“Gracias señor!” a middle age woman said to a Cuban native. The American journalist, who was tall with long blonde hair, had stopped to buy a cold drink from a concession stand. While keeping herself hydrated, she resumed her search for a good story, taking pictures with her camera and making notes of the country’s most popular area: Havana. After walking a few blocks, she stopped at a baseball field where a youth league game had started its first inning. As locals began packing the bleachers, the American found a seat next to a lady whose eyes were locked on a paperback novella.
Like all of Los Tigres’ (The Tigers) games, 8-year-old José De Jesus kept the bench warm. It was the last regular season game. As his team battled for a playoff spot, José wondered if his season would end with a blank stat sheet. In addition to being smaller and shorter than all of his teammates, José had other differences. His right leg was smaller than his left leg, which made it difficult for him to run. The coach never called his name; likewise, José never called his coach’s name. But José’s physical disadvantages weren’t the reasons why his coach didn’t give him playing time. José was born with a rare bone disease called “Legg-Calve-Perthese.” And because each movement could cause damage to his right hip bone, on the sidelines watching other kids having fun was the norm for José. José loved baseball, so with his doctor’s permission, his mother allowed him to join Los Tigres. Looking up at his number one fan in her usual spot, José was eager to play–and a little scared too.
Unbiased as to which team wins, the journalist cheered on. “Vamos!” she said in support of the home runs. The lady beside her, however, didn’t seem to care. “Perdonme!” the journalist said politely. ¿Que equipo te Gusta?” The lady broke her silence. “Ninguno de los dos,” the lady said with a strong accent. Then she pointed to José, and told the journalist that she was only there for her son. “Dime cuando mi hijo esta jugando,” the lady told the journalist to tell her when her son is playing. Trying to bring humor to the situation, the journalist smiled and said she couldn’t wait to see her son play. The Cubana stared down the Americana, then rolled her eyes to the next page of her book.
At the end of the 3rd Inning, the journalist realized that every player but José had participated. Out of curiosity, she asked José’s mother why he hasn’t played. Reluctantly, the mother shared about her son’s disability. “Oh, dear!” the journalist thought. “It all makes sense: the mother’s nonchalant attitude towards the game; why the coach wasn’t giving José any playing time; and why José never speaks up; he’s scared.” Although different from her past articles, the journalist pulled out her tablet. “The 10th Player” she began writing.
Down 4-3 in the top of the 6th inning, Los Tigres’ playoff chances were slipping away. José was still glued to the bench. “I know I can help my team, but the coach doesn’t think so. He thinks I’ll hurt myself. Maybe I won’t get hurt.” he thought. With his team losing, José closed his eyes and prayed.
José’s prayer helped Los Tigres take a 5-4 lead. But it was the bottom of the 7th inning and Los Lobitos had a player on first with another on second and only one out. Los Lobito’s second best batter stepped up to the plate. The pitcher threw a curve ball. The batter hit the ball over the shortstop’s head and in to left field. Los Tigres’ left fielder ran closer to the infield to catch the ball, but he tripped over and fell in pain. The shortstop retrieved the ball and threw a laser beam to the catcher. “Afue!” the umpire shouted. The shortstop and catcher had stopped what would’ve been a game-tying play. However, Los Tigres had no left fielder.
Los Lobito’s had one player on third and another on second with two outs. Los Tigres’ coach looked confused. “I should say something. This may be my only chance to play.” José thought. He gained the courage to ask his coach. At first his coach responded with a quick “no” but then he changed his mind. “Let the boy play,” a voice popped into the coach’s head. The coach sent José into the game. Excited to see José enter the game, the journalist tapped José’s mother. The mother sternly looked at her. “A José esta jugando,” the journalist said. When the mother looked and saw her son running to the outfield, a desperate smile appeared on her face as she placed her hands and book on her chest.
Wearing the biggest smile since last Christmas, José was ready-to-go. Los Lobito’s best player emerged from the dugout. “Oh no!” José panicked. Focused on ending the game with a strikeout, the pitcher threw his fastest ball. “Smack!” The ball launched into the air and out to the left field.
Projecting the landing of the ball, José ran towards the fence. Despite his legs being uneven, he ran as if he had equal-sized legs. When José neared the fence and looked up at the ball, he knew he had to jump in order to grab the ball. José extended his glove, and with all of his might he jumped as high as he could. José came down and landed on his bottom. When he opened his glove, elation filled his heart. “Hemos ganado!” he repeated as he rose on all ten toes.
The game was over. Los Tigres won.
José’s team swarmed in to appraise the game’s most valuable player (MVP). With his face to the bleachers, José saw happy tears smearing his mother’s makeup. Meanwhile, the journalist changed her story’s title to “Little Big Miracle.”