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Hector Torres

November 22, 2016

hector-torres

Who are you now?

I don’t know about now, but a long time ago I was just a kid collecting cards, a kid collecting joy. I was eight when this one came to me. The name wouldn’t have meant anything to me, but I might have paused for a moment and looked into his eyes. I think it would have made me want to go get a bat. I don’t know who I am now, but when I was a kid I wanted to get in the game. I wanted to go forward. I wanted to play. With anyone, everyone.

Who are you now?

Hector Torres is the son of Epitacio “La Mala” Torres, a legendary Mexican rightfielder who Whitey Ford once called the best he’d ever seen. The elder Torres, whose nickname means “The Bad,” seems to have been the Ichiro of his time and place, a relatively quiet man who didn’t hit for much power but hit for high average and had a cannon arm. Hector’s own skills showed themselves early, and he used them as a dominant 12-year-old pitcher to lead his Monterrey team to the Little League World Series championship in 1958. He wasn’t a pitcher in the majors, though he did once log two-thirds of an inning for the Montreal Expos in a rout. La Malita (“The Little Bad”) got shelled in the return to the elevated locus of his childhood. Whatever you were as a kid is gone.

Who are you now?

Who are you now that we’re talking about Nazis and internment camps and walls of all kinds, figurative and literal, all amounting to the same thing: the bad is the other, not us, and needs to be on the other side of the wall?

Who are you now?

Everywhere you look there’s darkness. Take the name of the team shown at the bottom of this card, the Padres, a reference to the religious missionaries who came into California to spread Christianity. Indians who had thrived without it for thousands of years were forced into missions, where they were whipped and beaten if they didn’t behave according to the dictates of the missionaries who believed that they were doing holy work. If you believe differently, who are you now?

Who are you now?

I don’t know if Hector Torres is religious, but he once nearly killed Jesus. Jesus Alou, that is. From the June 6, 1969 issue of Sports Illustrated:

A frightening collision between Jesus Alou and Hector Torres of Houston . . . could have resulted in tragedy had it not been for fast work by Pittsburgh trainer Tony Bartirome and his Houston counterpart, Jim Ewell. They may well have saved Alou’s life, prying his tongue from the back of his throat and inserting a rubber hose that permitted Alou to breathe normally again. Torres received only minor cuts, but Alou got a severe concussion and a broken jaw.

Who are you now?

You might think that Hector Torres’s collision with Jesus was neither holy nor unholy, but maybe the essence of holiness is a connection between people, some communication either said or unsaid that allows for peaceful interdependence, and maybe the essence of unholiness is the lack of this connection, which leads instead to jarring, injurious collision. We’re coming together whether we like it or not. There are no lasting borders here on earth, and probably not anywhere else either. Heaven and hell are just words. The choice is connection or collision.

Who are you now?

Hector Torres made borders dissolve. He was the first Mexican player to play in both the Little League World Series and the major leagues. He was also the first man to play for both Canadian teams, beating Toronto Blue Jay teammate and fellow former Expo Ron Fairly to the honor by two days. I didn’t know any of that when I looked at his card in 1976, but I may have wondered about another border, the one between here and gone. On the back of the card, below the heading “Complete Major League Batting Record,” there are statistical entries for every year between 1968 and 1973 and then one last entry for 1975. Nothing for 1974. Where did he disappear to that year? Could he disappear again? My understanding of baseball statistics surely indicated that for Torres, a lifetime .214 hitter at the time of this card, this was a distinct possibility.

Who are you now?

Or where are you now? Do you have one foot out the door? Are you planning to follow Hector Torres’s twice-trod path to Canada? Are you planning to follow Hector Torres’s path into mysterious invisibility? I’ve entertained both thoughts, though the latter has gotten much more serious consideration. Just try to imagine we’re not all bound for strangulating collisions of every kind. Just watch old TV shows and look at old baseball cards and try to disappear into what you once were, a simple collector of joy.

Who are you now?

I’m a father, fearful for my boys and the world, and I’m giving the front of this card another look now, same as I would have done when I was eight. That look in Hector Torres’s eyes. La Malita has been gone, but he’s battled his way back. He’s here. He’s no superstar. He’s choking up on the bat. He’s going to try to connect.

