Thursday, September 6, 2018

Late afternoon, Torreon.

The bus slowed off of route 40 and headed straight through the center of Torreon, a steamy city of half a million in the desert four hours due west from Saltillo. Gordo Batista, our third-string catcher and every day bus-driver continued west on Boulevard Revolucion, then circled the tilted towers that gave Torreon its name, around the Plaza Mayor. Through the over-grown plaza with its fountain water green from algae, Batista turned the wheezing old bus around and doubled back through the city. He finally stopped on the broken asphalt of parking lot of the Estadio Revolucion de Beisbol.

I got up from my usual seat, two behind Batista and across from my manager, Hector Quesadilla. Hector stopped me, putting out his strong left arm and commanding, in Spanish, “sientate.” Sit down.

The other boys filed out, lugging their duffles, ragged and wet from the hot foul air of four-hour bus ride through the swelter. Julio Canova, a utility infielder, was singing something sad by Freddy Fender, using the butt end of a pine-tarred Hillerich and Bradsby as a mike:

I don't need nobody to tell my troubles to.
I don't need nobody to tell my troubles to.
Cause since I met you baby, all I need is you.

Hector swatted him on the ass and Canova fake tripped down the steps of the old bus tumbling like a drunk out of a bar late at night alone.

Canova lay on the ground and shouted up at Hector,

Desde que conosco que tu amore se fiel
Mi vida esta cambiada, eres tu mi ser.

Since I met you baby my whole life has changed
And everybody tells me that I am not the same.

Hector laughed a laugh from deep in his round belly. Then he waved Canova away and pulled the dull steel lever to shut the door of the bus.

He grabbed a bat and a ball as he did when he didn’t want to look you in the eyes and began bouncing the baseball off its fat end, like the 29-cent kids’ toy.

“Torreon,” he said slowly, “Torreon was where the Revolucion of Mexico began to die. It died like many things die in Mexico. It died slowly like a scorpion in the too hot sun. First standing up bravely with dignity against the inevitable, then growing brittle and dry, then crushing into dust.”

He tapped the ball again and again, the ca-tunk ca-tunk ca-tunk the only noise in the nearly empty bus.

“Jorge Bota was shot dead in Plaza Mayor while standing in his Chevrolet. He was leading the Revolucion in these parts. Zapata, the shoe, was the General. Here in Torreon—it was not a big city then, Bota, the boot, was the Captain. Torreon had ten-thousand, maybe twenty-thousand people in those days. All poor.”

Ca-tunk ca-tunk ca-tunk.

I walked to the back of the bus and returned with two warm cokes from the leaking cooler. I opened one Mexican-style on the metal bar on the back of a bus seat and handed it to Hector. Then I opened mine.

“Bota and Villa and Zapata and their Zapatistas—8,000 of them—had seized the lands of the Terrazzas family from the Constitutionalist Government they were fighting, led by 

“Villa I know. Zapata I know. I do not know the Terrazzas.” I swigged my warm soda and wiped my mouth with my sleeve.

“The Terrazzas were bandits of Porfirio Diaz, el Presidente.” Hector started. “They took from the poor peasants who couldn’t read the land their families had farmed since before the Spanish invaders had come so many centuries before. They took from my grandfather his land. Land of his father, too. His father’s father land they took. And so on. They took the land of my uncles, and my cousins, and my friends and their families. They took all the land there was to take. And then they tried to take the souls of the people with the land.

“They controlled 60 haciendas—or more, with over seven-million acres of land. They owned 500,000 head of cattle, 200,000 sheep, 25,000 horses and 5,000 stubborn mules. If you lived in Torreon or around Torreon you were a peon of the Terrazzas, or you were starving.”

Ca-tunk ca-tunk ca-tunk.

I pointed to the bat and the ball Hector was bouncing off the end of it.

“I believe you have broken your record of 158 bounces,” I said.

“That now is unimportant,” Hector said, “A short, fat man was selling pumpkin seeds from a cart in the Plaza Mayor when Bota’s Chevrolet stopped. Bota bought a small sack for a centavo or two. Then someone twice yelled his name.

“’Bota! Bota!’ Bota stood in the open Chevrolet at waved at the man calling for him.”

“Pumpkin seeds,” I said stupidly.

“Yes, pumpkin seeds. Bota waved and four men with sawed-off shotguns shot him 41 times. Nine times in the head, 19 times in the stomach, with dum-dum bullets. The pumpkin seeds were everywhere.”


Hector caught the ball and put it and the bat down.

“Dead,” I said.

“They shot him into ribbons. So a million people could go hungry while one man could have millions, they shot him.”

“He died with less dignity than a scorpion.”

Hector again picked up the bat and the ball.

Ca-tunk ca-tunk ca-tunk.

“With less dignity than a scorpion many people die,” he spit.

We left the bus together and we walked toward the old stadium.

“We will play tonight,” he said, “And every night until the end of all games that are ever to be played, we will play tonight,” he put his arm around my shoulder, “we will play tonight with dignity.”

“With dignity,” I said.

“There is,” he said, “no other way.”

And we suited up to play. With dignity.


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