They call this
Triple A ball, but that's just a label. Despite the skill of the players, what
occurs on the field is sometimes pure bush league. Outfielders treat cutoff men
like lepers. Pitchers don't hold runners on. Signals are sent, but not
received. With a man on second, two down, a third baseman fields a hot grounder
and instead of going to first for the third out, engages the runner from second
in a rundown.
You see it all
Fans throw chunks
of cement not much smaller than headstones at the visiting team's outfielders.
All three outfielders beat a hasty retreat to the bench. The plate umpire,
waving and shouting, tells them to put batting helmets on and go back. Heck, he
says, shrugging, there are only two innings left.
fistfuls of dirt on the opposing team's third base coach to distract him during
squats down to handle a medium-speed grounder, which goes right through his
legs. Air ball. The infielder waves and smiles at the clapping crowd. The
official scorer rules it a base hit. While all this is going on, a plump bat
boy is entertaining the crowd by dancing to a Spanish version of Jailhouse
In 1971 my
fastball was timed at 87 miles an hour. Today, I still throw 87—kilometers.
Juárez is playing
the Aguascalientes Rieleros. The game is still going on, but Peña has already
showered and dressed. He's wearing a dirty old shirt that isn't tucked in and
jeans that don't fit. He's sitting in the corner of the locker room with his
elbows on his knees, looking at the floor.
Every few minutes
the crowd roars, and he gets up and stands on a bench to look at the field
through a narrow opening between the wall and the ceiling. He started this game
but lost his stuff in the middle innings.
Peña's is the
prototypical Mexican League story. He spent a few years in the big leagues in
the early '70s with the Reds and Dodgers and has pitched in nine towns in
Mexico in 16 seasons. He had an arm operation in August 1979 and was the
comeback player of the year in 1981.
I ask him about
the arm. His English is good when he wants to talk, but not when the subject is
uncomfortable. He shrugs and says nothing, then throws an imaginary pitch and
makes a face as if it hurts. I am snapping his picture and he likes it.