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January, 1954: Caguas, Puerto Rico

The wrinkled baseball card of Victor Pellot rested in the back pocket of Francisco Antonio Benítez’s Levis like a sacred relic in the Vatican. As he walked to the first row of Yldefonso Solá Morales Stadium with his father Don Octavio Benítez, Francisco Antonio’s heart pumped. Today, with 6,500 winter baseball fans drinking shots of local rum and munching on crispy plantain chips, he would meet the great Pellot, the flashy first baseman for the hometown Caguas Criollos and the future bonus baby of the Philadelphia Athletics.

To the Caguas locals, Pellot was their god, even though he had begun to use the name Vic Power on the mainland and some of the more radical nationalists started to call him Tío Tom. According to Pellot, he began to use Power (a variation of Pove, his mother’s maiden name) because when he played in the minor leagues of Quebec, the French-speaking fans would laugh at him. He first thought it was because of his black skin, but Pellot soon found out that his last name sounded a lot like plotte, French Canadian slang for vagina. So, on the mainland, he became Vic Power. In Caguas, he was still Victor Pellot. And every Caguas resident, from the whitest Spaniard to the darkest Africano, would cheer every time Pellot would slowly stroll to home plate, a 34-ounce Louisville Slugger slathered with pine tar and dirt in his Powerful hands.

“Did you know Pellot almost made the Yankees in 1951?” Don Octavio told his son, as they sat right behind the mesh net near home plate. “He would have been the first Negro Puerto Rican in the American League. They took Elston Howeard instead.”

Francisco Antonio loved when his father talked to him about baseball. Don Octavio, whose fortune had begun to grow once he sold his pool halls to a Caguas syndicate and had built a materials store in the city’s center, was frequently flying to New York to buy cloth in the Garment District. In between his negotiations with crusty Jews who made fun of his broken English and baggy suits, Don Octavio would take the subway to Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, and Ebbets Field. In one week, he saw Mays, Robinson, Mantle, Snider, Ford, Irvin, and Berra. The white corporate Yankees were methodical, cold, passionless. The Giants and Dodgers reminded Don Octavio of the island’s winter league: aggressive, fancy, players jawing at each other in both Spanish and English. The Giants and Dodgers had more Negroes, and those Negroes played in the winter league.

“If you ever saw Mays, Francisco, you could die the next moment a happy man,” Don Octavio told his son. “Pellot is as black as Mays. But the difference between Pellot and Mays is that Pellot is Puerto Rican, Mays is a Negro. Did you ever hear the story of Pellot when he was in the South and walked into a restaurant in Missisippi after a game? The waitress said that they didn’t serve Negroes. Pellot told her not to worry, he didn’t eat Negroes, he just wanted rice and beans.”

Francisco Antonio laughed at his father’s stories, even the ones he told over and over again. Baseball, the game that came to Puerto Rico when American soldiers arrived in 1898 and never left, was what every island boy talked about with his island father.

“Do you think he will hit a grand slam, Papi?” Francisco Antonio asked. “That would be a lot of money.”

For the entire winter league, Don Octavio had been advertising a contest in the newspaper for his store: The first Criollo to hit a grand slam would win a $1,000 check, personally signed by Don Octavio. After 20 games, no one had even come close, not even Pellot. But when the slugger saw Don Octavio at mass earlier in the day, after asking for blessings from the older businessman, Pellot said he had prayed to God for the chance to hit a grand slam later in the game.

“The money would help me, Don Octavio,” Pellot told him.

“I can just give it to you know,” Don Ocatvio said.

“No, Don Octavio,” Pellot said. “I am a baseball player. I will earn that check today. Blessings to you and your family.”

The first three innings of the game against Ponce sped through. Caguas could only manage a hit, while Ponce didn’t even hit the ball out of the infield. After the Ponce shortstop missed a Chichi Olivo fastball for a third strike, Francisco Antonio cheered along with his neighbors. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Caguas loaded the bases. Up came Pellot, and instead of walking towards home plate, he headed over to where Don Octavio was sitting.

