Occasionally during the long, hot summer of 1975, the Saraperos de Saltillo would hold a special “day” at Estadio Francesco I. Madura. Most often these days, or nights, would resemble those held in the majors. There’d be a cap day where fans under 12 would be given a free lid. Or there’d be a ladies day, where distaff acolytes would need pay half price for admission.
In the mid-70s, baseball attendance was slipping and clubs tried all sorts of tactics to keep fans coming in through the turnstiles. The Chicago White Sox, for instance, held in 1979, something called “Disco Demolition Night.” They expected 25,000 fans would show up to see thousands of vinyl records blown-up. They drew instead twice that number and wound up having to forfeit the second game of their scheduled double-header when the drunken fans started Frisbee-ing records onto the field and eventually rioted.
Nothing that madcap happened when I played for the Saraperos, though I suppose their “Noche de los Toros” came close.
I’m not sure how popular bullfighting is now in Mexico, but forty years ago, bullfights would routinely sell out stadiums seating 100,000 people or more. The Sarperos decided to capitalize on that popularity by holding a Night of the Bulls.
Before our night’s game, they set up a small bullring in the center of the diamond. Our guest for the evening was one of Mexico’s most famous matadors, the Pride of Guadalupe and three-time winner of the coveted “Golden Sword” award, the little giant, Eloy Cavazos.
Eloy presided over a short bull-fighting exhibition in which neither he nor the bull were wounded, a good thing.
Next was the part that perhaps will strain credulity.
There was a celebrity bull in attendance called “El Rapido.” He had earned the reputation of being the “el toro más rápido en todo México,” that is, ‘the fastest bull in all of Mexico.
Hector came to me, “How does this sound? ‘El Rapido versus Jorge Navidad’?Man versus toro in an epic battle.”
“There’s no bullfighter in me,” I said, picking up a bat and getting ready to protect myself..
“Not bullfighter,” Hector said. “Bull racer. You against El Rapido—30 yards, from home to first.”
“A foot race? Me versus El Rapido?”
“You are the fastest of the Saraperos. El Rapido is the fastest of the toros.”
And so, some minutes later, I found myself in a three-point stance in the batter’s box at homeplate. El Rapido in the left-handers box, had a slight advantage over me—being closer to first. Besides that, he was a bull.
At a given moment, Cavazos, the Lion of Guadulupe, would raise his red flag and El Rapido and Jorge Navidad would take off for first. Wilmer Bauza, the Mexican League’s head of umpires, would declare the winner.
Cavazos waved his flag. The picadors poked El Rapido and Hector Quesadilla screamed “Vamos, Jorge.”
The crowd, a large one thanks to the “Noche de los Toros” was split, I’d say, right down the middle. Half rooting for El Rapido, half for me.
I got out of the box ahead of El Rapido and quickly gained a two or three yard lead. But just as quickly I heard the heavy galumphing of El Rapido’s heavy hooves. At fifteen yards the bovine had caught up with me. He hit first base a good five yards ahead of me.
Then things took a turn for the worse, as El Rapido took a turn for me, confusing me and Cavazos. I veered off from first base and beat the beef to the wall that separated the field from the stands. In half a second, I was three or six rows into the seats. Soon thereafter, El Rapido’s handlers wrangled him, saving both Cavazos and me.
Hector escorted me out to the mound, and Cavazos and El Rapido’s handlers led him to the mound. I tipped my hat to the crowd and received a nice round of applause. Somehow, El Rapido bowed his enormous head and Cavazos waved and the crowd absolutely erupted.
Two times that day I lost a showdown to a bull.
Went 0-4 that night. And made an error. 0-6, counting the bull.