When my first ball game as a professional ballplayer was over, I realized pretty quickly, I didn’t know where I was. I don’t mean by that that I didn’t realize I was in the Estadio Francesco I. Maduro in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, but that I was, like Moses before me, a stranger in a strange land.
I had joined the Seraperos de Saltillo just hours before, had shaken a few hands—including that of my manager, and chucked my belongings in the locker assigned to me by Gordo Batista, our third-string catcher, bus-driver and part-time equipment manager.
I knew no one, though. And when the game was over and we had beaten the Leones de Yucatan seven to three, there was no one to laugh and carouse with. Though I had hit doubles in each of my first two at bats and everyone was respectful because of that and had clapped me on the back or the ass, I had no friends. No friends in the world, really.
I was 2000 miles from home and unable to speak the language except with my arthritic high school Spanish tongue. The fact is, I hardly remembered even the nom de guerre Hector had bestowed upon me, Jorge Navidad, because my right name wouldn’t cut it in Mexico.
My locker was at the end of a long row of lockers that wrapped itself around our low, cinder-blocked locker room. The cubicle directly to the right of mine was empty, and the guy in the next locker from there was quickly engaged in some sort of card game with a group of the other boys. So I sat alone on the shellacked wooden bench in front of my locker and slowly began stripping off the tools of my new trade, stripping as I watched the drip of brown water from the pipes above.
I hung my black, leather Riddell spikes on a hook near the baseboard, knocking the shoes together to shake out the residue of red dirt and green grass that had accumulated. I removed my uniform shirt, I was number 61—an inauspiciously elevated number. I took off my belt and baggy flannel pants. I tossed them to the center of the room in a pile of laundry that was accumulating. Then I wrapped around my waste a too-small towel, threw on my shower sandals and scuffed toward the showers.
Hector was leaning against the right doorpost of his office. He stood up straight when he saw me walk by and called me into his room.
“Jorge,” he motioned to a dark-green painted chair, the type you might find in a high school principal’s office. “Sientate.”
I sientated while he went around his beaten olive drab desk and poured each of us a glass of cold sparkling water.
“Mi llamo es Hector Quetzalcoatl Padilla.” He stood up to shake my hand. “You are a ballplayer excellent. I am glad to welcome you to the Seraperos.”
I tried to pronounce Quetzalcoatl Padilla, but my American tongue couldn’t wrap around the Aztec pronunciation and it came out wrong.
“Hector Ketzacoatull Pah diller,” I stumbled, half New York, all-American.
“Kwezzyacootal Pahdillah” I tried again.
Hector smiled and poured me another glass of sparkling water.
Finally, I tried again, combining in my way his middle and last names
“Hector Quesadilla,” I said.
Hector looked at me, then bound out from behind his desk and shook my hand like he was pumping water.
“Yes, that is it, Jorge Navidad.”
“Hector Quesadilla,” I laughed. “A good and noble name.”
“Yes, a good and noble name like Jorge Navidad.”
Hector Quetzacoatl Padilla, Hector Quesadilla, shook my hand again.
I headed to the showers knowing I had made my first friend in Mexico.