A schoolboy spots Juan Gonzalez slowing his brown Maxima to a stop, and the sighting sends the students gushing into the street from a courtyard at Alturas dc Vega Baja Elementary School. The children are upon the vehicle before Gonzalez can shift into reverse and park. They push against all sides of the car, some of them pounding on the windows, others pressing their tiny, happy faces against the glass—all of them shrieking with delight.
Gonzalez has to dispatch his four companions to form a human blockade, so that he can back the car into a parking spot. Then, once the Maxima, if not the children, is finally curbed, Gonzalez unfolds himself from the car to his full 6'3". Now even those at the outer edges of this swarm—nearly 800 kids, all dressed in bumblebee-yellow school uniforms—can see him. They begin chanting his nickname: "Igor! Igor! Igor!" Gonzalez, as if wading through a shallow pool, makes his way through the thigh-high throng into the courtyard.
Carlos Ayala, a teacher, shouts into a microphone, "�Silencio!" but neither his command nor his ensuing long introduction of Gonzalez, the Texas Ranger outfielder who is the reigning major league home run champion and who grew up and still lives right here in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, can still the children. It is only when Gonzalez begins to speak that they hush.
"I want to be an example for you, for Puerto Rico and beyond," he tells them in Spanish. The children are ringed around him, pressing closer as he speaks. "I am proud of the attention I have brought to my hometown. My priority right now is you: the youth. We as adults must work day by day and hand in hand for a better future for our youth.
"We live a very complicated life, full of challenges. The best way to approach the life you're living is with education and sports. After God, education and sports are the best tools to defeat any obstacles in your way. One day you may be in a position like me to influence other young ones growing up."
School officials escort him to a corner of the courtyard, where the children are told to form a line for autographs. They come bearing baseballs, scraps of paper, writing tablets, baseball cards, volleyballs, T-shirts and baseball gloves. One girl, wearing ribbons in her hair, does not want an autograph. She simply stands on her tippy-toes and kisses him on the check.
Quickly the line breaks down, consumed by the impatience of those in the rear. The children are swarming around Gonzalez again. It is becoming dangerous, all of these frantic boys and girls compressed in the courtyard's corner. Ayala and other school officials decide they must get Gonzalez out. They open a crack in the crowd and lead Gonzalez to the safety of the principal's office, slam the door shut behind him and guard it with three teachers as the swirling, yellow wave of youth crashes against the barrier. The constant ringing of the school bell calls the kids back to class, but it can barely be heard over their yelping. It is, of course, not obeyed.
Gonzalez sends a friend out to bring his car around. His other friends encircle him, and they break for the car, its engine running. Gonzalez jumps in and hits the accelerator. Igor has left the building.
"Incredible," Gonzalez says later. "But it has been incredible 52 times like that, all over Puerto Rico. Every time."
Alturas was the last of Gonzalez's 52 off-season visits to Puerto Rican schools before he left for spring training. In every case he asked for nothing but the chance to speak to the children. "I have not seen anything like this since Clemente," says Luis Mayoral, a Ranger public relations assistant and a father figure for many Latin American big leaguers. "His love for children is genuine. Clemente had that."