18 comments

  1. Bravo.


  2. Josh, I look forward to your blogs and posts for entertainment, nostalgia, love of baseball, and most importantly, a safe harbor from the ugly in-fighting of this country which we are exposed to 24/7. Unfortunately, you have been continuing to incorporate your personal political beliefs into your most recent ones. I believe you are tainting some very provocative, well-written prose about your childhood and the awakening of your own kids to our national past time via baseball cards.

    I know, I know…I can choose to delete your posts or write my own, neither of which I care to do. I am just underhand throwing you some advice from a long-time reader.

    Thank you and respectfully……..Don Stanhouse (just kidding)

    Ken Pearce


  3. Thanks for the encouragement, gedmaniac. Always nice to know you’re out there!

    Ken: Thanks for reading and for the thoughts. The Don Stanhouse sign-off made me laugh out loud. I know these posts aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is what’s coming out of me right now. Anyway, here’s hoping that we can all find some way to keep connecting and avoid colliding.


  4. Ken Pearce is right. Your personal beliefs have no place in your blog. Just kidding. Keep up the good work, Josh.


  5. No worries; I’m still all in with you, Josh. I’ll just tighten my harness belt and adjust my crash helmet next time:)


  6. Hawaii. He was in Hawaii in 1974 (which seems funny after the Mexico/Canada references.) I look into his eyes and I see the determination of someone who makes things happen. It’s not a passive look. I personally believe that’s a look that’s been missing in our country for many years.

    Josh, I have come to welcome all of your observations since the time I first “connected” with you. If I occasionally “collide” in disagreement about a topic, I figure that’s okay because we have both shared a passion in our childhood, and there is good in that. I try to find common ground, and work out the rest. Relationships involve risk. If we only liked the same players, we’d never be willing to trade each other, unless we had doubles. Where’s the risk in that?

    Have an impact this week.


  7. Great points, tzig. (And this is why it was always so hard to pry a needed Yaz card away from my brother.) Right you are about Hawaii. It’s actually mentioned on the back of the card (in the “acquired” section–he was “purchased from Hawaii,” a note that would have been baffling to me.)


  8. This column strikes me as silly. Using a baseball card as a huge reach to express left-wing fear mongering. You are a good writer, but not sure what you are so fearful about. If you care much for your country and stop to think about actual policies and their end-effect on the United States, rather than TV propaganda, there was a lot more to fear had results been different. All the best


  9. Thanks for reading and for the feedback, jgersbeck123. I can’t argue with the idea that using a baseball card to express anything is silly (but I’ll probably keep doing it–it’s developed into a full-blown personal tic). I think you’re right about propaganda in that there’s probably plenty of propaganda swirling about on both sides of the divide. I’m trying to stay away from the TV (except for old episodes of Barney Miller, which I find calming) and relying on trying to read more than I have in the past on current issues and relying on the people I trust among friends and family. I’m seeing (with my biases for sure) that the immediate future doesn’t look so bright in terms of the human rights and environmental issues I care about.


  10. I am a big fan of your work, and this is among your best pieces. I understand the impulse to fade into obscurity, and I am trying to fight it every day. Not sure if I am winning or losing.


  11. Well said Josh. Your words and these baseball cards are extremely important.


  12. I love this entry, and don’t mind the non-subtle political overtones. I think we’ve all felt anxiety about our nation and our world at one time or another, and a great many people feel it today more acutely than they ever have. Whether that’s because the world is a scarier place today or if it’s just because in the past we were much more blissfully ignorant of all the dangers in the world, that can be debated. But we all feel it. So, what to do? I say, if we all had a bit more grit and determination (like Hector Torres displays in his card photo), we have the power to make it a better world. One of my best friends in the world witnessed the passing of his 90+ year old father recently. His father was a Mexican immigrant who worked his tail off in America to make something of himself. He ran a general handyman business for over 50 years, and was a very accomplished artist on the side. My friend shared a quote from his late father that stuck with me – “if you control it, what are you worried about? if you can’t control it, what are you worried about?” … let’s all make the very best of the things that are in front of our face every day – our families, our work, our communities, our interactions with strangers. That’s all we can do. Worrying about the other stuff is like drinking poison and thinking it’s going to make you feel better.

