Escape Pod 417: Southpaw
by Bruce McAllister
Eventually New York Giants’ scout Alex Pompez got the authorization from their front office to offer Castro a contact. After several days of deliberation with friends, family, and some of his professors, Castro turned down the offer. The Giants’ officials were stunned. “No one had ever turned us down from Latin America before,” recalled Pompez. “Castro said no, but in his very polite way. He was really a very nice kid. . . .”—J. David Truby, Sports History, November 1988
Fidel stands on the pitcher’s mound, dazed. For an instant he doesn’t know where he is. It is a pitcher’s mound. It is a baseball diamond, and there is a woman—the woman he loves—out there in the stands with her beautiful blonde hair and her very American name waving to him, because she loves him, too. It is July. He is sure of this. It is ’51 or ’52. He cannot remember which. But the crowd is as big as ever and he can smell the leather of his glove, and he knows he is playing baseball—the way, as a child in the sugarcane fields of Oriente Province, he always dreamed he might.
His fastball is a problem, but he throws one anyway, it breaks wide and the ump calls the ball. He throws a curve this time, a fine one, and it’s a strike—the third. He grins at Westrum, his catcher, his friend. The next batter’s up. Fidel feels an itching on his face and reaches up to scratch it. It feels like the beginning of a beard, but that can’t be. You keep a clean face in baseball. He tried to tell his father that, in Oriente, the last time he went home, but the old man, as always, had just argued.
He delivers another curve—with great control—and smiles when the ball drops off the table and Sterling swings like an idiot. He muscles up on the pitch, blows the batter down with a heater, but Williams gets a double off the next slider, Miller clears the bases with a triple, and they bring Wilhelm in to relieve him at last. The final score is 9 to 4, just like the oddsmakers predicted, and that great centerfielder Mays still won’t look at him in the lockers.
Nancy—her name is Nancy—is waiting for him at the back entrance when he’s in his street clothes again, the flowered shirt and the white ducks he likes best, and she looks wonderful. She’s chewing gum, which drives him crazy, but her skin is like a dream—like moonlight on the Mulano—and he kisses her hard, feeling her tongue between his lips. When they pull away she says: “I really like the way you walked that Negro in the fifth.”
He smiles at her. He loves her so much it hurts. She doesn’t know a damn thing about the game and nothing about Cuba, but she’s doing her best and she loves him, too. “I do it for you, chica,” he tells her. “I always do it for you.”
That night he dreams he’s in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, at a place called La Playa. He has no idea why he’s here. He’s never dreamt this dream before. He’s lying on the ground with a rifle in his hand. He’s wearing the fatigues a soldier wears, and doesn’t understand why—who the two men lying beside him are, what it means. The clothes he’s wearing are rough. His face itches like hell.
When he wakes, she is beside him. The sheet has fallen away from her back, which is to him, and her ass—which is so beautiful, which any man would find beautiful—is there for him and him alone to see. How can anything be more real than this? How can I be dreaming of such things? He can hear a song fading but does not know it. There is a bay—a bay with Naval ships—and the song is fading away.
Guantanamera . . . the voice was singing.
Yo soy un hombre sincero, it sang.
I am a truthful man.
Why, Fidel wonders, was it singing this?