Eduardo Cruz had barely arrived in New York before he was swept into a large community of Dominicans. It was a relief, because everything he’d heard from guys who had gone before him, told him that New York could be loud, crowded and sometimes even frightening. Not much frightened Duardo, but he didn’t like the idea of being in a jungle of skyscrapers and cars away from the trees, beaches and wide open spaces he was used to. But he had a talent, and if he used it well, he could take what was best about this experience and send it home—the money. The gobs of ridiculous sums of money that the New York team was willing to pay him.
The game was important to him too, of course. But he could play the game with the same joy near the sugar cane fields of San Pedro de Macorís, as he could on a multimillion dollar baseball diamond. So being in New York, was mainly about the money. Para mi madre. It was practically his mantra since he’d arrived in this godforsaken place. For my mother.
Still, missing his mother and his country was dulled somewhat by being with the Acostas. When his teammate, Marcos had invited him to his home, Duardo was reluctant. He’d heard that he shouldn’t expect Dominicans in New York to be the same as the ones back home. In New York he heard, they’d adopted new ways, and new values, and none more so than the men like Marcos Acosta, who had come into millions of dollars through the game. And upon arriving at the house, he was sure Acosta was one of those who had lost his way—the place was large enough to accommodate five families of four, and to raise a herd of cows out back.
But he was pleasantly surprised when he was introduced to everyone. They seemed remarkably untouched by their good fortune. Family seemed to be their priority and all Duardo had heard once they all settled in was repeated inquiries of, ‘where’s Miri?’
His baby sister, Marcos explained, had graduated from university and was living on her own in the city, which was a constant source of worry for them all. She was the only missing piece before the meal could commence. So Duardo waited with everyone else, wondering when this mysterious young lady would make her appearance. He was only slightly curious, but very hungry. Once this Miri arrived he could eat. That was his predominant thought.
Until she appeared.
Standing at the door leading from the house, she seemed to have manifested from thin air. Wearing clothes clearly not her own and a mixture of annoyance and affection on her face she looked at her family, Miri’s eyes finally alighted on him. And when they did, Duardo felt as though she’d reached out and touched him with one of her small hands. A literal chill spread across the surface of his skin as she stared at him. Duardo stared back. Her mouth fell open a little and he tried not to smile.
So it’s not just me. She felt that too.
Then Marcos’ wife was there, whispering something in her ear and Miri’s eyes drifted away from him and around to the general company. Duardo watched as she went to greet her parents first, kissing them both; then Marcos, then each of her other brothers before turning her attention to the children. That she had naturally gravitated towards the elders before everyone else meant that Miri Acosta was not entirely the modern young woman that he had been led to believe she was. Or even if modern, she had a bedrock of traditional values.
In a few house parties that he’d been to since coming to New York—most to the homes of other players—Duardo had been a little surprised to see people show up and make a beeline for the food and alcohol, spending several minutes socializing before even going to say ‘hello’ to the older relatives in attendance.
“You have to meet Miri.” Marcos’ wife was extending a hand to him, and Duardo stood, smiling and nodding at her.
Dylan Acosta was pretty, with a smooth toffee-brown complexion reminiscent of so many women in his country, but Duardo already knew she was not Dominican. The scandal, involving her and another Mets player had made it to DR, so her name was for a time synonymous with what could happen when Dominican men, suddenly wealthy because of their talent for baseball, got taken in by a wily American gold-digger. But apparently the rumors about her had been untrue, and later—though with comparatively less media fanfare—it was acknowledged that she was nothing more than collateral damage in the disintegration of someone else’s marriage.
Since he had gotten there, Dylan had been very much the gracious hostess, spending a lot of time making sure he was comfortable, and checking in with him every half hour or so. His tendency to be quiet, while he sized situations up had probably given her the impression he was uncomfortable, or shy. Duardo was used to people making this assumption about him, but the simple truth was that he was untroubled by silence and not inclined to fill it with the sound of his own voice unless he had something very particular to say. Given the boisterous liveliness of the Acostas, he was unsurprised that Dylan Acosta would misinterpret his relative quiet.
“Miri!” She called over to her sister-in-law who was now sitting in the grass with the little ones, helping them build fort out of oversized Lego blocks.
Miri Acosta looked up. And when she did, Duardo felt once again, the same mix of familiarity and curiosity he experienced when their eyes first met across the patio, minutes earlier. She had large eyes, almost hazel, but not quite; and her complexion the smoothest dulce de leche Duardo had ever seen. Up close, she looked even younger than she had standing at the door to the veranda, her limbs were long and very slender, and seemed new to her, as she had difficulty arranging them comfortably, like a baby gazelle who had not yet learned to run, and could barely stand. It was charming.
Duardo smiled. “Good to meet you,” he said.
Miri Acosta extended a hand for a quick shake, forgoing the more familiar greeting of a brief kiss, or brushing of cheeks. And she didn’t make eye contact either, instead looking just past his face.
“Duardo is …” Dylan paused and laughed. “Oh god, I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten which position you play.”
“It’s not important,” Duardo said, his eyes still fixed on Miri.
“Not important?” Marcos, who emerging from the house with two beers in hand, heard the exchange and was shaking his head. “Eduardo is the designated hitter, baby.”
“Which sounds like a big deal, but you know I have no idea,” Dylan said shrugging.
Marcos winked at his wife and handed Duardo one of the bottles, which he took though he was not much of a drinker.
“And let me guess,” Miri Acosta said, sticking her chin out as though defiant. “You’re from San Pedro.”
“Yes. You know it?”
“Only as the place that seems to have a factory that produces Major League Baseball players.”
“But you’ve never been?”
“When we go, we pretty much stay in La Romana,” she said. She was still avoiding his eyes.
“It’s very beautiful there,” Duardo told her. “You should go one day.”
“I’ve been meaning to,” Marcos said, answering for her. “So I can see what’s in the water.”
“Or in the sugar cane,” Duardo said, smiling.
He was proud of his town’s legacy of producing major talent in baseball, though it had come at some cost, mostly in the loss of relationships and the fracturing of families. Some young men came to the States and weren’t as fortunate as he had been, but stayed anyway, often without documentation, and tried to eke out a living at menial jobs, and sending money back home to support their immediate and extended families.
“So, should we continue this conversation over dinner?” Dylan suggested. “Now that everyone’s here, we may as well get started.”
“Yes! Let’s eat!” Miri turned and headed for the house, somewhat too eagerly, Duardo thought.
Smiling once again, he followed his hosts, eyes fixed on the retreating back of their “baby sister”.