Friday, July 22, 2016

Tweeting in Saltillo.

Sometimes, like I get to the office earlier than anyone else, I would get to the ballpark early, just so I could move slowly. We spend too much of our lives, I think, exercising our fast-twitch muscles. Thinking quickly. Acting quickly. Moving quickly. Gobbling up the newspaper as if it were on fire. Or eating lunch like we hadn’t eaten for a month.

Sometimes, I would get to the ballpark early so I could do things ASAP, as slow as possible.

I liked the quiet of the water dripping from the old overhead pipes in the locker-room. I liked the languid process of gearing up. I liked seeing the clean-up crew, slowly and methodically, seat by seat, row by row, bringing order to the filthy chaos of the old, wooden Estadio Francesco I. Madura.

I especially liked seeing the grounds’ crew with their long hoses making lazy arcs of spray in the hopes of keeping our infield green amid the withering summer sere of Saltillo. I could see, as I ran in the outfield, the small rainbows as they swept the field with water. I could hear their lazy chatter, about last night’s game, or last night’s girl, or trouble with a transmission, or a wife, or both.

There was a scrub on the team that summer, a guy I hardly hung with and who hardly played, but whom Hector kept around because Hector kept guys around who could think, guys who understood the game and could do the invisible things that often result in gaining a run, or saving one. Guys who could hit to the opposite field or hit a cut-off man, or lay down a bunt, or distract an opponent. Anything to give us an edge.

One of those guys was, like I said, a scrub utility infielder named Jesus Verduzco who in addition to being skilled with a glove, had those quiet skills mentioned above. Verduzco was 24 when I knew him. Not only was he the sole college graduate on the team, he was, in the off-season attending medical school in Mexico City, so, of course, he went by the moniker, El Doctor.

Early one morning when you could hear the small songbirds rustling and singing in the scrub trees just beyond the painted-green outfield fence, when you could move to the rhythm ca ca ca-chunk whiiiiiiiir of the automatic sprinklers in the outfield, El Doctor and I were running together from foul pole to foul pole.

We had landed on a good metronomic pace and our legs and arms were in unison. It made, even in the early morning heat, the running easier. I was feeling young and strong and well-muscled and yes, as close to invincible as I have ever felt. I was doing well on the team, I had a pretty girlfriend, I had Hector and Teresa taking care of me like I had never been taken care of before.

New York, my home, riotous, out of control New York, to which I would be returning in a few months was far away. My parents, my absent old man and my termagant old lady, were, for now, out of my life. Even my brother, whom I loved, and my sister, whom I loved, were far far distant. It was just me, strong, powerful, a professional baseball player who had hit a double off the wall in right the night before and a home run to the deepest part of the park the night before that. I was well fed by Teresa. I had money and, for the first time in my life, a comfortable bed to sleep in.

I ran along with Verduzco and thought of Terence and A.E. Housman. The iambs of his words keeping pace with the beat of my run.

                          “Terence, this is stupid stuff:
                           You eat your victuals fast enough;
                           There can’t be much amiss, ‘tis clear,
                           To see the rate you drink your beer.
                           But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
                           It gives a chap the belly-ache…”

Verduzco, silent in our run, silent in a private reverie as was I began to speak.

“Do you hear the birds, Jorge Navidad?” he asked me.

“Of course I hear the birds. In the morning they are louder than the loudest fans.”

“They are loud because they are with other birds they love and they are with their children birds. And they are eating and loving and laughing.”

We ran another loop, from right field to left, leaping up to touch the yellow of the tall mast-like foul pole.

“Me gustaría ser un pájaro,” Verduzco said. “I wish I were a bird. Not a hawk or an eagle. And certainly not a raven or a pigeon or a crow. I wish I were a songbird with a lady songbird in the shade of a tree in the outfield.”

"With gobs of squabs," I added, quoting Marlon Brando from "On the Waterfront."

We ran another loop, this time from left field back to right.

“If I were a bird, I would not be here. If I were a bird, if something made me unhappy, or angry, or if my wife bird annoyed me, I could jump out of my nest and fly away to another tree. Singing all the time.”

We slowly ran another foul-pole to foul-pole circuit in the outfield, slowly and silently, listening to the swoosh of our spikes kicking up the grass and the singing of the little songbirds just beyond the fence.

Finally, after two loops of silence, Verduzco stopped. He shook my hand, thanking me for the run.

“Yes. Me gustaría ser un pájaro.”

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