Hector Quesadilla was the first one to call me ‘El Professor’ when he was my coach in the Mexican League so many summers ago. As the youngest man on the team, he started looking out for me the moment I joined the squad. He gave me the locker nearest the closet that served as his office, and there was always a seat on the bench—no matter what dugout we were squatting in—next to his.
“El Professor,” he said one afternoon as we were facing a lefty from Torreon and not doing well. “El Professor, what do you notice with Brisque, the way he throws the ball.
I had seen Mario Brisque one time through the order and I noticed he set guys up—including myself—with two outside curves—hoping we’d fish for one, then he’d punch us inside with low heat to keep us off balance.
“This one will be a fastball in and low,” I answered.
“Yes,” said Hector. “Tamares is calling the same dumb game he always calls.”
“I think we take two, and wait for something up.”
“I call you El Professor,” Hector told me.
“Because I am reading ‘Guerra y Paz’?” I pulled a worn paperback of Tolstoy from the back right pocket of my flannel uniform.
“That is half of it,” Hector said, riffling the pages of the book. “But more it is how you see what the pitchers are pitching and how the hitters are hitting.”
I checked for my bookmark and sat back down on ‘Guerra y Paz.’ I was two weeks into the book and didn’t want Hector’s flipping to cost me my place. The book was no breeze to read in English, and in Spanish it was fairly killing me.
“Some of the boys sit here and don’t even pay attention to the game. You have to tell them when it’s their ups or how many outs there are. Others watch the game. But you see what is going on. You study the happenings.”
“I guess you could thank Coach Babich for that.” Babich was my high school coach. “Or my old man, who for all his faults, taught me to keep score at a ballgame.”
“So I call you El Professor,” Hector spat. You see the game as it is played.” He grabbed ‘Guerra y Paz’ from my pocket. “Look here. You read this like you watch a ballgame. You underline things you like: ‘¡Cuando uno se va, uno no llora por el pelo!’”
I said in English, for Hector’s benefit, “When one’s head is gone, you don’t worry about being bald.”
We laughed. We spit. We watched the game.
We heard the crack as Brutus Cesar got an inside pitch and doubled down the line.
We laughed. We spit. We watched the game some more.