This all took longer than expected, which meant Jessica had to gun the motor on the way to the field. Yamil arrived just in time to take his position at shortstop. His father and older brother were shortstops, and Ariel probably would be a shortstop too. But Ariel was not playing organized baseball. Nor would he anytime soon.
"We've had district-wide meetings on Ariel," said Danny Rivera, president of the Roberto Clemente Little League, as we watched the game through the fence behind the plate. Last year, at age four, Ariel played T-ball with five-year-olds in a Cal Ripken league and hit the ball so hard that he put them in danger. No one wanted him in that league again, least of all his father, who saw it as unchallenging. This year Ariel was probably good enough to play in Yamil's division, Minor League, but no one under seven is allowed, and Roberto Clemente officials were reluctant to make an exception. "I've been involved with the league 15 years," Rivera said, "and I've never come across a situation like this."
Ariel stood on a short concrete ledge, grabbed a loose strip of the nylon mesh covering the fence, leaned out over the sidewalk so the nylon was supporting his weight and spoke to me for the first time. "You think I'm gonna fall down?" he said, mischief in his eyes.
"Yes," I said.
"And bust my head?"
"Yes," I said, considering an intervention.
He leaned farther out, singing softly to himself, "Un-de-feated. Un-de-feated. Un-de-feated." He stepped down from the ledge and walked to the concessions stand to accept a hug from his mother. Along the way he acquired two Twix bars, one of which he gave to his little brother. He ate the Twix bar until the chocolate browned his fingers. He sucked his fingers and wiped the remainder on his shorts. Then he sat down by me and took my pen and notebook.
"I can spell my name," he said. "It's so easy."
He wrote his name and the names of his relatives and drew three pictures of Gordo.
"And I know how to make another picture," he said. "A bathtub." He grinned a wicked grin.