For the Love of the Game

Long before he was a life insurance agent for New York Life, Gerardo “Jerry” Macias was a kid who loved to play baseball. He nostalgically remembers the hot summer days he spent at the baseball park in El Monte, California where he and other mexicanitos would gather to watch the little league games. The boys, whose parent couldn’t afford to put them in a team, would mingle around the netting to experience that indescribable crack of the wood as baseballs were hit and gloves popped time and again. Religiously, they showed up with their own worn out gloves in hopes of catching at least a foul ball. Watching the game from the stands however, was never good enough; Jerry yearned for the excitement of being in the game. He often daydreamed about how it would feel to put on a uniform, but he knew that practicing with a broomstick and ball of sorts–heck even a rock–would have to do.

Week after week, a local coach saw the enthusiasm that Jerry and the other kids had for the game and decided to form a team for the underprivileged kids. Their name was appropriately “Los Panchos.” Sadly, they would still not be playing against the little league teams but rather scrimmaging and practicing against them. Unable to pay for uniforms, Los Panchos would go out on the field wearing t-shirts, jeans and sneakers, but excited beyond belief that they were actually on the field. In a pickup game intended to practice the all-stars, El Monte Nationals, Los Panchos blew out the all-star team with an incredible upset of 15 to 5. The coach of the El Monte Nationals approached Jerry that day. Pointing a finger at him he said, “You’re going to play in the little leagues.” Jerry wasn’t sure what to make of that comment; he thought perhaps the coach would pay the registration fee for him since that was his only obstacle, but that wasn’t the case.

A few days after that win, Jerry and his brother were walking to church when he spotted a twenty-dollar bill on the ground. This was his in; these twenty dollars would get him and his brother on a team. Back then, it was enough to pay for the registration and he even had enough to buy his first pair of cleats. At the age of 10 years old, Jerry proudly donned his first baseball uni with the Dodgers little league team. He recalls the excitement he felt at the privilege of playing baseball. With his shirt carefully tucked in and his cleats snuggly tied, his entire body trembled as he strode to the mound as the pitcher. This was the dawn of a new era for Jerry; he finally knew what it felt like to be a part of organized baseball.

Jerry continued playing ball until 1971 when—at the age of 13—Jesus, Jerry’s father announced that they would all be moving to Durango, Mexico. Jesus wanted his children to get in touch with their roots and intended to make a life for his family there. Worried about the only thing that truly mattered, Jerry wondered if it was possible for baseball teams to actually exist over there. Once in Durango, the first thing he did was look for a baseball league to join. The coach for Los Venados de Durango recognized the talent and potential in Jerry and accepted him on the team, even if he was a lot younger than all the adults. The coach took Jerry under his wing, protecting him from the older more experienced players and nourishing his talent.

Living in Mexico was difficult and quite different from the U.S., but it was also an invaluable learning experience for Jerry. There, he learned the value of working hard, the importance of family and how lucky he was to have such athleticism. In Mexico, Jerry would develop his natural skill and talent as a pitcher. While he attended the Instituto Tecnológico de Durango, the equivalent of high school, he helped his team make it through the district games, then through regionals and all the way to nationals. A sort of Olympics style setting was the norm for the national games. Several different sports would duke it out with numerous teams each. The Instituto Tecnológico de Durango won the national championship that year and, as if that wasn’t enough, Jerry also won the baseball MVP. He describes this victory as the most memorable of his life.

He had a national championship, an MVP, an admirable pitcher’s physique and a left arm pitching at 90 mph—life could not get any better. Jerry felt on top of the world, and on top of his game. However, as luck would have it, things were not going well financially for the family in Durango. Jesus knew that he had to move his family back to the United States. He also knew that his son had a promising career in baseball and realized that if he moved his family, Jerry might not come along. Jerry did in fact stay behind and tried out with, Los Alacranes de Durango, an AAA team. He knew that his career could possibly take off from here and he had already made a name for himself in Durango in only a few short years. Jerry’s family headed back to the U.S. without him and settled in El Paso, TX. A long drive away, Jerry began to miss them and shortly followed suit.

After graduating from Irvine High School, Jerry accepted a baseball scholarship at New Mexico State University. He was drafted as a pitcher and hitter and played for the Aggies for four years. In 1981, at the age of 23, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. Because—by major league standards—he was older, this was a bit of a long shot but he was grateful to have his talent recognized and be able to play with a major league organization. It was an exciting time for Jerry and especially flattering because it wasn’t just one team looking at him but two. Los Dorados de Chihuahua offered him $4,000 to sign and $2,000 per month; the Reds under bid at $1,500 to sign and only $600 per month. By this time Jerry had met, married and was having his first son with Linda, a beautiful girl from Santa Fe. Naturally, Jerry decided to play in Mexico and signed on with Los Dorados but the Reds would contest the legality and he was soon ordered to return to the United States and continue his career with the Cincinnati Reds.

Jerry found himself at a crossroads; he could report to spring training with the Reds and pursue his dream or he could accept a job offer and be close to his family. Jerry, his wife Linda and their son were now expecting another addition to the family and being away from each other was very difficult. Jerry loved baseball, but he also loved his family and like his father, he wanted to keep them together. He decided not to report to spring training, however he did continue to play baseball in local semi-pro teams for several years and was even his son’s pitching coach through high school.

Today, Jerry and Linda are still happily married and have three wonderful children; Gerardo Gabriel who is 29 years old and has a 6 year old daughter; Monica Nicole who is 28 years old, married and has a 9 month old daughter; and Laura who is 26 years old, also married and lives in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

In the game of life, as in baseball, whether you win or lose, the experiences that build character are what truly matter. Baseball was Jerry’s first love and it was on the path to becoming his career, but after marrying Linda and the birth of his children, fatherhood became his passion.

By Gloria Vaquera

Summer 2010
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