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Prosa, Issue 11 | December 2013

     

Hit

I want to tell them. I want to tell them what is wrong. Why I no hit. They going to ask me, soon they will ask me, but all I can say to them is I don’t know why I am not me.

Before, they ask me how it feel to win big, they ask what I doing different when I hit 22 homeruns one season, 41 the next. They notice when I do good, they ask me what I doing to be so good. So they will ask me this. Soon.

And I will have to say to them I am doing what I always doing up there, nothing different. But now I no hit the ball.

Mi papá me llama, he say I scared of the pitch. He say never before is he seeing this in me. He watch the game against Tampa on the television I buy for him, he call me and he say, ¿Por qué te da miedo la pelota? Nunca te asustas antes. I say I don’t know, Papi, but the hitting coach, he will tell me what is wrong. Papi say he will tell me I scared.

I think maybe I holding one shoulder high, maybe I am turning one leg wrong. I am thinking maybe my hips are tipped, crooked. I am doing something that is telling the ball I am not me, and then I no hit it. Coach, he no say nothing though. He say I look like me, my regular swing, and he will watch tapes to see if he can know what is wrong.

Then—two more weeks of this. I go below .200 for only time since Little League. On-base percent worse it ever been. I walk up, I feel no different than March Spring Training, I no hit the ball. I swing like me, the ball no there. They all talking about me, I know.

___

Papi tell me, after the game against the Yankees he watch on the cable I buy for him, he say I am being afraid. Papi say, You are dipping your shoulder, you are tipping your hip, you are not even, you are not square, Make your body one unit, swing and shift at one time, You are not coming into the ball with your whole self, you are not sure. He tell me, They cannot tell you what is wrong there.

He say to me, Wait for the ball to be in the spot you need it to be before you brush it away from you. He say, Espera. Sé cierto. Quédate tranquilo y paciente. Mijo, no te asustes.

He make it sound so easy. He make it sound like I am dancing or cleaning the floors.

___

I will say to them, What is there to be afraid of a ball the size of a fist? It can no hurt me. It hit my shoulder, I am sore. It hit my leg, I maybe get bruise. It can no take away my life, it can no go under my helmet and hit my head, make me go into a sleep where I don’t know who I am. I know who I am. I am a man. I am Rafael Miguel Emmanuel Jiménez. Son, father, husband. American, Dominican. Left fielder. I am hitter. I am Number One Draft Pick 2005. I am Rookie of the Year 2006. I am MVP 2007. Just because if I hit the ball I make lots of money, fans yell my name and fly the flag of my country, kids ask for me to sign balls, I get let in to all the best bars, supermodels want to date me until I pick one to marry, just because if I hit the ball I buy my wife car, fur, diamonds, I buy big house for me and my wife and two daughters, just girls, maybe we will try for a boy after this season, I buy Papi a good house in DR, a house he can be proud of, and a lady to come and cook and clean for him so he no have to—he no come to America, he say he never leave DR, and mi mamá, she die when I young, she never see me play baseball in this country, so I take care of Papi—just because I have contract for one more year and then I become free agent and people decide how much to pay me, if to pay me, just because if I hit the ball I am worth more in this country, just because now I buy my wife and my girls whatever they want and they want me to keep doing this, just because it is my job to hit the little white ball with red strings on it, just because if I no hit I no play baseball anymore in this country, this country where baseball was born, that no mean I am afraid.

I will tell them this.

___

We lose first game against the Braves, I go zero for four.

I book a plane ticket home, for the day after the last game in series, for the break before we play Chicago. My wife, she pack for me the shirts she like me to wear down there. She pack me the diamond earrings she buy for me with my money, that she want me to wear when I am on television, so everyone at home can see how rich her husband is. I pack my bats, the ones with my names on them, the one that was hot in spring. I pack my batting gloves. I am going home, to see my first coach, my first hitting adviser, to have Papi tell me what is wrong.

___

Mi papá, he no feed me when I arrive. He no ask how my flight.

He take me to the field where I learn to play, in school, he stand there, he watch. I swing at imaginary balls that no there, I swing at soft pitches Papi throw to me, I swing at eighty-mile-hour curves he still can throw, decades after Dominican League. Mi Papi, he have a belly now, but he still have wide chest. I am more strong, but he is still strong. He no hug me or shake my hand when I arrive, but I see he still have strength in his arms. Grey hair covered by Tigers del Licey hat, grey stubble on his face. His face is my face. He frowning like I frowning. Papi, he no so old. But he be old someday. I swing, I swing, I swing.

___

I don’t know what other job I can do in US. If I no hit the ball, they no let me advertise aftershave. Cars, sneakers, soap. I don’t know if they will let me stay in America. But I can work here, in my country. Papi was farmer, I can be farmer too. I can grow sugarcane like they no have in US. I can play part-time in Dominican League, maybe old friends from school are still on the team. My father, he have extra home I buy for him, we use that, mi familia can stay there. I am known here, people see me, they know who I am. People wear hats for my team in my country, they wear my number on their back. They will want to help me. They will give me work. Mi familia, they no starve. Mi mujer will be the best-dressed chica in Bani, with the clothes she has now. No one will make fun of mis hijas in my country. There is no reason to be afraid.

___

Mi papá, he tell me to take off that silly shirt. Who hit baseballs in button-up? He ask me why I no come ready to hit? I throw my Dolce & Gabanna to the ground. He tell me be serious. We have no much time. He say, Estás equivocado. ¿Desde cuando no eres tu mismo?

