The hero of the slightly surreal “The Hector Quesadilla Story” is a typical Boyle antihero. Although the story is in the tradition of mythic tales of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, Hector Quesadilla, in his fifties, is no Sultan of Swat—he has shin splints, corns, and hemorrhoids. He is not only old, but he is also fat, a man who eats as though there were some creature inside him made of nothing but jaws and guts. He has not played regularly in ten years, but he wants one more season; he refuses to admit that he is old. In baseball, Hector believes, the grass is always green and the lights are always shining, for it is a game that never ends.
The story focuses on one particular day late in the season; it is Hector’s birthday, and there is a home game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. His entire family attends—his wife, his grandchildren, even his son, Hector, Jr., who studies English at USC and is writing a thesis on a mystical British poet, of whom Hector has never heard. Hector’s own mystic adventure begins when the game is tied up at 5 to 5 at the bottom of the ninth inning and seems headed for extra innings. As the game goes into its twenty-second inning, Hector begins to feel, with a sense of wonder, that he is destined to be the hero of the longest game in history.
The story moves toward its transcendent climax at the top of the thirty-first inning, when finally Hector is sent up to bat and thus, it is hoped, to bring the game to an end. However, it is not to be. Although he connects with the ball, sending it over the center fielder’s head to slam off the wall, his legs give out, and he is cut down at third base. Stunned and humiliated, he staggers to the dugout, to the jeers of the remaining crowd. Still it is not over, however, and Hector goes in again. The story (but not the game) ends with him stepping up to the plate, the bat flashing in his hands like an archangel’s sword; the game goes on forever.
Although this story begins in Boyle’s typical comic play, this time as a parody of the baseball hero biography, the magic of the game takes over. Instead of a comic parody, what results is a truly transcendent hymn to the national pastime and an objectification of the yearning in the heart of everyone to have that one moment in the sun. What makes the story work is its metaphoric objectification of the mythic ideal of “the game that goes on forever.” The language moves from satiric flippancy to a poetic evocation of those countless Sunday afternoons on baseball fields all across the United States, where American children look for heroes, and old men try to hold on to youth.
“The Hector Quesadilla Story” is one of several tales in T. Coraghessan Boyle’s second collection of short fiction, Greasy Lake and Other Stories (1985), in which identity and experience are so closely intertwined that they achieve a magic fusion. The title character is an aging baseball player whose profession has consumed his life. A “saint of the stick” during his teenage years in the Mexican League, he enjoyed a respectable career as a utility infielder with several major-league teams. Hector serves as a last-resort pinch hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He refuses to acknowledge his forty—possibly fifty—years, although “he hasn’t played regularly for nearly ten years and can barely trot to first after drawing a walk.”
Hector’s long-suffering wife, Asunción, pleads with him to give up the game and accept his age gracefully, but Hector—who is a father of two and grandfather of four—is intoxicated by the timelessness of the national pastime: “How can he get old? The grass is always green, the lights always shining, no clocks or periods or halves or quarters, no punch-in or punch-out; this is the game that never ends.” Each year, Hector promises Asunción that the next will be his last.
(The entire section is 1,625 words.)