some officials from the club and I jogged over and kissed her good-morning. It was now 90 minutes before the game and the stands, on a perfect Mexican summer’s day, were beginning to fill with eager fans. The officials from the club went over with Teresa the choreography of the morning; she was to present the ‘Hector Quesadilla’ cup to one of the current Seraperos who, in 2015, had led the Mexican League in doubles, triples and stolen bases.
In the stands, behind the Seraperos dugout, I saw, in a white dress, like the first time I saw her, the serene beauty of Karmen. I thought back to 1975 when I saw her and I wished, more than usual, that I was 17 again.
The flags were flying. Electronic music was playing, too loud if you ask me, on a hundred speakers and the Delfines de Cuidad del Carmen were hustling us Seraperos off the field so they could warm up and take batting practice.
There’s nothing like the frenzy and activity and nerves and laughter and hope of the hour before a game is to begin. I suppose it’s like working Mission Control for a space launch. It’s excitement, and fear, hope, and, even, dread.
I hustled back to the locker room with Issy and Sisto trailing behind, to change into my Seraperos uniform. We laughed and jogged and jogged and laughed.
The game was about to begin.
Just a game.
And a meaningless one at that.
But that’s ok.
It was the only game we had.