The Mystery Man

As we age do we revert to the simpler pleasures of youth? Perhaps all the way to the diaper?

The symmetry of the baseball diamond and the unique strategy of this game-of-inches have inspired poets and hooligans alike. As middle age moves on, I find myself indulging more in the sport, recalling its obscure and record setting moments.

I have also joined softball teams with friends whose livers are less than half my age.

On any given Sunday you can find the diamonds of Nicaragua full of fans and players who stream there after (skipping?) Sunday mass.

I went to great lengths to find a live baseball game when I was in Nicaragua, having heard tales of national celebration and tragedy. Although the game I saw was on a considerably smaller stage than some, the players near the tiny island town of Moyogalpa, at the base of Volcano Concepcion, knew the game and how to execute.

A successful suicide squeeze came in the first inning; a player was doubled off first after a diving catch. There wasn’t much in the way of trash talk or brush back “chin music” — when a pitcher deliberately throws inside — but there was a little passion after a blown call and there was some good natured ribbing of a teammate after a dropped fly ball. Or that’s how it seemed to me, with my Kindergarten Spanish.

The language barrier didn’t prevent me from mixing with the colourful locals in the stands who withstood a dust squall that came and went through the affair, mostly with laughter.

One of them was very animated, tall, and athletic looking. I thought maybe he was the star of the team, hitting later in the lineup, judging by his outbursts of clapping and cajoling. He made eye contact with me several times.

We kibitzed about the game, likely not understanding one another, but laughing and nodding a lot. When I noted he didn’t go up to bat but had the fanciest uniform, I reasoned that he was the coach and was organizing the lineup, but by the end of the game he was in the stands with me and a town elder, who also sported a bottle of hard liquor in his pocket. I then realized that I was not with a coach or athlete, but rather, the town drunk.

After the game he invited me to his casa for more drinks. I balked though — after a colourful day, fatigue of many sorts had set in. I thanked him for the day and he was very proud when I asked him if I could take his picture.

As I waited for the bus to get back to my hostel, the dehydration and the sunstroke began to kick in and I remembered that on Sundays busses here run infrequently and almost not at all during the stifling siesta hours.

Nicaraguans are forever stopping to pick up people by the side of the road, honking acknowledgement to their friends, or looking for a couple of bucks to deliver a backpacker up the line. So, within 15 minutes, a man in a pickup truck with several others in the front and one in the back slowed down and said, “Taxi? Taxi?”, which is what I needed, because the town drunk was still in view and my euphoric energy was going south.

So I hopped in the back and negotiated an 80 Cordoba (four Canadian dollars) fare and shared the ride with another family friend or hitchhiker.

Quickly I realized he had a monkey on his back. Literally. You do see monkeys in Nicaragua. I had fed one a cookie on a small boat trip organized by guides near Granada and also saw little fellas less domesticated on an island. And this little guy was clinging on for dear life around his master’s neck, smiling and squawking every now and then as the car hit bumps meant to keep traffic slow.

As the monkey truck descended the steep hill back to the Moyogalpa downtown, reality set in. I jumped out of the pickup truck, bought some water went back to my room and immediately succumbed to a double play of mild sunstroke and diarrhea.

The gods giveth and the gods taketh away. 

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