El Pulpo’s team was up first.
It was a team of old-timers, of guys who might have played with El Pulpo when he blazed through the Mexican League in the 30s, 40s and 50s. They were athletes, you could tell. But the ravages of time and adipose had caught up with them.
Maybe they played with El Pulpo on the occasional Saturday exhibition game to reconnect with old ball-player friends, or to re-connect with their youth and the game they played so many years before. Maybe they played these afternoon contests to hear the roar of the crowd and to see the cities throughout the Mexican League that they had seen so many years before. Maybe, maybe most likely, they played to be near El Pulpo. So they could say to their grand-children and their friends and even the odd stranger or two, “I played with El Pulpo. I played with the Octopus. I played with Seven Fingers. I played with the greatest of all time.”
Felix Espinal was on the mound for us. He had just joined us from Metepec, a small city almost 9000 feet high in the mountains east of Toluca. He played for a junior team, Los Alfareritos, and though he was just 5’7” and probably weighed no more than 130 lbs. he was what was known as ‘sneaky fast,’ and with the Seraperos always short on pitching (we were always short on hitting, too, to be honest) the club brought him up to try to help us through a skein of scheduled doble hornados—double headers.
Espinal worked quickly on the mound and retired El Pulpo’s team in just a couple minutes, impressively parsimonious with his pitches. Then, it was our turn to bat and to face El Pulpo.
Hector had penciled Gulliermo Sisto, an old friend of El Pulpo’s to bat first against the old man. Sisto who had played with El Pulpo. Sisto who was the oldest player in the league, who had played for a total of 50 teams during his long career and lashed over 1,500 hits while playing in the Mexican League.
“I will strike you out, Sis,” El Pulpo mocked from the mound. The first pitch came in straight, then at the last moment took a sharp right turn away from Sisto’s lumber. Sisto flailed at it but missed the bender by a good half foot.
“Otro mas,” yelled Sisto. Calling for the same pitch, and El Pulpo delivered. This one Sisto met with the fat part of his bat and sent far down the right field line, going with the pitch, but hooking it foul after 300 feet fair. It was 0-2 now, and El Pulpo had Sisto deep in the hole. Pulpo wasted a purpose pitch toward Sisto’s noggin, a slow pitch toward Sisto’s head. The two old men laughed at that and then resumed their battle.
Sisto dug in, El Pulpo delivered. The pitch again came in slow and straight, then veered left, then right, for strike three. El Pulpo had thrown the pitch that earned him his bread, his famous “double curve,” a pitch only a man with two thumbs and seven fingers could throw.
Sisto threw his bat in the air in exasperation and walked head bowed to our dugout. “The double curve,” he said to me. “Even Satchel Paige had no pitch like the double curve.”
I was batting fifth.
I sat on the bench and looked at the deep blue of the Saltillo afternoon sky, and I hoped. I hoped it would rain.