he never said where he came from, but we knew he was a refugee from some war-torn land. we could see it in his eyes, not from tears and sobs, but the way he stared off into some private space, one we would never reach – massive appreciation. he often hopped on two feet, a here and now dance. he rubbed his hands together, ready for whatever might come his way…
and we followed him….to roam around Shennigan’s park in search of a reported limestone cliff, to jump into the water, splash and swim swim swim and when he returned to land, he’d walk and talk about all kinds of subjects, from the Khazar empire to the euphoria of staring into a sparkler to rigging up a hooverville shanty, (how he knew about hoovervilles – a mystery to us) “to love a shelter, a look out, a fort, a home” he’d say.
he had the gift of gratitude, of grace in the way he walked, not sturdy and strict like some repressed soldier, but casual and fun as if he knew all was a dream, one he would never wake up from.
We inquired often about what he might have endured – land mines, lashings, and amputations of friends and family? blown up buildings, beheadings, aerial assaults….but he kept the course, kept quiet, choosing instead, that forever motion, always one step ahead of recycled misery, striving for the new, trespassing into private pools late at night, “pool hopping” he called it, rummaging through the dumpster behind “Ye Old” pharmacy and scoring expired candy bars, and his favorite of all activities – sipping stolen beer beside St. Cabrini’s rectory.
we wore replica detroit tigers jerseys with our names ironed on the back, the tigers, a consensus choice because of our collective love for a pitcher our fathers told us about – Mark Fidrych and the way he talked to himself on the mound. it ushered in gang thought, a brotherhood. We looked after each other. we offered him a jersey. he just whispered,
“never need my name to be seen…”
that’s not to say he didn’t like his name. in fact, he always introduced himself with his first, middle, and last – Javier Lee Torpedo, a South Korean mother and a Spanish father…
he was “proud to come from the split,” as he called it, always including his mother’s family name, to not cut her short because she had walked the 1500 miles to freedom with him, his father and two sisters..”adventures” as he called them…strange to refer to them as adventures, as opposed to torment, but so it was….
we weren’t so sure about his ethnic origins, not too many refugees from South Korea or Spain. We chalked it up as more disguise… to not leak his woe. it didn’t matter. The split, any split, struck us as an omen, a Yu Darvish, part Iranian, part Japanese….and what a success he’s turned out to be and that walking…a sure bet OB% supreme….inspired Harry Hanker to grab Javier by the arm and escort him to Shennigan Park’s baseball diamond, “to see what he’d make of it,” to hit shag flies, take grounders, play pepper and if enough kids loitered, to pick teams, dig in the dirt and enjoy a few innings of paradise.
Javier needed a briefing on the basics…that being on base was a safe haven, but one couldn’t rest on their laurels, one had to advance from one ivory sack to another and ultimately reach home and score a run and with that Javier ran out to second base and started laughing. He rolled his fingers towards himself, a signal for us to join him out there and obediently and eager, we did.
He looked back towards first at “all I’ve lost,” he announced.”
then he looked towards third and “all the joy that lay ahead,.”
“but this second base,” he continued, ….”somewhere in between, will always be home.”
it was Val Smirnoff who stepped up and told Javier about Tris Speaker – the all-time leader in doubles with 792 and Pete Rose second at 746 and the names quickly mushroomed into a forest fire of legend, tales, trivia, and Javier had to know, just had to know the starting lineup of every major league team, especially second sackers, from Kolten Wong to Ozzie Albies….