3 of 3 — Down to the wire
(Valerie says: no doubt about it, with his deep, booming voice, my husband should have followed through with his original plan of being a sports journalist! Even those who didn’t speak English were enjoying his play by play commentary last night!!)
Evenings on the Calzada strip present visitors with a bustling carnival-like atmosphere. Street performers, from traditional Nicaraguan dancers to Mariachi Bands, make their way up and down the avenue looking for restaurant patrons who are amenable to brief interruptions of their dining experience.
Likewise, hawkers of various products move their way along the street weaving in and out of tables trying to pick up a few cordobas. Youngsters who make flowers, animals and other designs out of palm fronds are often the most persistent.
But, purveyors of cigarettes, candy, cashews, pottery, jewelry, linens and various other products also abound.
Typically, these marketers seem to have a single minded focus of presenting their talents, and wares, to as many prospective customers as possible. They take rejection good naturedly and quickly move on to the next table,
However, early Sunday night, as Valerie and I sat down for dinner, their focus on making the next sale did not appear to be so laser-like. They all seemed to have one eye constantly fixed towards the Orientales baseball game beaming from televisions up and down the avenue.
Once we settled into our seats, with a television less than 10 feet away, I quickly sensed the consternation that reverberated through the crowd. We were watching the deciding game in a best of five playoff series that would determine the National League Champion of the Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League. However, it was the bottom of the seventh inning and the Granada squad was behind 2-1.
When the Orientales went down in order and the visiting Boers from Managua plated a run in the top of the eighth, a sense of dread hung over the crowd. However, the home team showed some life by scraping across a run in the bottom of the frame and the game moved into the ninth inning with the score 3-2.
When the Granada hurler was able to pitch out of a jam in the top of the ninth the crowd hummed with anticipation as the Orientales prepared for their last chance to at least even the score. Our prime seat for the action was well evidenced by the activity directly surrounding us. As the first batter stepped to the plate I sensed jittery fingers strumming the back of my chair. I turned to see one of the young palm frond artists nervously running his fingers along the top of the seat back as his eyes were fixated on the screen.
Other than the hours that he spends each night selling his goods, I have no idea what quality of life that youngster endures. However, at that moment, I believe that he was completely entranced by thoughts of heroism, baseball style. Like millions of youth around the world who envision themselves shooting the winning basket, kicking the winning goal or catching the winning touchdown I sensed that, in his mind, he was about to be Granada’s hometown hero.
Turning our attention back to the game, we watched as the first Orientale batter was hit by a pitch and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt. The lead runner was advanced to third base as the next hitter laid down a bunt single. Things were looking up for the Granadinos but, in true Philadelphia fashion, I sensed that all was lost as the next batter grounded a ball towards second.
The impending doom that quickly overtook the Calzada strip just as quickly transformed into a sea of joy as a hard, and seemingly wide, take out slide averted what appeared to be a certain double play and the tying run crossed home plate. The atmosphere was still abuzz with excitement as the final out of the inning was recorded by Managua and the game moved into extra innings.
During the crossover, the young frond salesman moved on to his next stop and Valerie went off to the restroom. I was quickly joined by one of the street troubadours, guitar in hand, who quickly planted himself into Valerie’s empty chair. The last thing on his mind, at that moment, was a performance for Valerie and I.
Like most everyone on Calzado, his attention was directed towards the game. His smile widened with each out as the Orientales retired the Boers in order. His focus was only briefly diverted when Valerie returned to claim her seat. As the Granada squad prepared to hit in the tenth inning he meandered off toward his next stop and the sense of anticipation wafted through the streets.
Disappointment briefly overtook the cheering throngs when the lead-off batter was easily retired. Hope was quickly restored when the next batter singled. The place was jumping when the next batter hit a long fly ball to center and the crescendo built as it sailed over the outfielder’s head and caromed off the wall.
This could be it! Jubilation was paramount as everyone anticipated that the winning run was shortly going to cross home plate. The bubble was excruciatingly burst as the television cameras switched from the ball rolling in the outfield to the runner approaching third base. Instead of exhilaratingly sprinting towards home he was hobbling on one leg after blowing out a hamstring. It took all he could muster just to limp into third.
Was I in Philly on Granada? Could I really have chosen to root for another snake bitten franchise after a lifetime of developing the unmistakable Philadelphia “wait until next year” defense mechanism?
Not so fast. A crowd of approximately 25 viewers were now gathered around the television near our table. Again, they comprised several generations. Other than the active toddler climbing over chairs and staggering through the crowd, under her father’s somewhat watchful eye, all attention was on the game.
Okay, maybe Valerie, with visions of her own grandchild was more enthralled by the antics of the little girl. But, after Managua intentionally walked the bases loaded to set up a potential double play, or force out at home, the game again became paramount.
When the Orientale batter swung at the first pitch and hit a sharp groundball up the middle, which bounded off of second base and into center field, the winning run easily scored and the excitement level reached new heights. Up and down Calzada there were hugs, kisses, high fives, fist pumps and just about every other imaginable display of celebration!
The Managua Boers, Nicaragua’s equivalent to the despised New York Yankees, had been eliminated and Granada’s heroes were moving on to meet the Chinendaga Tigers for the overall Nicaraguan League Championship.
The next morning Valerie and I went to the gym and the thrill of the previous night’s game was readily apparent. As is the case in Philadelphia, following Eagles wins on Sundays, this Monday morning seemed to consist of wider smiles, increased courteousness and an overall greater sense of satisfaction. In my mind this experience demonstrated the valuable sense of community that is generated by rooting for the home team.
However, also like Philly, it did not take long for one of the gym workers to lament the Orientales lack of consistent offense. He expressed a deep concern for their chances against Chinendaga. I doubt that Granada has sports-talk radio but this fella could surely hold his own among the barrage of enthusiasts that call into Philadelphia programs.
All I could do was smile to myself and look forward to the joy of being able to enjoy the games without being too emotionally invested.