Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A young man in Saltillo.

When I was three months into my lone and lorn season playing ball for Hector Queztacoatl Padilla—Hector Quesadilla, as he became known, and the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League (AA), a young man walked into Estadio de Beisbol de Francisco I. Maduro and said he was ready to pitch.

This was not an entirely unusual happenstance. Like a small New England factory town in the early 19th Century receiving from the raw-boned countryside boys looking for more, off of their father’s farms, away from home, young men would come to the city and walk through the strange streets of its strangeness, see its strange people, smell its strange smokestacks and see the city as it was growing, changing, heaving up in the middle and spreading, strangely—heaving and spewing and befouling the darkened skies. I, myself, had been one of those boys, filled with nothing but ambition and sinew, and hoping I could strike the ancient horsehide with ash wood and somehow make a living wearing a 24th-hand, hand-me-down of an old flannel baseball uniform.

Secundo Secundus was only 15 when he came down from the parched hills and scraggly farms and crooked villages in the low mountains outside the desert of Monterey. He stood about 6’2” tall yet weighed, after a soaking rain, well south of 130 lbs, his pants held up with an old piece of rope against his distended hips. He had left his small village in the hills and had walked to Saltillo to try out for the Seraperos. He had on his feet sandals like the Tarahumara wore, made of the worn-out treads of old tires. His glove, brown and cracked like an old slab of calf’s liver was held together by string. Secundus carried the rest of his meager belongings in a brown paper sack. The bag contained a shirt, a pair of pants and a rosary. Those were his worldly possessions.

“Uno balero,” Secundus said, and he walked to the mound to throw. “I am a fireballer.”

The brain-trust of the team, which for whatever reason I lived on the fringes of, including Gordo Batista, Guilliermo Sisto, Hector and myself, looked on at the skinny teenager on the hill and laughed. Many boys came down from the hills thinking they could throw the ball with precision and velocity. It was a way away from the crushing death in a town where nothing ever happened and nothing ever would and there was no way out.

“Let us see,” one of the old wise men said, “Let us see, Senor Balero.” Someone threw Secundus a ball, someone stepped in to catch, someone else to swat. And Secundus, all arms and legs, flailing like a broken windmill facing Quixote, wound up and flung the ball to the crouching back-stop.

“Did you see that?” Batista said to Sisto.

“Throw another,” one of the boys yelled at him.

“I will,” said Secundus, “throw it with velocidad this time.” And he leaned back until his shoulders touched almost the grass behind the mound. He turned his body toward the plate and released an overhead fastball that cracked into the mitt of the man catching.

“And do you have a bender, too?” the Quesailla cried over to him, “Tell me you have a bender to go with your balero, and I will forever go to the church near the stadium and thank god until my knees bleed.”

Secundus tucked his old glove underneath his left arm, and with both his strong hands rubbed shiny the horsehide he was holding.

“Mi serpentina,” Secundus said. And he leaned back and threw a hard overhand curve. Again, the powerful pitch eluded the batter’s swing and landed with an assertive thud into the thick leather of the catcher’s mitt.

“Una curva,” Sisto exclaimed. “A god exists in heaven”

“Mi tirabuzon,” Secundus said, motioning like his wrist was broken. “My screwball.”

“You have also una tirabuzon? How is such a bounty to be received by men as low as we are? We are not worthy of uno balero, una serpentina y su tirabuzon.”

Secundus went into his wind-up again and delivered his screwball. It crossed the plate at speed, then bent into the knees of the batter he was facing who fell backward as he swung weakly at the sphere.

Hector had seen enough and walked over to the young boy on the mound.

“You are not pitching for anyone else,” Hector asked. He did not want to get into a battle over Secundus with another team.

“I pitch against the wind in the mountains only.”

Gordo Batista, our third-string catcher, bus-driver and erstwhile equipment manager came over to the boy.

“Come, let us get our uniform. And some shoes for your feet. We will then, my son, find you a place to sleep here in Saltillo, and introduce you to the ballclub.”

The tall thin boy and the old fat catcher walked into the clubhouse. I saw Batista reach up and put his heavy arm around the fragile scapula of the young righthander.

“He will make a difference in the club,” I said to Hector, as batting and infield practice continued.

Hector kicked at the mean grass with his spiked right foot.

“I have for 200 years seen this,” Hector spat. “A boy comes down from the distance, from over where the sounds of the cicadas come, from where the breeze goes at night and the lightning bugs hold their sparkling conventions of hopes and dreams. A boy comes from a crooked-built dusty town with half-finished concrete block homes and protruding bellies next to rusted-out Fords, he comes down from those mountains, carrying in a greasy paper sack the belongings he has in the world, scared and bearing scars having never before been more than five miles or 10 from the side of his mother, who loves him and his father who beats him. I have seen this 200 times before for 200 years.”

I grabbed a Hillerich and Bradsby, a 32-ouncer and took my licks against El Pollo Loco, the crazy chicken, our batting-practice pitcher. As I sprayed the slow-pitched sphere around the outfield, Hector kept speaking.

“He will pitch for us two games, and win them both. We will be excited and be thinking of winning the championship behind his arm here and the strong wing of Orestes Puente. Then Secundus’ father and a girl, a short pretty girl with large and sad eyes who the boy does love or did, they will come down from the mountains in a rusty Ford belching blue-yellow smoke and stirring grey dust.”

I hit a line-drive hard off the maroon wooden fence in left-centerfield. The concussion echoed through the ballpark and crack crack cracked, three times with the reverb.

“You pasted that one,” Hector said. 

"It is a good feeling to paste."

I swung at Loco’s next pitch, swinging to hit the ball out of the park, and missed badly, corkscrewing myself into the dirt around the plate.

“He will pitch for us two games, and win them both,” Hector repeated. “And then his life will come down from the hills. His life will say, ‘you do not wish to leave your past and all the past that ties you to the past. You do not wish to leave your yesterday, and win baseball games in front of twenty-thousand eyes and ten-thousand cheering throats.”

Finished batting, I had walked over to stand beside Hector, and kicked at the dirt and listened.

“No, he will do as boys like him have always done. As a dozen long-limbed boys and a dozen more have always done. You will scratch at the land, and wait for the corn to grow, sad and withered and desiccated. And you will take that corn and from it, tortilla will be made and stomachs will remain half-filled with hollow maize and half-filled with sadness and hate.”

The boy was out on the field now in a uniform probal seven-sizes too big for him, but still too short in the arms. Batista had found spikes for him, probably the first shoes he had ever worn, and a new fielder’s glove, this one not held together by old, fraying rope.

Secundus went off with six or eight of the boys to play pepper.

The sun filtered through the dust of the field and the sooty smoke of the factory. The boys played their boys’ games. Playing catch, or batting at the ball, or running their loping long strides in the outfield grass.

Hector threw his arm around my shoulders. He gave me the sort of hug men who don't hug give to each other.

“This is the way that the world spins,” Hector said.

“The way the world spins,” I said.

“People enter and leave. People are born and die. People shove and get shoved. People eat and get eaten.”

I kicked again with my spikes at the dirt.

“Changing always,” he said “While never changing at all.”

He kicked again at the dust.


No comments: