Wednesday, March 13, 2013

El Gato, 1930 - 2013

Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico -- Don Pedro "El Gato" Aguirre, 82, died peacefully at his home.  He loved three things: Baseball, his family and baseball.  Don Pedro “El Gato” Aguirre, a most outstanding citizen, a longtime veteran of his city’s police force passed away the 13th day of March, 2013, shortly after the white smoked was seen in Rome.

Mass of Christian Burial  was held at 7 a.m. last Friday at Casa de Jesus de Cuidad Juarez, where he was also in state on Thursday.  Interment followed on Friday at Recinto de la Oracion.  Family and the Sisters offered several rosaries and prayers for him.

What we never know about death is the day or the hour.  The faith of the Christian believer should give us – his survivors – peace that our loved one is now in the presence of God, free of imperfection, free of suffering and free of mortality.

If it could only be that simple.

For some, this fateful day comes only as the result of many, many years of suffering and pain.  For El Gato, it came with Alzhiemer’s and more than 12 years of steady decline, until the illness took with it every ounce of his being.

They are years and years my grandmother, mother and aunts toiled with day after day, giving him the care he needed. 

He is my maternal grandfather, but he made it clear he never wanted to be called, “grandpa” or “abuelo”.  He didn’t like the sound of that word, and in many ways, my childhood is filled with countless memories with him -- more as a friend -- than a grandson. 

Most importantly, he was a prominent member of the city’s baseball lore, inducted into Ciudad Juarez Hall of Fame some years ago.  He played when “peloteros” kept their athletic build with hot dogs and beer.  He played when salaries in baseball were nothing, and being part of the magical game was truly for love of the game.  The likes of Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson covered the airwaves in Major League Baseball in that era, but in his world the name "El Gato" made constant headlines as the city’s best catcher and clean-up hitter.

El Gato suffered a career ending injury during his playing years as a catcher, which led him to a 30-year career as a police officer.  However, during that time, baseball was never far away.  As he was enfrocing the law on the streets, he was also making his name known as an umpire on the weekends.  The blue uniform suited him well.  He was part of the umpire corps, who protected themselves from pitches with a large foam shield behind home plate.  God help those who disputed a call with El Gato!  He would become the president of the umpires association for the city.

He gave us many memories, memories riding in that brown four-door Ford LTD always on the way to a bullfight or a ballgame with the 1911 .45 under the seat.  His influence in the city was such that we never paid at any gate.  We always had choice seats, and it seemed everybody in town knew, El Gato.

He is one of the last from The Greatest Generation in my life.  He exemplified dedication, character, and a no-nonsense way of doing things, which has left a permanent impression to those of us who remain behind. 

The last time he recognized us was in 2001.  I can’t say when he stopped understanding baseball, but I sincerely hope it has come back to life for him in some way, somewhere.

He will be able to enjoy Opening Day in 2013 from the best seats in the house.  

He was preceded in death by his daughter, Martha Aguirre Felix in 1983.

He is survived by his wife, Amalia Aguirre Guevara; daughters, Agustina Aguirre Najera and husband Jose, Sister Aurora Aguirre and Dora Aguirre; grandchildren, Javier E. Najera and wife, Idaly, Jorge L. Najera and wife, Minerva and Monica Najera-Tellez and husband, Andy; great-grandchildren, Itzayana and Aytana Najera, Israel and Galilea Najera, and Ilianna Hernandez; and a host of extended family and friends.