Running Out the Hurt

Running Out the Hurt Edit this entry

Posted on April 4, 2

Baseball the Way It Should Be Played

Running Out The Hurt

Baseball the Way It Should Be Played

Running Out The Hurt

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Robert Joe Stout

Running away from his failures in trying to compete with professional baseball stars, fifteen-year-old Alejandro Lòpez winds up destitute in a seaside city in western Mexico. Although the runaway Cuban attempts to conceal his abilities on the diamond several members of a ragtag semi-pro team—the San Arturo Zancudos—drag him back into playing the sport he loves. An instant success, both on the field and with the town’s teenaged flirts he sparks the formerly last-place has-beens into a contender for the league championship.

“Baseball the way it should be played!” enthuses the team’s quirky leftfielder as he and the oddball collection of ballplayers battle, lie, joke and celebrate both on and off the field. Their antics—and successes on the diamond—spark a contagious community following until Alejandro’s abilities attract the attention of Major League scouts and his illegal immigration status is revealed.

Alejandro is forced to choose between a professional contract to play in the United States and staying with the team. His decision and the responses of his teammates provide a dramatic climax to an entertaining and vivid look at baseball, at Mexico, and at how human relationships struggle and prosper.

Excerpt

The heat and work schedules that forced Sergio Naranjo, El Jipi and Cipriano to arrive later than usual shortened the Wednesday practice.

“Beer time! Beer time!” Cruz Torres trotted among the players extending what Memo González called the “dirtiest ugly baseball cap” he’d ever seen. Torres countered that it was his lucky Arteaga pitching cap.

“It reeks!” Memo held his nose, insisting the “A”-emblazoned once black headpiece was more sweat salt than fabric. Sergio held it up to show it to his wife Elizabeth, who grimaced and agreed with Memo.

Oyen, give it to me, I’ll wash it,” she tried to dump the money that Cruz Torres had collected into Sergio’s hand but Torres grabbed it away from her.

El nombre de Diós! It’s bad luck to wash a pitcher’s cap!”

“Just go get the beer!” Quino swatted Torres with his glove. The heat had made Quino more than usually thirsty and the day and a half without Yolanda made him feel oddly distracted, as though he had forgotten something important and couldn’t remember what it was. He had just pulled off his shoes to shake the dust and grime out of them when he heard a woman’s voice shouting from a car that had stopped by the edge of the practice field. Thinking it was someone for Alejandro he waved, then recognized Cipriano’s car and realized that Cipriano’s wife Sonia was gesturing to them.

“I thought you’d be getting thirsty,” she laughed and began passing plastic bags filled with ice and cans of Tecate through the window. Quino noticed someone in the car with her and waved, then realized that it was Sonia’s sister.

“Quino!” she opened the passenger door and blew him a kiss. She was wearing a form-fitting knit blouse and hip-hugging black pants that flared at the cuffs. “And Aleje-…`Grifo,’ no? May I call you that, too?”

Her smile danced impishly across her lips.

Diós mío, you do get more handsome every day! I should be the one pursuing you, not Esther.”

“Maybe you should,” Quino suggested. “We’ve been concerned that he’s too old physically–sexually–for the harem, that he should seek older, more equal—”

“Alej-…Grifo, you’re looking for someone older?”

“No, es decir—l”

“Be careful, Aleja-…`Grifo,'” she cautioned. “You know the old saying about a `woman scorned.'”

“I–no,” he stammered, aware that behind him some of the Zancudos were calling for the beer. “I mean—l”

“That’s why we thought, you know, someone older…”

Pura mierda. I love what you’re doing but that’s pura mierda.

Quino grinned. He could handle such banter–he’d been handling it most of his life–but he could see that Alejandro was intimidated. As other cars pulled up and Quino recognized Sergio’s wife Elizabeth and Edda, the former Number One Concubine, and Maricela, El Jipi’s one-time partner. Sonia’s sister tried to convince Sonia to stay but Sonia replied that she needed to take the two children somewhere.

“Then maybe this young Lothario will see me home?”

“As long as Esther doesn’t see us,” Alejandro seemed to realize that she was teasing.

Sonia’s sister laughed and took one of the bags of iced beer from him. Halfway towards the ball players clustered beside the practice field’s wooden benches she stopped.

Diós mío! We’re caught before we even get started!” She pointed towards a convergence of fifteen-year-olds that included her daughter Esther and blinked up at Alejandro in such a perfect imitation of harem adoration that Quino burst out laughing.

Nor did she relent once they were among the team members. She pressed her hips against Alejandro, brought him a cup of beer and put her arm around him while she gave him little sips from it.

“Mother! What are you doing?”

“Flirting. Or couldn’t you tell?”

“It’s not fair that you monopolize him!” a woman that Quino recognized as one of Moctezuma’s publicity contacts wiggled onto Alejandro’s lap and ripped little folds of Kleenex from a plastic packet to wipe the sweat from his cheeks and neck.

“Make him tell us about his gringa. The one they had to carry to the airplane in a stretcher—”

“Have him tell about the night he kissed me,” Maricela’s softer, deeper voice intruded.

For an instant reality changed. The level of flirtations were different. Even the teenagers sensed it.

“Tell us about it,” Sonia’s sister whispered.

“It–it was very nice,” Alejandro replied.

 Commentaries

Running Out the Hurt originated in a cozy semi-pro ballpark in the little town of Tamuín, Mexico. My neighbor, Enrique, was one of the umpires for a game between Tamuín and rival Ébano. I don’t remember who won the game but remember the faces, the dust, the throws home, the small crowd’s enthusiastic participation. Once back in California I wrote a few short pieces about amateur baseball in Mexico and one summer a series of poetic portraits of ballplayers like those I’d met in Tamuín. The collection of portraits appeared as the prize-winning chapbook They Still Play Baseball the Old Way published by White Eagle Coffee Store Press. Several writers who read the collection suggested that the characterizations needed to be amplified and the nine ballplayers and their manager became cornerstones of Running Out the Hurt with the addition of a young Cuban runaway and a supporting cast of wives, daughters, baseball scouts, beanballers, teenaged admirers and an old dog named after a popular brand of cookies.

The journey from Tamuín to publication, first by Black Rose and then in a Kindle version was roundabout. Writing the novel was not my primary focus and was interrupted by divorce, a second marriage, journalism assignments, the writing and publication of The Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives and new homes in southern Baja and finally Oaxaca. The poetic version, They Still Play Baseball the Old Way, became part of A Perfect Throw, a full-length poetry volume issued in 2013 by Aldrich Press.

For anyone who’d like to meet this roustabout gang of ballplayers and their hangers on the Kindle version is inexpensive and print copies can be acquired through Amazon.

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