But Wagner struck out to end the game, and Snow sprinted for the dugout. He recovered his bag, barely, and headed for the safety of the clubhouse, where we gave our opponents a bag filled with bats, balls, gloves and uniforms. We shook hands all around and made our way to the bus.
The next day, Dec. 31, the small farming community of Teustepe was the site of our second game. Feldman was coming down with the flu, so Snow became the acting manager. Before the game he decided that we would use plain English to communicate the signs, so that nobody would risk a 100,000-c�rdoba fine. On our first opportunity to bunt, Snow hollered from the coaching box, "Lay one down." The opposition's third baseman started to charge in immediately. By the time the bunt was executed, the bilingual third sacker was shaking hands with the catcher, and our rally was nipped in the bunt. We lightened Snow's wallet by 100,000 c�rdobas for failing to discover that the third baseman spoke perfect English.
It was a tight game when Fantasy Camp Henderson slashed a line drive to right in the seventh inning. For almost anyone else this would have been a sure double—for the lumbering F.C., a good slide was in order. But after all that practice in the scorching sun of Managua, F.C. went into second standing up.
"Fine him! Fine him!" was the chant from our dugout. The English-speaking third baseman was baffled. F.C. was safe at second, but not from the kangaroo court. We went on to tie our record at 1-1 with a 3-2 win. Lehr was sick, so I caught the entire game, and was exhausted.
A few hours later, New Year's Eve, we were invited to celebrate at the home of Jorge Tinoco, a farmer from the town of Boaco who is the manager of the defending minor league regional championship team. It was on New Year's Eve of 1972 that Roberto Clemente died when his plane disappeared as he was flying from his native Puerto Rico with relief supplies for Nicaragua, which had been rocked by a major earthquake. As the night went on, we toasted Clemente, we toasted each other, we toasted baseball, and we toasted peace for the country.
Awakening with the screeching roosters, and none too pleased about it, we spent the day returning to Managua. On the next day we were sent on a visit to Danto, the only sporting goods factory in Nicaragua. Despite our weariness, we were eager to see how things worked there. As it turned out, not much was working, and not just because it was the day after New Year's Day.
The pride of Danto is a baseball-winding machine. But the big machine was shut down, because the government-owned factory had no U.S. dollars with which to buy yarn from Mexico. Like the rest of the world, Mexico has little use for c�rdobas. Instead of sewing baseballs, many of the workers at Danto were stitching padding onto protective cups or lacing baseball gloves. Several members of our group wanted to buy some of the well-made equipment, but the inventory was so low that we had to settle for one baseball each, at $3.18 in U.S. currency.
Despite Feldman's warnings not to expect too much, I could not help but look forward to playing in National Stadium the next day in Managua. Originally, it was named Anastasio Somoza Garcia Stadium, in honor of the first in a line of Somozas to rule the country, but even then it was commonly called National Stadium. In 1980 its official name was changed to Rigoberto L�pez P�rez Stadium, to commemorate the poet who assassinated president Anastasio Somoza Garcia in 1956. "Poetic justice?" Feldman wondered aloud. He was fined heavily for that pun, but he had been right about not counting too much on anything.
There would be no game for us at the National Stadium on Jan. 2, because, we were told by a UNAG official, the Nicaraguan national team was practicing there in preparation for the Central American Games a week later. We would be able to meet the players, though, and perhaps even work out with them.
Feldman and I filled a bag with the best equipment we could find as a donation to the national team. When we got to the stadium, we were told that the team had canceled practice. Seeing the ankle-high grass, we wondered if a practice had ever been scheduled.