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Athletic precocity is a complicated blessing. Ariel competed with boys twice his age, but emotionally he was still a five-year-old. Would baseball shorten his childhood? I couldn't tell. But I did notice that his older brothers treated him with remarkable patience. They showed no sign of resentment for the attention he was getting. They seemed to understand he was not quite their peer, even if he sometimes played like it. They rode out his psychic storms and got on with the game.
Yamil walloped the ball into the leftfield bleachers, otherwise known as the roof. By rule it was a home run.
"That's not a home run!" Ariel said, voice high and sharp like a siren, but he ceased protesting to join in the crucial quest of ball retrieval.
"Home run!" Yamil said, over and over.
"Nooooooo," said Ariel.
"Just do the home run sign," Luis Jr. said, looking in my direction, and I obeyed.
Ariel struck out again. I took this as no indicator of his skill, since they were using a Wiffle ball. "He's throwing curbs," Ariel said. "No curbs. He's throwing curbs. No! I quit!"
"Then quit," Luis said. "I don't care. I'll get anybody better than you."
But Ariel came up again and crushed the ball, almost exactly where Yamil's blast had landed. Rounding second he stumbled and fell, which caused a more serious meltdown. Through tears he accused some unnamed person of tripping him three times, and then, improbably, tried to persuade us that his own home run was a foul ball because it hit a leaf on the way up. Across the low backyard fence several Honduran men were drinking Coronas and watching fútbol on an outdoor television. One of them tried to reason with Ariel in Spanish, to no avail. "That's because he throws too much curbs," Ariel said, looking in Yamil's direction. A few minutes later, after they switched to a tennis ball, Yamil belted it completely over the house. Even this did not meet Ariel's bizarre definition of a home run. He mounted another tear-soaked protest.
"That's why I don't like you on my team," Luis said, but it was a fleeting sentiment. In the next half inning Luis cranked his own over-the-house homer, and Ariel hit another one, never once crying foul. He smiled. Back in the field Luis barehanded a hot grounder going to his right and leaped in the air with his momentum carrying him toward third, but he still got enough juice on the throw to put it in Ariel's glove just in time to catch Yamil hustling down the line. Too bad no one was videotaping. Luis could've made SportsCenter, or at least YouTube, and from there, who knows? He seemed wistfully aware of this bygone opportunity. He made sure I wrote it all down.