He watch me. He say I lost the pure swing I born with, the swing Papi perfected. He say is no there no more. He say stop thinking. He say go back to who I was. Ignore the stupid shit this batting coach teach me, ignore all I been told. That asshole. Papi ask me why I’m wearing gold jewelry to play baseball. I throw my gold chain to the dust. He tell me stop thinking.

___

After we lost series against the Braves, swept, me without hit fourteen games straight, after my team no more number one in the division, right before I take a plane to come to here, they ask me what is wrong. I finally no can avoid them. They hold microphone to me and I say, Why be scared of bomb before bomb has dropped? Why know of sickness when you are well? Why believe your plane will crash, your crops will fail, the sun will not come from clouds? We never know what will happen next until it does. Is not like a bullet is what they throw. They no throwing deportation papers, cancer for my wife, leukemia for my children, they no have hunger or home or hurricane in their glove. They cannot toss to me death, my father forgetting me, they no have AIDS or malaria in their palm. What you think I see up there? World war? Rape of my wife? Kidnap of my daughters? My youngest on coke, my oldest in noose? The ball no make my wife stop loving me, my children ashamed. Is not a tornado, earthquake, flood. The pitch no can make me not a man. I am not afraid.

I walk away. They let me go to the locker room, take a shower, wash off the disgrace I brought to me and mi familia.

I tell to no one I coming here.

___

Papi call me, the day before I come to him. He ask why when I speak English, they put English words under me, on the television. I tell to him in America, some people cannot understand me when I talking. The accent, they no can hear it right. He ask why I no speak Spanish then. I say they expect me to speak their language. He laugh at that, and laugh and laugh.

___

I swing. I swing. My arms burn. My legs tire from bending and crouching and turning. Is no getting better. I am no getting it right. He throw me all the balls from the pile in front of him, then he go and pick them all up from behind me, and start again.

Papi tell me I no can play baseball in jeans. He ask me what I thinking. I take them off, throw leather belt and designer denim and leather shoes and earrings out into the grass. I do not want to stand in my boxers, barefoot, I feel like little child, but I no can question my father. I must do what he say. He tell me, You no remember who you are, you finished.

And Papi, mi papi, he walk up to me. My father, he stand behind me and put his arms around me. I feel embarrassed. He say he will show me. He move my shoulder, he move my hip, he shift my body so it is right. He put me in the right place. He smell like sweat and dirt and the wet air of here. He was bigger than me, now his arms don’t reach around. He hold my wrists with his hands, I feel his chest on my back, everything in him is tight, his arms are still strong, he turn me back and forth, showing me, he rock me, he say, Aquí, aquí. Así, así. Puedes hacer esto. Vas a ser esto de nuevo. Mijo, sabes quien eres. Aquí, aquí.

___

 The team, they say I lost my touch, they say it no my fault, they say I no been training hard enough, they say I washed up already, they say it will come back, they say is gone forever, they say I never was any good, they say I can’t get it back, they say is a magic I can’t control, they say I deserve to get it back, they say making what I make and no hitting it’s better than working in a factory, they say I get paid too much, they say I’ll never hit again, they say is just a slump, they say I don’t deserve it, they say I need help.

Some say I taking steroids, now I no taking them no more. That is why I so bad now. Is not true. I never take no shots, no pills, no nothing. No drugs. It always been me who done the things I done.

Children tell my daughters their father was taking drugs. My girls, they yell back. All my wife say, she ask me, Is it true? I say no, and she go to make desayuno for the girls.

Fans boo me when I go to the plate. They hold signs that say, Jiménez, get some balls, because I no can just watch the ball go by me, I swing at everything, hoping for jam of contact, I swing even low even high, I swing three times then go sit down every time I take the plate, I cannot wait for my pitch, I hurry, I cannot be calm, I cannot watch the ball go by. One hold a sign that say, Jimenez—you have to leave home to get home. I no can score, I never on base.

One fan for my team hold a sign that say, Jiménez, We Believe in You. But another fan yell to me, Go back to where you came from, asshole.

___

Papi go back with his pile to throw to me. The field lights come on, never enough light to play by, and I think I will buy them some light. They can name the field after me and everyone can know I start here.

Stop thinking, pendejo, Papi say to me. Acabas con esto. He throw to me. He throw at me. Hard. I swing. He throw at me again. He want to hit me. He throw hard, he hit me in the shoulder. He throw hard, he hit me in the hip. He throw one more time, hit my shin. He back me off the plate, he bruise my skin I know. I no move, I no swing, because those are not my pitches. Sé quien eras, Papi say to me. Ahora.

I am sweating. I am hungry. I am tired. I am sore. I want water. I want food. I want to put back on my clothes. I want to go home. I want to hit the ball.

Everything is blur and then I no can see the ball, I no see Papi, I no see the field, the dirt, the grass, the sky, I no see my clothes, I no see the stars, I no see nothing but I know where I am, I feel where I am standing, I feel the earth connected to my feet, I feel dust in my toes, I feel wet air against my skin, I feel cielo above, I feel my shoulders spin, and then I hit the ball.

I hit it so far we no see where it land. Papi say nothing.

I hit again and again and again and all the balls fly away from us, I sail balls all over Bani, and as they fall in the middle of the street, in yards, on the roofs of bodegas, through doors of restaurants, people will see them and pick them up and wonder how they got there.

Hit