Now 51, Do�a Altagracia is a proud, straight-backed woman with the strong hands and facial lines of someone who has worked hard all her life, and she thanks God frequently for the blessings bestowed upon her and her children.
Vladimir Guerrero knows baseball English. The other kind, the kind you need to speak to sportswriters with confidence, does not come as easily. When a reporter speaks to him in Spanish, relief washes across his face, his whole body relaxes, and he flashes the charming smile that all the Guerreros have. "He's a great teammate," says Lackey. "He's a superstar who doesn't act like one."
He has made many friends on the Angels, but he spends most of his time with the ones who speak Spanish. They hang out at one another's homes playing billiards and video games, swimming in large, immaculate pools. He's also friends with many of the Dominican players on other teams-- Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano. He grew up with San Francisco Giants shortstop Deivi Cruz, playing in the fields of Nizao; Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, who grew up in nearby Ban�, is also a close friend. When Guerrero's friends from other teams come to Anaheim, he brings them home-cooked food prepared by his mother.
"How many dinners do I send today?" Do�a Altagracia asks as he gets ready to leave for the ballpark.
Guerrero closes his eyes and makes a quick tally. "Four," he says, and names the players. She packs four meals and puts them in individual shopping bags. If her son has a day game, she also cooks a big postgame meal, and he will bring some friends home.
"It pleases me that they like my food," she says. "And I know that when Vlady goes to their cities, their families will take care of my son, like I take care of theirs."
At Angel Stadium one July afternoon before a night game, Vlady and Angels infielder Alfredo Amezaga are playing catch with one of the little boys in the extended Guerrero family. The fiveyear-old wears a man's outfielder's glove, comically big for his hand, but he grips it fiercely and runs with great determination for grounders or jumps for balls lobbed his way.
Guerrero challenges him. He makes the boy run and jump to catch the ball.
"You're throwing too hard," Amezaga says as the boy runs for a ball that has flown over his head.
"He has to learn," Guerrero says. "He doesn't learn if it's too easy."