Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A good/bad day down in the Mexican League.

Orestes “Tito” Puente, who was my teammate so many long summers ago when I played my single season of professional baseball for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League, was just about the best pitcher I ever saw.

Sure there were guys who threw harder, El Pulpe, for one, or Machado who came with a high heat that could freeze you in the batter’s box. And there were pitchers who had more pitches—Candy Cardona had a fastball, a slider, an in-curve and an out-curve and a drop-the-bat-and-take-your-seat change-up. And of course, there were pitchers who were control specialists and could knock out the flame off the candle on an old man’s birthday cake blindfolded, like Nelson Barrera.

But in putting the whole assortment of pitching tools together—and add to that brains about the game, there was no one in the entire circuit who measured up to Puente. That Puente never made it to the big leagues you could attribute to a few things.

One, he was short, only 5’8” and baseball scouts most often prefer pitchers who are big, long-limbed and barrel-chested. Two, Puente spoke little English, and showed no inclination to learn the lingua franca of the big league game. And finally and most important, Puente seemed to choke when there were scouts from El Norte in the stands.

The scouts were in the stands, three of them, exactly 43 years ago tomorrow. One was an old guy from the Cards, called Georgie Sisley. Everyone knew who he was, recognized him because he wore a World Series ring from 1944 when Sisley's team, the Cards beat the other St. Louis team, the Browns, four games to two. The other two I couldn't place--they could be recognized as scouts by their cheap ties, their heavy shoes, their short-sleeved shirts and their hang-dog looks.

I remember the afternoon because for all my mediocrity as a ballplayer, that day I tore the cover off the ball. I hit like a runaway train. No matter what they threw my way, I walloped it hard, getting four hits in five at bats, ringing up six RBIs, two doubles and a homer.

And while I had the best game, by far, of my benighted career, Puente, steady Tito Puente, had maybe the worst. Against the Diablos Rojos, Tito didn't get out of the first inning, and was sent to the showers after giving up four straight doubles and five straight hits.

Looking back these 43 years, I wonder about those games so long ago. Might a meaningless game have any meaning?

We were never going to make it to the bigs. Me, I hadn't the talent. Puente had the hex.

So we were playing at being men playing a boy's game. We were playing at being free. We were playing day in and night out at playing games that didn't matter if you won or lost. The standings had no consequence. We were a bad team, in a bad league playing far away from the glare of what matters.

Some days you are the Babe. And some days you smell like week-old fish.

That's life, in my opinion, in a peanut shell.

What matters is that you do what Puente did when Hector gave him his next start four days later.

You go out there and throw your hardest.

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