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South of the Border
Leo W. Banks
August 30, 1982
Minor league ball in Mexico is beer-induced sleep on 20-hour bus trips. It's also a wild kind of fun, a last chance for the unvanquished
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August 30, 1982

South Of The Border

Minor league ball in Mexico is beer-induced sleep on 20-hour bus trips. It's also a wild kind of fun, a last chance for the unvanquished

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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 here.

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.

Players throw fistfuls of dirt on the opposing team's third base coach to distract him during a rally.

An infielder 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 Rock.

In 1971 my fastball was timed at 87 miles an hour. Today, I still throw 87—kilometers.
—JOSÉ PEÑA

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.

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