Though I was just a few months past 17 years old when I played ball down in the Mexican Baseball League in the long-ago summer of 1975, I hung out for the most part, with two of the oldest guys on our squad.
One was my manager, Hector Quesadilla, who took to me immediately and spotted in me the son he and his wife Teresa never had. Of course, Hector, with his patience and his wisdom and his kindness and his toughness was the father I never had, so we got along like red beans and rice.
The other was Guilliermo Sisto, the oldest player on the team at 43 and a player who played for a total of 50 different teams—pro and semi-pro—in various Mexican leagues.
I lived with Hector and Teresa in a small room in their small house about two miles from Estadio Francesco I. Madura when we were home in Saltillo. And I roomed with Sisto—when I wasn’t rooming with Karmen, my inamorata, when we were on the road.
The truth is, and many people have said this to me, I was born old. I never really caroused or rough-housed or drunked like the other guys on the team. I showed up early, stayed late and worked hard, characteristics in many ways, of generations gone by.
One of the things you have to get used to if you ever find yourself south of the border and playing ball in a shoestring league for a shoestring club is bus rides. We traveled from east to west and north to south that summer, by a rickety team bus, an old school bus painted white, with a huge Seraperos logo on each side.
You got used to soporific rides and soporific conversations and the sun burning the vinyl and your skin, and old Mexican music played on an old transistor radio as we traveled over mountains, through deserts and into the dusty towns and cities where we played ball.
We would sing and tell stories and sleep and wrestle and occasionally want to kill each other. But eventually, we would roll into another town, check into another hotel and play another set of games.
It helped, that summer, to have a good memory, because it was the stories we told—about girls, about fish we had caught, about the lives we led, that made the distances and the tedium bearable.
One bus ride from the back of my head came the 19th Century poem by Macauley, ‘Horatius at the Bridge’ that was drummed into me in 7th grade Latin class.
That was all I could remember of Macauley’s 600 lines. But it was enough to get a laugh and pass the time.
One night, having finished a four-game set against the Diablos Rojos of Mexico City, we had a 12-hour drive due north for games the next evening against the Sultanes de Monterrey. 12 hours is a lot of time to pass.
“When I was not much older than you, I was playing third base, like you for a team that no longer, as far as I can tell from reading the papers, exists. El Petroleros de Minatitlan, the Oil Men of Minatitlan.”
“Minatitlan is a small city in Veracruz,” Hector added. “It is built on reclaimed marsh. The houses there have all sunk into the ground after they were built.”
“Yes,” Sisto said. “The ballpark sunk too. On days and nights after the rains of April, we were playing up to our ankles in water. There was a right fielder, a fat boy whose name I don’t any longer remember, who ran into the fence going after a long fly ball. He crashed into the fence and was knocked out by the collision. He almost drowned before they revived him.”
“Drowned in right field,” I repeated dumbly.
“We had a pitcher though, that is what I want to tell you about. Ignacio Hernandez….”
PART II Tomorrow