WITH THE sunrise, two little boys, Maiky and Jabao, clad in colorless rags older than they are, arrive in the park. They run around together all day long, shining shoes, washing cars, selling newspapers and going on errands for tips.
With the sunset they straddle a bench, facing each other, their bare little feet dangling, as if horseback riding, sharing the coins they've earned that day. Such was the life of Maiky and Jabao, loyal team players in the game of survival.
I often used their services across from HIBS Radio Dial, where I started my journalistic career in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.
Jabao, always a thinker and mischievous debater, now attends law school, preaches the gospel and runs a barbershop.
Shy Maiky became unbelievable Sammy Sosa, "The Man," who blasted 66 home runs in the enchanted summer of 1998, the only player with 60 or more homers in three seasons. The same one whose performance plunged after a cascading series of disturbing events: The IRS investigated him, the Dominican press gossiped about him facing serious personal problems and he lost millions in a failed Dominican bank, although he later recovered his money.
Blinded by distraction, playing against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 20, 2003, he didn't see the fastball that shattered his helmet into pieces. Then, desperate to break out of his batting slump, he stupidly used a corked bat.
The media demonized him; the Chicago Cubs made him give up his $18 million contractual trade option for 2006 and, in my opinion, ran him out of town. Sammy, a black Latino immigrant, was dumped like a broken performance machine.
Yet when Jason Giambi, a white American, confessed to using steroids, I think the New York Yankees treated him compassionately. "Jason is obviously in a tough situation and we are here to support him," said team captain Derek Jeter.
The Cubs' 2004 season finale could have been very messy. Who knows what Sammy prevented by walking out after his performance declined, he was dropped in the batting order, his privileges were repealed and his relationship with manager Dusty Baker deteriorated?
Dominican players have demonstrated low tolerance for high pressure, low blows, cross-cultural intrigues, passive-aggressive manipulations and conspiracies. They are somewhat paranoid, but there are guys out there trying to get them, too.
In 1965, Juan Marichal, our Hall of Famer, stared into John Roseboro's eyes and swung his bat, cracking open the Dodger catcher's head and starting a huge melee in San Francisco. Rico Carty, our 1970 National League batting champion, punched Hank Aaron, igniting a brawl aboard a flying airplane. George Bell, our 1987 American League Most Valuable Player, was suspended from the Chicago White Sox because of his aggressiveness; he couldn't control his temper and never returned. Remember our three-time Cy Young award winner, Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, brawling with grandpa Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer?
Sammy did fine by walking out last year.
In December, Sammy reclaimed his wife by renewing marriage vows. The IRS let him off the hook. He recovered his money from the bankrupted bank. He then underwent a batting reconcentration therapy marathon on the Caribbean shore.
Harborside Baltimore will feel like home to Sammy. His brightest years are ahead.
Prediction: Many kisses and balls will fly out of batter-friendly Camden Yards this season as he shatters and establishes new records. Sammy's 600th home run will launch us Dominicans, Latinos and immigrants into history, fulfilling the fundamental American promise of equal opportunity for all, including destitute Third World street children.
At 40, Rafael Palmeiro averages 33 home runs a season. At 40, Barry Bonds averages 42. At 36, Sammy averages 43. Even if he drops to 36 in four years, at 40 he can surpass Babe Ruth's 714.
Dominicans know how to endure.
Julio C. Malone is a native of the Dominican Republic and the author of Sammy Sosa in 9 Innings.