Friday, February 6, 2015

A night game in Reynosa.

Late in the season, the Seraperos de Saltillo had a game against the Broncos de Reynosa—the Reynosa Broncos of Reynosa, Tamaulipas—our division foes in the North Division.

Reynosa was about six hours east, through the mountains, from Saltillo. That is, if our bus didn’t break down, which it usually did. Mind you, today, now that Route 40 has finally been finished (about twenty years late and a trillion pesos over) you can make the trip, on a good day, in about three hours. But back in 1975 when I played ball in the Mexican Baseball League, you had to take Route 85, where even the most casual of drives often turned into something out of Clouzot’s “Wages of Fear.”

I always liked playing in Reynosa—I just liked the town. I liked the people, I liked the restaurants I was able to afford (we got $12 a day meal-money).  I loved just watching the scene at Morelos Square. This was long before, of course, Reynosa became bloody with drug crime and the carnage that often accompanies illegal border crossings.

As usual, I made it to the clubhouse early. I was always a three-or-four hour before the game kind of player. I’d do a crossword, or read absent-mindedly. Or I’d find someone to throw some batting practice for me, or I’d just have a light catch. I’ve found through life that as much as it annoys my wife and my kids and most of the people I work with, there’s very little bad that happens when you show up places early. And as often as not, something good happens.

On this particular day in early September, the weather was unusually cool—not like the 90s and even 100s, that are not atypical for Reynosa in the summer. I arrived in the locker-room early, and Hector Quesadilla, my manager handed me the line-up card as usual.

“Brutus” Cesar, CF                .308  4   47
Arnulfo Adame, 2B               .277  2   40
Daniel Garibay, LF                .293  20 103
Salome Rojas, 1B                  .262  22  91
Jorge Navidad, RF                 .287  11  73
Gonzalo Bustamante, 3B       .400   0    6
Isael Buentello, C                  .244  13  65
Angel Diablo, SS                   .217  0    19
Orestes “Tito” Puente, P        14-4     3.22

I checked to see who’d be on the mound, and was happy it was “Tito” Puente. He was fast and efficient, Puente was, and games whizzed by when he was chucking. I also noticed that I was in my usual fifth slot. I didn’t have the average of Garibay who was third or the power of Barojas who was hitting clean-up. Fifth suited me just fine.

What I should have noticed but didn’t was that our regular right fielder Clemente Bonilla wasn’t playing. Pulled hamstring, which the cold would exacerbate. A newcomer, Hector told me, Bustamante (a hot kid who had just joined the Seraperos a week earlier) was taking my spot at third base and I was being asked to man the loneliest place in any ballpark—right field, at least until Bonilla was back.

I’ve never enjoyed playing the outfield, especially right field. It’s too far away from the action, too distant. And my mind tends to wander. I’ve always liked playing third—the hot corner, right there in the eye of the storm. That said, I quickly got into my uniform, threw on my dark green Seraperos wind-breaker and trotted out to right to shag a few flies and get accustomed to the position as much as I could in an hour or so.

It was a desultory warm up and after about half an hour of basically horsing around, I began jogging on the warning track between foul poles. After completing about three or four circuits, I removed my jacket and since there were no fans yet in the stands, tossed it over the railing separating the seats from foul territory, roughly halfway between first base and the right field fence.

And that was that. Batting practice, a bit of tossing the ball about, and then the game. We scored first, right in the first inning, when our centerfielder, “Brutus” Cesar belted a line drive over the fence in left center. Then things settled in to a real pitchers’ duel. Our guy, Puente was throwing aspirins. And their pitcher, Camacho, except for that lead-off homer to Cesar was matching Puente virtually pitch for pitch.

Out in right field there just wasn’t that much to do. The few pitches the Broncos got ahold of were mostly scratch infield hits, or there was the occasional pop-up. I think, going into the ninth, I had handled the ball but once, and that was nothing to speak of, a “dying quail” I made a shoestring catch on. Without even running hard.

Around the fifth inning it had gotten sufficiently cool out that I looked around the dugout for my team windbreaker. I could find it nowhere, and then I remembered having thrown it over the railing in right field. When I returned to the field after another three-up, three-down half, I realized that my jacket was no longer there.

In between pitches I scoured the stands to see if I could spot it. It was then I noticed the prettiest girl I had ever seen sitting right where I had left my windbreaker. She was wearing a white dress and had wrapped herself in my coat. Never in my life have I seen anything that looked so beautiful.

I watched her sitting there, watching the game intently. Maybe she saw me, maybe she didn’t. I’ll never know. But she sat there through the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth.

As we took the field for the bottom of the ninth, we were still up on the Broncos, one to nothing, and Puente was still throwing smoke. Even from deep right field I could tell he wanted the win—he wanted the shut out.

Quickly, he fanned the Broncos first two batters in the bottom of the ninth. I shouted something, infield chatter from the outfield, but I’m sure no one heard it. Like I said, right field is a lonely place. And then Puente went wild and walked their third batter on four straight pitches. They had the tying run on first and the winning run at the plate.

Buentello, our catcher went out to the mound to chat with Puente. And in a second Hector was out there, too, as was Trevino, our pitching coach.

“Do you have any stuff,” I’m sure they asked Puente.

“I’m good,” I could hear him say. And then I could see Buentello nod in agreement.

The conference on the mound over, Puente delivered the pitch, I guess he grooved it, and there was a sharp sound like a firecracker. The Broncos batsman had gotten good wood on one and hit a liner that sped over my head and off the wall in right. I fielded the ball cleanly—I was lucky with the bounce off the wall and spun and threw a dead-on strike, overthrowing the cut-off man, to home plate. I had nailed their runner by a good three feet. He was stopped in his tracks and tagged out by Buentello. The game was over with us winning 1-0.

My first instinct wasn’t to run into the dugout and join my teammates celebrating. No. As soon as I saw that I had thrown their guy out, I looked into the stands for the girl. But the girl wasn’t there. She was gone. And on the railing right where I had left it some three hours before, she had left my dark green Seraperos jacket.

I jogged over to the railing on my way into the dugout and picked up my windbreaker. I spent a good five minutes more looking for the girl. Finally, because it was chilly out I put the jacket on. I was cold no longer.

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