    Josh – keep up the great work brother, and keep your head up – in so many ways, our world and our nation are better than they’ve ever been – and that has very little to do with who happens to control the White House at any moment.


  13. Loved this post! Spent a lot of time in Mexico and once had the pleasure to watch the Sultanes of Monterrey play alongside the owner Pepe Maiz, who was on the LL champs in 1957 and 1958. Keep up the good work.


  14. Thanks all for the encouraging words. I really appreciate it.

    That’s a great quote, Brad. Thanks for sharing that.

    Mark: Now I want to know more about Pepe Maiz! I’d been wondering whether there were any guys who played on both championship teams.


  15. Starting to doubt that Pepe (Jose Maiz Garcia) played on the 1958 team as one source had implied, given that his birthdate is August 14, 1944. The limit for 13 year olds was July 31, when it was changed to April 30 in 2006 (Unable to track down if there had been prior rules in effect that would have allowed him to play on the 1958 team). BTW, it has been decided that no 13 year olds can now play in the LLWS, as a new cutoff date of August 31 would be gradually implemented to take effect in 2018.

    Pepe was joined on the 1957 Monterrey team by Angel Macias, who threw the only perfecto ever in a championship game. I remember watching a movie about the team (heaven’s, it could have actually been a newsreel!) as a kid in the early 1960s. The story about the team with a three day visa that just kept winning is remarkable. It appears that another future major leaguer, Bobby Trevino of the Angels, played with Hector Torres in 1958 for Monterrey.

    Speaking of dissolving borders, the US Champion in 1985 was a team from Mexicali, which won the California championship and represented the Far West, and included, I believe, players from both sides of the border.


  16. Came across the rosters for 1957 and 1958. The only name common to both lists is Cesar Faz, who was the coach.


  17. There’s a 2010 feature movie about the ’57 team. I haven’t seen it, but Roger Ebert liked it: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-perfect-game-2010


  18. I grew up around Hector and the Padres from the time he played back then.
    I have since lost touch with him but have been curious how him, his wife, and 4 daughters are doing.
    They, along with other Padres of the time (Andy Ashby and Enzo Hernandez) would come to our church from time to time – Hector was a member of our church.
    I will keep this brief, but these two things stick with me.

    First, I will never forget Hector taking the time to play catch with me when we would be at his place, or him at ours. He was always kind and a true family friend. I was really into baseball back then and played on a few LL World series teams too (sadly never past regionals). Needless to say, what a thrill for a young 10-13yo boy.

    Here is a little perspective on how things have changed in this world of ours.

    Hector was no star, but rather a humble utility player (mostly SS, 2nd base but as I recall, he also played catcher and 3rd base from time to time), and was never one to hit for power, or even had much of a batting average. Usually 7 or 8 in the line up and sometimes 2nd or 6th.
    He was traded around the league quite a bit. I recall he played for the The Cubs, Tigers, Astros, Padres, Expos, and Blue Jays. (He hit the first ever home run in the Blue Jay’s new stadium.)

    All this to bring the point of how I got to know him so well.

    He used to rent our travel trailer to live in. It was only 24′ long and him and his kids would stay in it in campland by the bay (a RV resort here in San Diego).
    And when they did get a house, it was a very modest one in Mira Mesa (a straight up middle class/semi-military neighborhood).

    He didn’t make millions.
    He didn’t ever flaunt his position in life.
    As a matter of fact I never even knew him as anything but a really nice man that was amazing at a game that I love.
    Never, a gloating superstar – though I thought of him as one in my heart and mind.

    For that I will always have a place in my heart for you and your family Hector. And I hope you and your family are well.

    PS,
    Still got your glove and the one you got me from Enzo Hernandez.
    And my Dad still brings up the bat you gave him that you hit a home run with. He always insinuates we took it out in the yard and hit rocks with it haha!

    Miss ya bud.

    And to the author of this little piece! Thanks for the trip back!



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