Last night, as I was finally settling into the slow-pace of life on Cape Cod, my cellphone rang and the caller ID showed a Mexican country code.
I froze for a moment with fear. Two people I love surpassingly live down in Saltillo—Teresa Quesadilla—Hector’s wife and my surrogate Mexican mother, and Gulliermo Sisto, my closest compadre when I played ball down in Saltillo so many summers ago.
Both Teresa and Sisto are pushing 90 now. And while the last I saw of them they appeared hale and well, there are no guarantees in life and good health can turn as quickly as sour cream on a hot summer’s day.
But on the phone was neither Teresa or Sisto. Instead it was Isael Buentello, my teammate from 43 summers ago, a powerful catcher and Serapero stalwart who retired from the game in the early 80s and has since amassed a fortune selling Saltillo tiles around the world.
“Jorge,” Buentello began, “we have missed you at the juego los viejos.”
“Issy, it is good to hear your voice,” I answered in a mixture of bad Spanish and passable English. “You played the game? Was Teresa there? Was Sisto?”
“Everyone was asking about you. They said your shoulder must be very bad for you to have skipped such an important event.”
“The truth is, Issy, my shoulder has gone downhill fast. And in fact, now with arthritis my good shoulder hurts worse than my bad one.”
Buentello laughed at that, and I laughed along with him. We were two old friends who knew how to laugh together. That is how you get to be old friends.
“We played the old-timers from Monterrey,” Buentello continued. “And once again we lost the game.”
I think I’ve played half a dozen old-timers’ games going back a decade or so, and I don’t think I’ve been on the winning squad but once.
“You know who for the Sultanes pitched? Do you remember Simon Closa, the lefthander?”
“That might have been after my time, Issy. I remember a lot of the boys, but no Simon Closa. He was good?”
“Simon was very good, with a fastball that could scorch your beard. His problem was one of control.”
“Like many of the pitchers we played against. They were missing that thing—either a break on their curve, a mile-per-hour on their fastball, or control.”
“Yes,” Buentello said. “That is why they were double-A, not triple-A or major league. My problem was never the fastball. It was the curve and the slider. I could not hit the bender.”
“Everyone, even the Splendid Splinter has a weakness. Not being able to hit a curve is no reason for damnation. And look, you are as rich as Croesus from selling Saltillo tile.”
He laughed again, and then began.
“Simon Closa had but one eye. He had lost one as a child in an accident. He was kicked in the face by a horse. That is why his control was so bad. And it was also why his nickname was Ciclope—Si Closa, Ciclope, cyclops.”
Now it was my turn to laugh.
“In one game, Ciclope hit with the baseball the first six men he faced.”
“Like Polyphemus,” I said, “killing six of Odysseus’ men.”
“That is exactly what Hector said. He too called Ciclope Polyphemus. When it came my turn to bat, I was scared. I said to Hector, ‘No man can hit Ciclope.’”
I laughed again. It’s a rare baseball team that’s well-steeped in the classics.
“Hector, like Nestor himself, said ‘that is the secret, Issy. Call yourself No Man. And say to Ciclope, ‘No man can hit Ciclope.’ And that is what I did, Jorge. I dug into the box, I looked straight at Ciclope and said, ‘I am No Man. And no man can hit Ciclope.”
“I suppose,” I said, “I know how this one ends.”
Buentello on the other line was already laughing. In his voice I could hear a chortle coming like a train whistle.
“Of course you do,” Buentello said. “You know well the Greeks.”
“And what did No Man do at the plate,” I asked, setting Buentello up, like Burns did for Allen.
“Of course,” Issy said, “I hit a homer.”
"Homer," I said.
I heard his laughter, like the laughter of the gods, or the laughter of the blind poet himself, as he hung up the phone.