Thursday, October 18, 2018

Portrait of a "Bonus Baby"

    Daniel Cano                                                                        
Richard "Buzz" Hernandez
1958, my cousin appears confident in his Orioles uniform, a wide smile on his handsome face, the Stockton sun beating down on him. He is on one knee. A baseball bat rests on his thigh, his left hand lightly holding the Louisville slugger, the index finger and thumb of his right hand point to the meat of the bat, the part that will get him into the major leagues.

Beneath his baseball cap, deep furrows wrinkle his brow. Does he squint only to ward off the afternoon brightness or to disguise a slight angst, a fear of disappointing family, friends, and hometown fans, their dreams riding on his 20-year-old shoulders? Under his Orioles wool jersey, the dark colored sleeves are cut at the elbow, probably with scissors, the way his father taught him.

In high school, an All-City and American Legion star, he blasted homers in ball parks across Los Angeles. With the Stockton Ports, he’s one bright star among many, all hoping to one day play under Baltimore’s bright lights.

Has he grown road weary, three years in second-class buses and cheap hotels, playing in stadiums from Bisbee, AZ to Aberdeen, S.D., Canada to Arkansas to Paris, TX and back to Stockton, California, Los Angeles barely two hundred miles away?

He must recall the night he signed the contract, a $25,000 bonus, in his parents' living room, among family, reporters, his agent, and Jose Alfredo Jimenez staring out at him from a pile of his mother’s favorite records. The newspapers dubbed him, “Bonus Baby.”
Santa Monica, semi-pro baseball team, circa 1939, bottom row, Buzz Hernandez, batboy

On Los Angeles’ Westside, kids take up bats, balls, and gloves, to be like him, just as he wanted to be like his father, Rufino, and Santa Monica semi-pro ball players Manuel “Lalo” Serra, Johnny Hoag, Frank Talamantez, brothers Felix and Angel Guajuardo, Pete Osti, Davy Robertson, Sammy Romo, and Matin Alcala, who, in 1939, lived the dream, until Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito intervened.

Are those furrows on his brow permanent? Triumph is close, so close, maybe a season away, but home is close as well, about five hours south of Stockton down Highway 101.

Daniel Cano has published three novels, Pepe Rios, Shifting Loyalties, his Vietnam War saga, and Death and the American Dream, winner for historical fiction by the Latino International Book Awards. His work has been anthologized in numerous publications in the U.S. and Europe.

1 comment:

Elias said...

Good one Daniel! There's always been a strong Chicano baseball tradition on the Westside ... and so many "coulda, shoulda" stories ... Dodger legend Rick Monday was from SM.