Thursday, March 31, 2016

A slump in the Mexican League.

Back during the summer of 1975 when I played my lone season for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League, the whole team tumbled into a slump at the same time.

It’s not atypical in the course of a season for players to go through dry spells. Even the great DiMaggio did, or Ted Williams, or Willie Mays. It happens and you expect it. The smart players on the team (and I counted myself among them) are parsimonious with their emotions. They don’t get up when they go three for four with two doubles and they don’t get down when they o-fer. They understand the ebb and flow of the game and beyond the game, the waxing and waning of a season.

What’s unusual is when a whole team just runs dry. It’s unusual. And it sucks.

One Tuesday night in July, we got blanked by a lefty on the Sultanes de Monterrey who was throwing aspirins. I think Brutus Cesar scratched out a single and maybe Guilliermo Sisto hit a lone and lucky double late in the game and inconsequential—we were already losing by something like nine to nil. But the rest of the boys, myself included, swung like rusty gates.

Hector chewed us out good for being a bunch of no good chicken fuckers, but the next day was no better. I think we were one-hit or two-hit again and things went down hill from there.

We lost a third game and a fourth and had barely eked one out of the infield. I think over the stretch, I went 0 for 17, barely tapping the ball, not even a foul.

We were well on our way to losing our fifth in a row—we were down four to nothing in the fourth and I was up. We were playing Campeche and their pitcher was good.

Hector stopped me as I was walking to the plate. All he said was this: “Do something.”

Do something. Do anything. Do.

Hector said so.

Their arm shoved a fastball at me, inside, but instead of turning away to avoid it, I turned into the pill and got myself purposefully hit on my lead elbow.

I was on first for the first time in a week. We had a man on and none out. What passed for a rally.

Somehow me getting hit woke the team up. It’s not that my teammates cared for me, just something snapped. If we hadn’t been hitting because we were afflicted with a temporary illness that rendered us afraid of the ball, well, me being hit broke the spell.

Bustamante, up next, took a pitch then connected with an opposite-field double. Buentello knocked us both home with a hard single. 

Hector greeted me as I scored our first run in what seemed like a week. "You can take a punch, Jorge Navidad. You can take a punch."

It was electric. Even Diablo, our short stop, who in the best of seasons barely hit his weight, connected with a pitch and sent Buentello to the corner. Sisto batted for our pitcher, Munoz, and connected with a double—if I recall, his 1500th hit as a minor leaguer.

We kept hitting and hitting. Hitting through the line-up until it was my turn again at the plate.

They came inside to me, retribution for starting our nine-run barrage. This time, rather than present my elbow to the ball, I swatted a dead-pull double and brought in a run. I was brought in a minute or so later when Bustamante lined another basehit.

We wound up winning that game going away. Then against a smattering of teams, we won seven of our next eight, hitting like a pile-driver the whole way. Then as suddenly as it came on, as suddenly as it had ceased, we were back to normal again. Hitting our average, losing winning losing losing winning. A mediocre club in a mediocre league.

But I was ok.

I knew there would be days when I couldn't hit a lick. I knew there'd be days when I was the second coming. I knew there'd be days when I was just ok.

But I knew something more.

I knew I could take a punch.

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