Friday, February 12, 2016

Thoughts from Saltillo.

Right after I joined the Saraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican League back almost 41 years ago, I went on the best hot streak of my entire life.

My first at bat, as you may or may not recall if you've read this space with any regularity, I lashed a double off the wooden left field wall. A double standing up.

Jorge Navidad, batting average: 1.000.

I don't know if you, reading this, safe in your office, or in the dank of a New York subway, or somewhere in some green and pleasant land, have ever hit a ball really well. It doesn't matter what kind of ball actually, it can be golf, I suppose though I never hit a golf ball well, or tennis, or even football, either American or the real rest-of-the-world deal.

Whatever the case, when you hit a baseball well, you feel power, electricity even, radiating up your arms and into your shoulders. Everything seems to slow, and you see the ball sail. Maybe you even see a fielder--300, 350 feet away, flapping at the ball with his glove. And you drop your bat and you take off with all your sinew and strength.

You make your way quickly down the line and round first looping your way to second. Maybe your hat falls off as you're running (we wore no helmets in those days) like Willie Mays, maybe you hear a small, pretty senora or a kid even, shouting your name from the bleachers.

Jor ge...Nav-eeee-dad.

That's how I started my foray down in Mexico.

Apparently, I was a rabbit's foot for the Saraperos. Because once I joined the squad, new as I was and speaking the language with the marginal command of someone who had barely cracked a book in Spanish class, everyone started larruping the ball, even pitchers.

And we Saraperos did what teams do when they start hitting the ball hard. We started going up to bat with the confidence of a matador facing an old, fat bull. We hit and hits begat hits. Grounders that used to bounce directly at opposing fielders would find their way through gaps in the infield. Long foul balls would hug fair. And line drives would dip before outfielders could make a stab as if they had eyes.

With the hitting came the winning.

In my first week, six games we went 5-1. The next week, eight games, 6-2. As a team we had gone from having a 27-35 record, to being dead .500, 38-38.

We moved up in the standings of our six-team division, from fifth to fourth to third, just 1 1/2  games from the top.

Then, predictably perhaps, everything changed.

We'd swing over a grooved pitch and bat it harmlessly to an infielder. Or get under one and pop it stupidly to shallow left.

We couldn't, in the words of the great Hector Quesadilla our manager, we couldn't hit our way out of a flauto de pollo.

I sit at my desk as I write this feeling a little bit like Robert Frost's narrator with his horse in the wood.


No longer batting 1.000.

The only other sound is the click-clacking of a fellow writer's mac and  the sweep of artificial white noise from the unfinished ceiling.

Life is like this, work is like this.

Sometimes you hit the ball and you are like the Mighty Thor.

Sometimes, you feel as miniscule as we really are.

All we can do, really, is what Hector counseled us to do so many years, so many dusty bus rides ago.

Keep swinging the bat.

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