Sunday, December 25, 2016

Gulliermo Sisto arrives for the day.

Some years ago, as Hector Quesadilla and Gulliermo Sisto neared their 70s--their playing and coaching days were long over--they decided that having spent their lives together on various teams in various cities in various leagues throughout Mexico, that maybe they should spend their waning days together, too.

So Sisto, who never made a lot of money either playing or coaching, scraped together what he had and found he had had enough to buy a small stone house, just three houses away from the larger, more modern concrete block home Hector and Teresa had bought in Saltillo when Hector's playing days had definitively come to a rose-colored close.

Saltillo was a quiet town before the Chrysler plant went in, more like I imagine America in the 1950s. It had a small-town feel, I'm told, with neighbors hanging out on stoops, church picnics and even a soda fountain or two within walking distance.

The Chrysler plant brought noise and dust and dirt and smoke and grime, and yes, crime too. Then, later, drugs came in and almost broke Saltillo, like they broke so many cities. Once, long after my playing days, a gang gun fight broke out in Estadio Francesco I. Maduro, during a game, with rival gangs shooting at each other from across the infield and various Saraperos, and whoever the Saraperos were playing that day, hitting the dust and crawling for cover into the relative safety of the nearest dugout.

But towns, like polluted rivers and lakes, and dirty air and even tarnished friendships, have ways, it seems of repairing themselves, given time and tide, and Saltillo today, is a better place than it's been. It's streets once again quiet save for the jingle of money in the pants pockets of its people.

After breakfast, Sisto, still spry at 87 walked down the lane that separated his small home from Teresa's and he let himself in through the unlocked front door. 

There was coffee on the stove, and Sisto poured himself a large mugful and scooped in sugar like he was operating a backhoe.

We hugged. We hugged the hug of Odysseus seeing Penelope after 20 years. A hug of love and wonder and, yes, a hug of loss and lost years. 

I reintroduced Gulliermo to my wife, and they too hugged, but a more semantic embrace than the hug of the decades that we enjoyed.

What if, I thought, what if I had never returned to a life of convention. What if my year in the Mexican League, playing alongside Sisto, managed by Hector, loved by Karmen and cared for by Teresa, hadn't give way to the suburban pull of expectation and conformity?

What if, I thought, I had played a second season and a third. And then more. What if I woke up one morning at 30 and had played for almost 15 seasons in the Mexican League with a tidy stone house two doors down from Hector and Teresa and a fat pregnant wife who was happy to see me when the games were over.

What if, instead of college and a career and life of chasing after more and more money and accomplishment, I had settled instead on a front porch in Saltillo where, in the warm winter air, I had now with Sisto and drank coffee.

Sisto had placed one of Teresa's enameled saucepans on the front lawn. We sat on a pair of red rocking chairs and we each took ten or twenty coins from our pockets. Sisto's Mexican pesos, mine a combination of American coins and Mexican from my morning trip to the small store up the block.

We drank our coffee, and as we had done so many times before, we rocked in our chairs and tossed our coins at the distant saucepan.

Every so often, one of us would land a quarter or a peso or a bottle cap in the pan, and would slowly get up and collect all the coins that had missed.

"Over there," one of us would yell. "By the rock there are two."

That was our game, and we would play until one of us had all the coins, or long into the night, talking the whole day, and going to bed with roughly the same number of coins with which we had started so many hours before.

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