Old County Stadium. Fall 1996. Brewers playing the Cleveland Indians. Mom, Dad, and 3 of 4 kids sitting about 20 rows up to the right (looking down) of the Indians’ dugout. Beautiful fall evening. Mellow.
“DENIS!” “EL PRESIDENTE!!” Arms waving wildly, my husband stood up to yell at Indians’ pitcher Denis Martinez as he walked back to the dugout at the end of an inning. Denis quickly looked up and then disappeared under the dugout roof.
Howard had warned me that we were going to be seeing the great Denis Martinez pitch – Denis Martinez, the pride of Nicaragua, the first Nicaraguan to play major league baseball. El Presidente. But there was no heads up on how nuts he was going to act at the ball park.
“Come on,” he said, grabbing Jhosy. “Come on, we’re going to meet Denis Martinez.” Jhosy, who’d tuned out the game after the national anthem, rolled her eyes. I leaned over. “Why are you taking Jhosy down to meet him? She doesn’t even like baseball. In fact, why are you going at all?” Meanwhile, people in the seats around us joined in an unspoken WTF?
Standing up, taking Jhosy by the hand, he said, as if it made more sense than anything in the world, “I’m taking her because she looks the most Nicaraguan.” The other two kids – both Nicaraguan themselves – looked at me and each other and then turned back to the game. They were used to this kind of thing. Their dad acting nuts in public. They’d long ago given up on the idea of blending in, I could see that.
I can’t believe he’s doing this, I thought to myself. Such a spectacle. Ridiculous. And these kids — the whole section was looking at us. Howard managed to get down to the front row right next to the dugout. He picked Jhosy up, hung her over the edge (how he managed to do this without security coming after him I’ll never know) and yelled in Spanish, “Denis, look at this Nicaraguan face!” “And there are two more up there. Look, look!” Martinez did look, ever so briefly. We waved. Thank God. It’s over, I thought.
Back in our seats, Howard flush with triumph, the rest of us with acute embarrassment, we turned back to watching the game. Then a whistle from the Cleveland dugout. Denis Martinez stepped out of the dugout and motioned for Howard to come back down. Then he tossed him – not one, not two, but three signed baseballs – “Con carino de Denis Martinez.” Amazed, the people around us applauded as Howard came back to our seats and tossed each of our amazed kids their own signed ball. Howard was as happy as I’d ever seen him. He’d delivered for his kids. He did.
Here’s a picture of Denis Martinez pitching a perfect game. Pretty handsome guy, don’t you think? Very Nicaraguan.
Reposting this piece because a certain dog found some particular balls tonight to chew on. Oh well.