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Do�a Altagracia says Wilton, an infielder for the Kansas City Royals, is the only one of her sons who still sings in public. "His band plays in our church," she says.
Vladimir is still fond of merenguemusic, though, which he listens to at ear-splitting volume, but it was his ability to play baseball that distinguished him early from other boys. This was not baseball as it is played in Little Leagues across America. Vladimir and his friends sometimes had to play with sticks for bats and lemons wrapped in rags for balls. They played on cobblestoned streets, in cleared pastures and sandy lots. "Whenever the kids got together to play," his mother says, "they always chose him for their team because he could hit."
Vladimir tries to deflect even this compliment. "I didn't run fast, though," he says, "because I was fat."
"But you were strong," says his mother, "and you could hit."
He says his strength came from his work in the fields. "I had to bring in the cattle," he says. "The bulls were stubborn, and I had to pull them until they did what they were supposed to." He points to his arms: "That's what made me strong up here."
"My mother," Do�a Altagracia adds, "once told me, 'All your boys play baseball well, but this one--Vladimir--someday will be a famous pelotero. I won't live to see it, but the ants will come and tell me in my grave.'"
The Guerreros' first home was a sod dwelling with a palm-frond roof built by Don Dami�n, Vladimir's father, and Do�a Altagracia while she was pregnant with Eliezer, her first child. They built it, she says, because she was determined that her children would be born in their own home--not in a rental, not in a relative's house. "Little by little, we improved it," she says, "first with wood, then concrete walls with a tin roof. That roof blew away in a hurricane, but we fixed it."
She pulls out pictures of the new dwelling the family is building near their first home. Vladimir watches proudly as his mother describes what is depicted in the photographs. "Over here will be the gym," she says, "and the pool will go right there."
The sprawling house sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. "Everyone has already claimed a room," Vladimir says laughing. "The house is not finished yet, but the rooms are all spoken for."
"The whole family will be together," Do�a Altagracia says, pleased.