It must have been strange, wearing those powder blue jerseys with the garish yellow bands, the caps splattered yellow on the brim. It's difficult to conceive of a uniform less dignified than the Seattle Pilots, less a thing to aspire to: a baseball team recreated from a Saturday morning dream, sketched on a notepad on the bedside table. The jerseys were wool, untailored, not even sized.
Especially strange, one would think, to button those uniforms in September, 46 years ago, for a losing team in a rotting stadium in front of crowds so small they didn't deserve the title. September in Seattle, where the clouds hover at the edges of the horizon as if waiting for a man's back to turn. September baseball, that strange mechanical performance, a motionless hungover clubhouse of grown boys pounding a year's worth of the ol' Budweiser. September afternoons, September fourth innings, September grounders through the hole that only keep time from passing.
Miguel Fuentes put on those blues, swam in them like the waters surrounding his home in Puerto Rico. He was six feet tall and only 160 pounds, a 23 year old who looked like a high school student and couldn’t speak English. But he had an arm that demonstrated a rare flicker of something precious: life. In his first start he threw a one-run complete game against the White Sox, singled and scored a run. He struggled with control, like any youth, but when the season finally relented, he struck out Reggie Jackson for the team’s final out. It seemed intentional, like a cliffhanger ending, a promise.
Fuentes returned home to Puerto Rico for the offseason, back to his hometown. After his winter league team lost in the playoffs, according to his friend and teammate Dick Baney, Fuentes was at a bar drinking with some teenagers. Baney wasn’t there. Fuentes may not have been there himself, completely. There was a plumbing problem in the restroom, so the young pitcher stumbled out front to relieve himself. Someone thought he was doing so too close to their jeep. We don’t know what was said, whether voices were raised, whether urine splashed on a tire. We will never know. We know only this: that the man pulled out a gun and murdered him.
We know that he died staring up at the roof of a car, his story unraveling, his future and his present and his past fading away, girlfriends and family and fans in Milwaukee and the killer himself all trickling away with his blood. At some moment the blood stopped flowing to his arm and he stopped being a major league pitcher, and for a brief moment became just a kid in a poor, faraway land. And then.
We know that there is nothing left to know of Miguel Fuentes, a kid who never grew up.