Street Ball

La tiramos afuera, tio? Wanna play catch, Uncle?” My nephew Benjamin tossed the ragged tennis ball a few inches in the air. “Sure.”

Bored

Benjamin is 12 years old and lives with his father and grandmother in Tijuana. His mother died when he was two. He knows her mostly from pictures. His father moved them to California a few years after; Benjamin went to school and learned to speak English. After several hard years working multiple kitchen jobs, they returned to Guadalajara. Some years later, they came back to Tijuana to live on the same street they lived together as a young family almost 10 years earlier. My wife Rosario had told me about her sister and the child she left behind. And I met my new nephew less than a year before becoming his uncle.

La tiramos afuera, tio?” “Sure,” I say following him outside to play catch at 9 o’clock at night. The brisk air becomes more and more bearable as I warm up, throwing fast and fly balls, sprinting to chase the green grounders that get by. Between breaks for passing cars, Benjamin’s cousin, Roberto (another nephew I neglected to mention who lives in California but had to come back and enroll in school to renew his visa), comes outside to join the game. Benjamin scoops up a broken two by four, hands it to Roberto and takes the mound. I pull a chunk of particleboard out of the neighbor’s construction scrap and place it at home plate. The rules quickly come together, hits and runs measured by speed bumps and telephone poles. In this moment, Tijuana blooms. Streetlights become stadium floodlights and the uneven pavement becomes a world-class ballpark.

The moment never lasts long enough. I didn’t hit the hero’s home run I had hoped for. But it doesn’t matter to them. Who says you need a baseball or a bat to play baseball. They can turn the contents of your pocket into ninja stars. And they have no idea how much they inspire me.

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6 Comments »

  Gravatar Jessica wrote @ October 31st, 2006 at 7:32 am

Beautifully told, Nathan. And the photo is perfect.

  Gravatar Aaryn B. wrote @ October 31st, 2006 at 11:26 am

This is so very moving. I was right there with you playing ball in the street.
You left me in tears.

  Gravatar Chris wrote @ November 3rd, 2006 at 9:05 am

Great writing Nate, beautiful imagery!

  Gravatar Lucy wrote @ March 1st, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Por eso me gustan las calles en MĂ©xico, son los mejores estadios y se juegan los mejores partidos.

  Gravatar Saturdays in TJ: Quieto / Inquieto » nathangibbs.com wrote @ April 22nd, 2008 at 9:12 pm

[…] beneath it’s sun-dried skin, boys like Benjamin step into adolescence. Not ready to venture out into the world alone, but old enough to want it. A […]

  Gravatar Saturdays in TJ: Los Futbolistas » nathangibbs.com wrote @ April 22nd, 2008 at 9:16 pm

[…] It’s impossible to point a camera in any direction in Tijuana and not find something interesting. It’s a cultural war zone, the mezzanine between two worlds. But in the middle of this political purgatory, there are people. And my Saturday routine is about family. […]

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