When you play baseball for a living as I did forty-five years ago this summer in a too-long, too-short season, you accumulate a ratty old duffle-bag full of life lessons that come to you with the suddenness of a gut punch.
There’s not much you can do to avert that punch, but you can find ways to regain your breathing, regain your composure, stand up straight again and assume a fighting pose.
I realize I’m mixing sports metaphors here, but it’s early Sunday morning as I write this. Whiskey, whose Circadian rhythms force her to wake me at the onset of rosy-fingered dawn, had me up at 5:20 this morning. We were out walking along the turbid Sound, hearing the far-off clanging of a buoy’s bell at 5:35.
So while my vision is clear, my head might be a little sandy. I’ve yet to finish my first cuppa Jamoke, yet, like Frost’s traveler, I have miles to go before I sleep. In other words, a busy work-week, things to write tonight and the cats’ paw tiptoeing of house-guests once-again in our small, falling apart cottage by the sea.
But back to 1975 and the smokey valley of Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico and Estadio de Beisbol Francisco I. Madura.
The hardest I ever worked at any baseball game was well before the game began. Hector Quetzacoatl Padilla, better known as Hector Quesadilla, my manager all those many summers ago taught me that. He taught me los ojos de un águila, the eyes of an eagle, to watch the opposing pitcher like a prison guard his prey or a mother hen her chicks with the scent of a fox in the waft.
That is, I learned from Hector, the way of life.
No matter who you are, how well-paid, or how much success you have had, you gain from knowing your opponent.
I would watch their arm warm up. Look at his motion. Did he release from the shoulder, from his rib-cage, from over-the-top. Were there hitches in his motion, like Old Satch and his famous mow-them-down hesitation pitch. Was he consistent with his motion? Were there tells on his benders?
Most of all, stuff. Was he fast? Could he punch you inside? How was his control? This is the information you need to hit the ball safely two times or three in ten at bats.
“He is too good for me,” I would say to Hector when I returned to earth from my watching. “He hides well his curve, and his fastball explodes as it nears the plate like Gibson's and rises like the sun and Seaver’s.”
The old man (45 at the time) would shake his big bull’s of a head and laugh in his throat. “Watch like an eagle,” he would say again, in Spanish, English or maybe Toltec if he was commenting from another world and another time.
Now that I am 62 and coming, perhaps to the end of my playing days, as the old redhead would say, now that I am rounding third and heading home, I think of what Hector taught me when I was young and sinewy.
Now that I am 62 and facing the world of advertising alone, I have no team-mates, I have no manager, I have no friends in the world who will give me a break. No, I am alone in the batters box in the big zero-sum game of life. If I hit well the ball, if I come through for my clients, if I get my day-rate and deliver work better than anyone else, I get to bat again.
But I know there are those that root against me, because when I fail others can get a swing. This is not meanness, this is the Desmond Morris symphony of life. When one lion loses a gazelle, it is killed by another. So it is with baseball and advertising as well. One person’s swing and miss is another’s roast beef.
Thanks to Whiskey, I rise early seven days a week and I summon los ojos de un aguila and I find a way, a strength, a weakness. I find a way.
A scratch hit, a bloop, even an out-poked elbow to get me hit and on base.
Once or three-times I hit a ball that screams, maybe ricochets off the old wood painted maroon of the ancient outfield wall.
That is how you go through the world when you go through the world alone.
But with the eyes of the eagle.