Neto's Tucson: At 82, he recalls a life in border baseball

2013-05-12T00:00:00Z 2013-05-12T18:06:43Z Neto's Tucson: At 82, he recalls a life in border baseballErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

While the boys and girls of summer play out their dreams on the diamond-shaped fields, Jesús Terán Montaño can only reminisce about his baseball days.

The 82-year-old Rita Ranch resident lives for baseball. He spent most of his adult life in Douglas and immersed himself in baseball in his adopted town and across the border in Agua Prieta, Sonora.

Today he spends his days surrounded by a collection of books, newspaper clippings and magazines, autographed balls and photos of him with Mexican baseball legends.

He also has a framed collection of universal passes, issued by Major League Baseball, to all minor league baseball games in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

"I was not an outstanding player, but I loved to play," Terán said in Spanish.

We parked ourselves in the garage of his tract home on a quiet, mesquite-tree-lined street. It is miles and years away from the dirt lots he played on while his amateur teams hooted and hollered.

"When we played with four baseballs, we thought we were in the big leagues," said Terán, a retired meat cutter.

His "big leagues" were informal teams made up of young and older men who loved to play the game on a Sunday across the border or out of town in Bisbee and Tucson. Nothing was on the line except bragging rights and beer.

"The guys who won drank two barrels. The guys who lost got one," he quipped.

He traveled along the border from Texas to Baja California, and frequently to Tucson and Sonora or other Mexican states, playing baseball and later organizing baseball games for adults and boys, and softball for girls.

He also put together games for charity, schools and churches, and obtained uniforms, gloves and bats from equipment manufacturers.

He distributed them to youngsters in Douglas and in Sonora, where baseball is king. The sport is more popular than soccer in Sonora. Kids there grow up playing ball with dreams of the big leagues as they run over dirt and rocks and slide into makeshift bases.

Baseball is a passion for Terán. He traveled on his own dime and pressed the flesh with players, promoters and club owners.

He promoted Little League in Agua Prieta. He scouted players for the Mexico City professional team Los Tigres.

For all his dedication, Sonoran sports writers inducted Terán into the Sonoran Sports Hall of Fame in Hermosillo, the capital city, in 1998.

Terán doesn't quite recall what sparked his love for the game. He played as a kid in Moctezuma, a small, agricultural community at the foot of Sonora's sky islands, Sierra Madre Occidental.

He moved to Agua Prieta when he was 17 years old, and seven years later moved across the line and became a naturalized citizen.

It was in Douglas in the mid-1950s when he resumed playing baseball. He played right field and second base, but he admits he was not all that good. However he realized he had a flair for organizing games and leagues.

Along the way he met some of Sonora's biggest names in baseball, some of whom played in the big show: Roberto "Beto" Ávila, a 1950s batting champ for the Cleveland Indians; the "Superman of Chihuahua," Héctor Espino; Vinicio "Vinny" Castilla, who wore several MLB uniforms; former Diamondback Erubiel Durazo; and Fernando Valenzuela, who starred with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Weekend road trips became a way of life for Terán, who is married and the father of five adult children.

Driving with ballplayers across Arizona was not always pleasant. Twice, U.S. Border Patrol agents near Tucson stopped his car, suspecting his ballplayers were in this country illegally.

Despite those minor bumps, Terán looks back at his baseball career with pride and nostalgia.

"I did not look for it," he said. "It came to me."

Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at netopjr@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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