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Gutierrez' story is a Grapes of Wrath saga about getting by. He tells of riding to the fields in the morning in a pickup truck with his father and a lot of other men, of long hours in the hot sun.
When he tells it there is no emotion or animation in his voice. He wonders why anyone would care to ask. But when you ask if he likes playing baseball better than stoop labor, a fire starts in his eyes and he comes alive and smiles and looks around at his teammates.
He looks at Miguel Alicea, whose English is better, and speaks very rapidly in Spanish.
"He says he likes baseball," Alicea translates. "The people in his town know he play baseball and when he go home they ask about, and the kids, too. Farming, too hard."
Then Gutierrez says something else.
"He signs autographs, too," Alicea says. "He likes that."
Not all the players have freshly come from the fields. The names of former big-leaguers clinging to baseball in Mexico could fill a roster: Diego Segui, Manny Sanguillen, José Peña, Byron McLaughlin, Andres Mora, Rennie Stennett, Ted Cox, George Scott, Mike Paul, Bobby Cuellar, Vicente Romo, George Brunet, Bert Campaneris, Ted Ford, Larvell Blanks, Bernie Carbo, Dick Drago.
These are men who have been to the penthouse of their profession but who now dress for games in hotels where the cockroaches are unionized.
But they can still look good on stat sheets. Paul, 37, was the lefthanded pitcher of the year last season. Scott, 38, hit .355 with 18 home runs and 81 runs batted in over a 132-game schedule. Mora, 27, led in home runs, with 23, and RBIs, 93, and repeated this year with 25 and 80. Willie Norwood, 31, no longer in the league, won the batting title in 1981 with a .365 average. Romo, 39, led in earned run average with 1.40, was 16-6 and threw seven shutouts, and until he went on the disabled list pitched for the Dodgers this summer. Luis Tiant, 41, had a 2.01 ERA this season—and 72 strikeouts in 89 innings—and was called up last month by the Angels.
And the money is decent for a former big-leaguer with a reputation—$3,000 to $7,000 a month. In the Mexican League no team payroll is supposed to exceed $45,000 a month and no single foreign player's salary can exceed $3,500 a month, but both rules are casually ignored. The money is paid either under the table or in bonuses and expenses.