Never before have there been so many of them together. Santana and Griffin, the elder statesmen, lead the banter. Uribe, the least sophisticated and the most excited, can't stop smiling. Franco gets in some jokes, but he remains just off to the side. Fernandez, who is with his wife and a friend, says very little, but all eyes seem drawn to him. Duncan arrives a little late, but nobody would ever get mad at him.
A table is waiting for them at El Piano, a restaurant on the square, and when they take their seats, who should find himself at the head of the table but Cabeza. During lunch, baseballs are passed around the table for each short-stop to autograph and save for himself. They're expert jugglers, tossing the balls back and forth and signing them. At one point, Duncan, sitting at one end, wings a ball the length of the table toward Fernandez. If someone had leaned over at that moment for the salt, there might have been a serious injury. Fernandez, his head down over the plate, his fork in his right hand, suddenly brings up his glove hand and catches the ball cleanly at his left ear. It's an almost magical play, and everyone's eyes widen.
Hanging around the fringes of the table are two of the more or less regular beggars in San Pedro, an older man and a boy everyone calls Cumplea�o ("Birthday") because it seems every day is his birthday. Nobody shoos them away; in fact, the two pull up chairs and join in the conversation. When the lunch is over, Griffin says a few words to the old man and slips him some money. "He was a fine ballplayer once," says Griffin. Then the shortstops leave the restaurant and slide into their new cars, which are zealously guarded by young boys.
The next time you see Cabeza or any of the other Dominican shortstops go into the hole, and you hear the announcer say something like, "Boy, he had to go a long way for that one," just think how far he really did go.