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THE BARRIO BOYS
Alexander Wolff
June 27, 2011
IN 1949 EL PASO'S BOWIE BEARS, A TEAM OF POOR HISPANIC PLAYERS WHO WERE TOO UNWORLDLY TO BE INTIMIDATED BY THEIR MORE AFFLUENT ANGLO OPPONENTS, CAME FROM NOWHERE TO WIN TEXAS'S FIRST HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
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June 27, 2011

The Barrio Boys

IN 1949 EL PASO'S BOWIE BEARS, A TEAM OF POOR HISPANIC PLAYERS WHO WERE TOO UNWORLDLY TO BE INTIMIDATED BY THEIR MORE AFFLUENT ANGLO OPPONENTS, CAME FROM NOWHERE TO WIN TEXAS'S FIRST HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

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With the score tied at two in the sixth, Rodriguez stole third, then sprinted for home on a long fly ball. "I would have scored easily tagging up and that would have won us the game," Rodriguez remembers, "but me like a dummy forgot there was only one out. The ball was caught, and I got doubled up. Nemo almost strangled me, he was so mad."

The score remained tied at two into the 10th, when Waco loaded the bases with nobody out. Suddenly Herrera yelled in Spanish, "Watch the guy on third! He's gonna steal!" Camarillo called for a pitchout and picked the runner off. It was the only time any '49er can remember Herrera addressing the players in Spanish. Camarillo then cut down another runner trying to advance to third during the rundown, and during the next at bat he caught one more trying to steal second.

In the following inning Bowie centerfielder Fernie Gomez, his back to home plate, preserved the tie by running down a long drive with a catch that his teammates would recognize in Willie Mays's famous World Series play five years later. But in the top of the 12th Waco took a 3--2 lead on a double and Morales's two-base error. That might have doomed Bowie had Morales not delivered a reversal of fortune in the bottom of the inning. With Bears on second and third, Morales hit a grounder that eluded the Waco second baseman to tie the game. Then the fates squared accounts with Rodriguez too: His quailing single dropped into short centerfield to send Gomez home with the game-winner.

Neither of El Paso's daily papers sent a reporter to the tournament, so people back home followed Bowie's progress through the collect calls Herrera placed to KTSM Radio. His boys, Herrera said in his call after the Waco game, "just don't know when to quit. They're eating well and hitting that ball, and that wins ball games." Surely it's one of the few times a coach has credited a victory to eating well.

In the final, Austin's Stephen F. Austin High, the tournament's No. 1 seed, enjoyed more than home field advantage. The Maroons hadn't lost to another high school all season, even beating the Longhorns' freshmen. They had swept Robstown in their bi-district series by a combined score of 36--1 and in the semifinals eliminated Denison 12--0. The Boston Braves would soon sign the Maroons' ace, righthander Jack Brinkley, to a $65,000 bonus. Brinkley had allowed only one hit in his quarterfinal start, a 2--0 win over Lubbock.

In the final Herrera intended to counter Brinkley by pitching Guillen, but before game time he asked his catcher, Camarillo, for his thoughts. Camarillo nominated Lefty Holguin, arguing that the knuckleballer would keep the Maroons off-balance. (Camarillo later confessed that he volunteered Holguin because he had dreamed the Bears would win the title with him on the mound.) Herrera agreed—Guillen could still barely speak, and Porras had pitched 15 innings in two days—with the proviso that Holguin would get the hook if he became wild. "When you've got just one left," Herrera would later say, "that's who you pitch."

During Austin's half of the first inning, each Maroons hitter returned to the dugout with the same verdict: Holguin was "just a good batting-practice pitcher," as one told his coach, according to the Austin American-Statesman. "We'll get him next inning."

The next inning came, and the next and the next, yet Austin couldn't muster a hit off Holguin. Meanwhile, Bowie seized a 1--0 lead in its usual fashion, jumping on a couple of first-inning errors. But after Holguin walked two Maroons in the fourth, Herrera was true to his word, lifting Lefty for Guillen. In the sixth inning Bears rightfielder Ernesto Guzman tripled, and two infield errors on a grounder by Lara allowed both Bears to cross, putting Bowie up 3--0.

In the last inning Austin finally kindled to life. Brinkley, the pitcher, led off with a single and advanced to second on a walk. Guillen struck out the next man, but Brinkley scored after Galarza misplayed a slow roller, leaving runners on second and third. The next Austin hitter sent a single to right to knock in a second run, and as the Maroons' third base coach waved the tying run home, the favorites looked to seize their chance.

That's when all of Bowie's preparation—the harping on details, the numbing repetition, the many games against military-base teams around El Paso—paid its biggest dividend. From right Guzman sent the ball on a line. Morales, the cutoff man, let it go through to Camarillo, who fixed a tag on the Maroons' base runner for the second out.

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