Intersections – The Ghost of Pascual Pérez
It’s spring time in Atlanta and some are ready for baseball. I look for ghosts.
I don’t remember missing a Braves game until I went to college. All through my childhood, baseball was our habit. When we moved to Georgia my mother learned, and then knew, everything there was to know about the sport.
One of my sisters would sit on the floor in front of the coffee table. She kept track of the game on a scorecard from the newspaper. At the end of the game, her grid rivaled any scientific log. There was my spring and summer and fall. She had a poster of Dale Murphy in her bedroom. He held a neon glowing bat. He was a superhero. My other sister had a baseball signed by Glenn Hubbard. My mother’s favorite player was Chris Chambliss. You would not know about my family’s love of baseball if you met them today. Baseball is gone from us now.
My father would explain Atlanta driving to out of town visitors with the story of Pascaul Pérez. Pascual got on 285 heading for the Braves stadium. He drove for hours and hours circling the city, not realizing 285 was a perimeter, a loop. He drove until he was almost out of gas. When he stopped at a service station, someone recognized him and directed him to the stadium. He showed up twenty minutes late, and another pitcher had already taken the mound. The nickname “I-285” stuck. The highway is still there. But Pascual is gone. He died in his home country, the Dominican Republic, in a botched robbery. I wonder about the moment when history becomes legend.
My dad is gone, too. This is my first baseball season without him, but in all honesty I haven’t watched an entire baseball game in years. The night my husband and I got our cat, our first baby, we’d gone to a Braves game with my parents. My cat is eleven years old now, and her name is Greg Maddux. He, the man, pitched a one hit game that night. Good enough reason to memorialize a victory through her, the cat.
When I was a kid, my parents had time to sit with me and my sisters for nine innings and sometimes more. We would take MARTA to the old stadium where I watched football and baseball growing up. The old stadium is now a parking lot. The new stadium will also become the old stadium and soon enough baseball will be gone from the city. If there are too many ghosts in Atlanta it’s because we have made them.
Years ago, I saw a ghost as I drove into San Francisco. The 101 merges with the 280 highway at a point slightly elevated over the city. There is a perfect view of the baseball stadium. One morning just as I caught sight of the baseball stadium, I noticed the shadow of my grandfather sitting in the back seat of my car. The sunlight broke through the morning fog, and the outline of a man in a fedora rode with me for a moment. Then he was gone. I wonder what he wanted to say. I felt unsettled, but it made me feel better to go to a baseball game that day.
Just this month, I drove on 285 and imagined the ghost of Pascual Pérez was riding with me. These days, he is not lost. He likes the journey. He is good company. He will ride with me whether or not there is baseball in Atlanta. Maybe that famous night as he drove round and round the city for hours, he was talking to a ghost in the backseat of his car. Now the ghost of Pascual Pérez is happy when rush-hour takes three hours. If there is hell, there is heaven. Circling Atlanta for all eternity might be nice, if you believe the baseball stadium is around the next bend.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom.