Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Continued: A long night in the Mexican League.


“We had a pitcher though, that is what I want to tell you about. Ignacio Hernandez….”

“Ignacio Hernandez was just 15 when he played for the Petroleros but even so, he had already been playing for three seasons, maybe four.”

“He was playing for scrub teams when he was 11,” Hector clarified. He opened a bottle of cerveza and handed it to me, then took one for himself.

As the bus bumped north, as the men in the back were playing cards and singing songs—Cookie Rojas had brought along an accordion—Sisto continued solemnly.

“Hernandez was pure Indian, with the dark deep-set eyes and broad shoulders of his people. Like so many indios he was short, he stood less than five feet tall and was almost as wide as he was high. His back was bent from generations of hard-labor, he legs were slightly bowed from the weight of his burdens.”

Now Sisto took a cerveza, opened it, and in one long swig, drained it almost to the bottom.

“He was just 15, he was under five feet tall, but his fastball was like lightning. All of the pain and the hate and the hardship and the suffering of his people, all of that he put into every fastball. He was no longer just playing baseball, he was avenging all the wrongs he suffered, all the wrong his people suffered with every pitch.”

Sisto turned to his window and lowered it. He thought about tossing away his beer bottle, but held onto it. Instead, he cooled his head in the breeze and spit twice into the desert.

“You could tell,” said Hector, “he had a major league arm. Maybe an all-star arm. Maybe an immortal arm.”

Sisto stared ahead and spoke as if in a trance.

“It wasn’t his arm alone. His arm was the arm of his people. His arm said with every pitch, ‘you cannot do this to us. We are men. Attention must be paid.”

“Willy Loman,” I said.

“Si,” Sisto replied. “Senor Salesman.”

“One night, Ignacio was on the mound and was perfect. He struck out each of the batters he faced—the first 15 batters in a row, with no opponent even hitting a foul tip.”

Hector here picked up a bit of the story as Sisto opened another beer.

“In the 9th inning, the Petroleros were leading 2-0 when Ignacio finally faltered. He brought one of his pitches in high, right into someone’s power and he swatted it out of the park. It was now 2-1, with two down in the 9th.”

Sisto took back the reins, “Ignacio wanted this game like he wanted every game. As hard as he was throwing, he was still just 15 years old and was still with the head of a boy. He began over-throwing and going wild.

“Quickly, he walked loaded the bases. And now Ignacio was mad. He wanted that last out. He wanted the strikeout. He wanted the win.”

“That’s only natural,” I said. I had pitched enough in high school to understand what Ignacio was going through.

“Ignacio took the ball and massaged it in his glove. He spoke to it. You will be my strikeout, he said. You will be my last strike out.

Again, Sisto opened the window and spit twice more into the desert. He turned back to the story.

“Ignacio became a god,” Sisto said. “Maybe an Olmec god, half panther, half hawk and half human. Maybe he became Jove or Zeus. Maybe he became the Norse god Thor throwing thunder bolts. 400 years of oppression and slavery and carnage and beatings went into his wind up. And then came the pitch.”

Hector added, “The stadium was silent. Like the sky before a big storm.”

“The pitch came,” said Sisto, “And so did Ignacio’s arm. It flew off his shoulder like he was made not of sinew and muscle and bone, but as if he was a rag doll.”

“Wait,” I said. “His arm flew off?”

“That is not the astonishing thing,” said Hector. He spoke reverently. In a low monotone.

“The batter,” Sisto continued “did what a good batter must do with his team down and the bases loaded in the 9th. He swung heavy from his heels and attacked the pitch like a wood-cutter attacking a giant oak. He hit hard the ball. But the ball was still held in Ignacio’s strong right hand attached to his strong right arm.

“The batter hit hard the ball, but the ball was anchored to Ignacio and instead of flying high and long, held with the weight of Ignacio, the ball flopped slowly back toward the pitcher.”

Hector, lovingly, put his hand on my knee. “The arm and ball flew back. And somehow, guided by the gods, perhaps, that gave Ignacio his force to begin with, guided by those gods, Ignacio’s arm…”

“It reattached itself. And Ignacio threw the ball to first and the ump called the runner out and the game over.”

I stared out the window of the juddering bus. It was midnight and in the near distance I could see the dim lights of a small dim town. A town of nowhere. A town in which one-hundred Ignacios might live.

“That was all for Ignacio Hernandes,” Hector finished.

“He couldn’t pitch anymore?” I asked.

“No,” said Sisto. “He arm was not the problem. He walked out of the stadium that night without even changing into his street clothes. Walked into the night in his spikes and his uniform, back to his Indian village. Back to his Indian girlfriend and his Indian children.

“’Que es suficiente,’ was what I heard him say. ‘That is sufficient.’ And then he disappeared into the night.

The bus caromed through the night.

The rest of the way, we rode in silence.

Que es suficiente.

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