“Sign the check, Don Octavio,” he told Francisco Antonio’s father and then looked at the younger Benítez. “And get a camera ready to take a picture with your son.”

Don Octavio smiled as Pellot picked up his bat and walked to the batter’s box. As the Ponce pitcher released a curve ball from his fingers, Pellot crouched his stance, winked and began to swing.

The sound of the wood ricocheted through the crowd, Pellot’s bat smacking the ball and stopping it for a second. The ball’s path sailed up high, towards the mountains of Caguas, past the stadium’s lights, over a two-lane road, and landed 500 feet away in a stable of lazy paso fino horses. Pellot watched the ball like an artist studies his models. He trotted around each base, soaking in applause and chants. When he stepped on home, his three teammates shook his hand and then headed back to the Caguas dugout. Pellot didn’t follow them.

He walked to Don Octavio, who had a check in hand and a photographer with his camera and a flash bulb.

“Viva Pellot!” Francico Antonio said.

Pellot picked up the younger Benítez and stood him up on the field. Together, they smiled for the camera.

“Dreams can come true, son,” Pellot said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

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Ok, we were fooling around tonight with Klout since there is a very cool possibility that Klout CEO Joe Fernandez will soon grace this blog since we wanted to do an interview about Klout and online Latinos. So just for fun, we checked the Klout score for @julito77 (61). That account has been around Twitter since October, 2008, and it’s pretty solid score. Then we checked @fbnovel, the Twitter account for FRANKY BENÍTEZ and after just joined on January 2 of THIS YEAR, already has a Klout of 55. And it’s a book! Go figure.

Anyway, to honor the “old Twitter” and the “new Twiter,” we decided to add the following follows and amazing Twitter accounts to follow. The “old school” list is the original group of people who made Twitter so wonderful for us in late 2008, early 2009. They will be forever known as The Posse to me, my first REAL friends on Twitter (btw, I have met them all in person). The “new school” list recommends some great new profiles that we have met through @fbnovel.

 

“Old School” Profiles Profiles to Follow from @Julito77

  • @ginidietrich: Oh, Gini, life without you would be like Martin without Lewis Simon without Garfunkel and Donny without Marie. Enough said. There is no one funnier, spunkier, savvier, or smarter than you on Twitter. Follow at @ginidietrich.
  • @justinthesouth: The most giving person I know on Twitter. Justin is family. He also loves the Red Sox, and there is no one nicer online. Simple as that. Follow at @justinthesouth.
  • @adriandayton: I will be honest with you, Adrian had like 18K followers when I reached out to him.  I had like 100. I am go glad I did. Adrian is so intelligent, authentic, and knows social media. We have also been to a football game together and one of my dearest friends. You can follow Adrian at @adriandayton.
  • @EOCMello: The first time Jeff tweeted me, it was love at first Red Sox. Not only do we share a love for the Pats and the Sox, Jeff has always made me laugh and he truly understands the transparency that is social media. One of the best on Twitter. Follow at @EOCMello.
  • @sarahrobinson: She makes me laugh and she made me think about how best to use social media to be yourself. I love her Southern charm and wit. Follow her at @sarahrobinson.

“New School” Profiles to Follow from @fbnovel

  • @Eva_Smith: Eva has quickly and authentically become a loyal supporter and reader. Yeah, she is on the dedication page. By the way, she also knows social media well. Very well. Follow her at @Eva_Smith.
  • @M_Gideon: I love following new writers who are starting on twitter and this writer also has a very good story to share. Some very poignant prose. Follow at @M_Gideon.
  • @charlievazquez: Yup, this NY Boricua (WEPA!) is the co-prophet of #LatinoLit and his support and passion for what he does is a model to us all. Psst, he is also a GREAT poet and write. Follow at @charlievazquez.
  • @tcravet: Another part of the #LatinoLit literati, I am fascinated by this very talented Latina. Here’s to good books! Follow at @tcravet.
  • @chela816: An old Twitter friend who is a new Twitter friend and loyal reader and supporter of the novel. Like her bio says: she is a conquistadora. Good to have her on our side. Follow her at @chela816.

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