Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ragging in Saltillo.

For all the writing I've done about my season south-of-the-border 41-years ago, I don't think I've ever written about our second-baseman, Arnulfo Adame.

Adame was just one of those players who blended into the woodwork. On the bench, he was quiet, clapping softly to cheer his teammates on, spitting sunflower seeds or tobacco onto the dirt ringing the dugout. In the locker-room, if there was a team meeting and chairs were drawn around in a semi-circle around a lecture from our manager, Hector Quesadilla, Adame's chair was always on the outer ring, on the fringe, and he was way more likely to be staring into his glove than to be looking at whoever was berating us.

At bat, Adame was steady but not spectacular. He sprayed the ball around to all fields, made good contact and was a decent man in the clutch and could lay one down. But he seldom hit a long ball or a screaming liner. The same held true when he was out at second base. He was as steady as Gibraltar, fielding his position with good, not great range, getting everything hit his way with the reliability of a cinder block. 

Adame was one of those players Hector could pencil into the line-up card every day. He would field his position, get a timely hit, and every once in a while do something little in the field or at bat or on the basepaths that might give the Seraperos a tiny edge that could be the difference between winning and losing.

I never hung with Adame. Even though there were only 25 or 35 of us Seraperos, he was one of those guys I barely said ten words to. It's not that he didn't like me or I didn't like him. It's just the way things were, and even now, 41 years later, he stays away from team functions, from old-timers' games and veterans' dinners.

In fact, when I'm at one of those aforementioned events--I seem to be on a once-a-year-circuit--I'll ask Buentello or Angel Diablo if they've heard from his (they were always the most social guys on the team) and invariably they say "que desapareció de la faz de la tierra." He has dropped off the face of the earth.

Back in August or September of 1975, something turned on the team, and some of the boys began ragging on Adame. There was no ostensible reason for it, except that maybe he was extraordinary only in the way he was ordinary. Or maybe it was just the rag fest's turn to hit Adame, as it had hit almost everyone in due course. 

If Adame hit a grounder and the throw from third beat him by two steps, someone would rag, "My mother could have beat that throw." If there was a ball hit into the hole and Adame despite his decent range couldn't get to it, someone would taunt him, "I could have had that in my pocket."

It was relentless, the ragging was, like ragging almost always is. Hector, well, maybe Hector should have done something about it sooner. But ragging is often like a bad spell of weather: there's nothing you can really do about it except wait for it to blow away and move on--which it invariably does.

But before long, the ragging was hurting Adame. Everything he did at bat or in the field seemed to anticipate the rebukes he would receive. As a consequence he became stiff and frozen. 

Usually a contact hitter, he scarcely moved the bat off his shoulder and he began to whiff with frequency. In the field, his range was reduced to a step or two in either direction. And when one was hit dead at him, he'd often bobble the ball, then have to rush the throw and then throw badly.

As you more than likely know, ragging begets ragging and the more ragging Adame got, the more he fouled up, the more ragging he got, the more he screwed up, and so on.

Adame's batting average dropped. His fielding became a liability. And though he probably weighed no more than 150 lbs. while holding a cerveza fria in each hand, he began skipping meals and dropping weight.

It finally cracked one night game in the heat of Torreon. Adame grabbed his bat and walked tentatively up to the plate. I think Teolindo Acosta, the scrub second baseman, yelled to him. "Your mother sucks dead mice," or something similarly poetic.

Adame turned on his spikes, dropped his bat and walked over to Acosta. He took the leather batting glove off his left hand. He spit twice into the ground. And then got close to Acosta's face.

And whispered, "basta." "Enough."

Then Adame put back on his glove, walked back to the batter's box and promptly hit a double to the opposite field.

And that was the end of that.

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