Thanks for all your kind and encouraging words about my 1,000th hit. As I told reporters, this holds enormous meaning for me. I was never supposed to reach the big leagues, much less last long enough to get 1,000 hits.
Or at least other people never thought I’d make it.
But I think baseball was always in my blood.
When I rewind my brain to my very first memory, it is an image of a baseball field.
I was four or five years old. My father, also named Benjamin, was a second baseman on an amateur baseball team in the Puerto Rican town of Utuado. He was kind of a small guy, but he was like a giant to me. Strong. Powerful. Our tiny house — two bedrooms propped on loose bricks with a zinc roof — was filled with his baseball trophies.
On this day that I remember, I spent the game in the dugout. I’m sure it was the first time my father ever allowed me to stay with him and the other men. I remember the game dragging on into the 10th inning. The dugout was quiet. Everybody seemed worn out from the heat and the frustration of not being able to close out the game.
My father picked up a bat, preparing for his turn at the plate.
“I’m going to hit a home run to left field,” he said. “We’re all going to go home. I’m tired of this game.”
At that park, left field seemed a million miles away. The right-field fence was the close one, the one my father was much more likely to clear. Plus, he was a left-handed hitter. His strength was to right field.
“No, no,” one of his teammates said. “Go to right! It’s shorter!”
“He’s pitching me away,” my father said. “I’ve got to go to left.”
Then he walked to the plate and dug into the batter’s box. Sure enough, the pitcher threw outside. My father swung.
The ball sailed into left field. It kept rising. The left fielder raced back. Then ball began to fall. The left fielder ran faster. Just beyond the fielder’s reach, the ball hit the top of the fence and bounced over.
A home run.
I remember watching my father round the bases, the biggest grin on his face. I bolted out of the dugout with his screaming, leaping teammates.
“Get him! Somebody get him!” my mother screamed from the stands, certain I was about to be trampled.
My father crossed the plate and, in the midst of the celebration, scooped me up in his arms. Then he swung me up on his broad shoulders.
That’s the opening scene of my life. A ballpark. A dugout. And my father’s unlikely heroics.
I thought there was something magical about that diamond-shaped field, that within those white lines anything was possible.
I still do.