For Vicky, who was born in Havana, the sense of mission is equally strong. So is the sense of irony: In Communist Cuba, whatever its other hardships, even the poorest children get medical care and full-time schooling. Wandering off on her own, Vicky finds a shack where a mother, surrounded by undersized children, spoon-feeds watery soup to an infant lying motionless in her lap. "The baby needs vitamins," Vicky says after a short chat with the woman in Spanish, "but they have no money." Rummaging in her purse, she comes up with $7, which she hands to the mother. "That's why I can't be here," Vicky says as she walks away, her eyes brimming with tears. "I get so involved in their lives."
Which, of course, is the point. The old modes of U.S. aid, the big-ticket infrastructure projects, may have produced more concrete than concrete results. "And when we think that way—if government is involved, I don't have to do anything—it takes us out of the picture," Dave says. "I can stay in my comfort zone."
If that sounds like a subtle pitch for contributions, it is. But unlike some of the pitches in Valle's life—fastball, slider, curve—the one for Esperanza is hard to lay off and almost impossible to second-guess. "Nobody's going to remember what I've done as a ballplayer," he says, escorting his family back up the crumbling steps to Santo Domingo's paved streets. "My statistics won't matter. But the work we do here, the things we do to help people change their lives for the better...."
He lets the thought hang, halfway to the plate.