DON’T DO IT, WILLY!

DON’T DO IT, WILLY!

From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Don’t Do It, Willy!

My abuelita was a huge baseball fan. Huge. A fanatic about the game, the players, the show. In her hometown of Santurce, Puerto Rico, “Mama Bi,” as her grandchildren called her, had been a pretty good shortstop on her girls’ high-school baseball team. She was also a big fan of her fellow boricua, Roberto Clemente, the great star of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and she followed his career very closely. I remember her talking not only about what a great baseball player he was, but also what a good man he was, how he always tried to help poor people back on the island and in other Latin American countries. When Clemente died tragically in a plane crash in 1972, he was on a mercy mission to Central America, taking medical, food and clothing supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. Mama Bi was brokenhearted when she heard the news; she felt like she had lost a close friend.

My abuela admired great achievers like Roberto Clemente, but in her mind, the greatest and most noble people in the world were not necessarily superstars—they were people who show great compassion and share what they have with those who are most needy. Mama Bi grew up in a humble family that worked very hard just to pay the rent and put food on the table for her and her four siblings. I remember Mama Bi telling me that her mother, my great-grandmother, always shared the little food that they had with the neighborhood children who came to the door hungry. When my grandmother complained that her mother was giving away food the family desperately needed, my great-grandmother would say, “We always have something to eat, even though it isn’t much. But if we don’t give these children something, they will not eat today.” This lesson stayed with Mama Bi all of her life. It didn’t matter to her if you were rich or poor; she saw the humanity in all of us, and was always ready to reach out to anyone who needed it.

Growing up, I shared a bedroom with Mama Bi, and she and I would stay up late (on the sly—my mother would have killed us if she’d known) listening to Vin Scully announce the Los Angeles Dodgers home games on the radio. We would huddle together on her bed, our ears close to the radio, watching each other’s reaction to Scully’s dramatic interpretation of the game. When our favorite Dodger, center fielder Willy Davis, would come up to bat, we would get so excited, always hoping he would hit a home run. On a lucky night, we would hear Vin Scully say—after hearing Davis’s bat slam into the ball— ”it’s a long fly ball to center field; it goes back . . . a-way back . . . to the wall . . . IT’S GONE!!!!” We would jump up and down on her bed, arms reaching up in the air, hugging each other in a silent scream of joy.

The summer I turned twelve years old, we had the opportunity to go to a lot of Dodgers games because a friend of the family who was also a big fan had a car. We would leave early in the morning and arrive in time to see the ground crews comb the grass, line the baselines, and install the bases and home plate. We got there early enough to watch pregame batting practice and to catch a glimpse of our favorite players close-up. Since we always arrived several hours before the game started (believe me, the only people there at that hour were the stadium workers), we were able to get really good seats. We often found ourselves sitting right on the third base or left-field line, not too far from the field. This made it pretty easy to get autographs and shake hands with some of the players.

I had followed in Mama Bi’s footsteps and was an avid Bobby Sox softball player in our local league; I played shortstop. I would bring my baseball mitt to the Dodgers games, and each time we went that summer I’d get an autograph on the mitt from one of the players on the starting lineup. The last autograph I needed to get was Willy Davis’s, but we couldn’t seem to catch up with him. He often came onto the field well after the other players, and he wasn’t as likely to mix with fans as some of his teammates.

One summer evening, we attended a late afternoon game at Dodger Stadium; this would be our last game for that season since the friend with the car was moving away. I was determined to get Willy Davis’s autograph, no matter how long I had to hang around before or after the game. When he didn’t appear with the other players in the usual autograph “spot” after the game, I panicked and said to Mama Bi, “What will we do now? I’ll never get his autograph!”

My grandmother had a solid idea. “I think I know where he parks his car,” she said. “Let’s go find it and wait for him there.”

We finally found the right parking lot and headed toward a crowd of fans who were already there waiting, like me, to get an autograph. The game had been really close, and we had lost by one run, so there was a bit of rowdiness among the fans. When Willy Davis finally appeared, we all rushed toward him. He was pretty good-natured about it, even though he was obviously tired, and he had finally made his way to me when an angry fan, standing in a group of noisy young men, yelled at him from the back of the crowd.

“You’re a bum, Willy! You’re a stinking bum!”

Davis paused and looked up, but then he shrugged and seemed to brush the comment off. He took my mitt from me and was about to sign it when the rude fan persisted.

“Did you hear what I said, BUM?” he shouted.

I saw Davis’s eyes narrow, and he slowly handed me back my mitt and started walking toward the young man. My grandmother, sensing that violence was about to erupt, jumped in between Davis and the fan, pleading with Davis in her thickly accented English.

“Don’ do eet Guilly! Don’ do eet!”

Her plea stopped Davis, but only for a second. He looked her in the eye and seemed to think about what she was saying, but then he kept moving toward his heckler. At this point, Mama Bi summoned up all her strength and, with her arms straight out in front of her, pushed Davis away from the young man. Willy Davis looked stunned! He gazed at this little Puerto Rican grandma who had just given him a fierce push toward his car. He looked at her, at first confused, but then, with what appeared to be affection, he began to smile. Mama Bi moved closer to him, looked him gently in the eye and pleaded, this time in almost a whisper.

“Don’ do eet, Guilly,” she repeated, and she gestured to him with her head that he should continue moving in the direction of his car.

Willy Davis paused, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but then I saw his eyes shine with understanding as he said to her, still smiling, “All right, Grandma. All right.” He moved back, got into his car and drove off.

After he left, I looked at my grandmother in amazement.

“I can’t believe you just pushed Willy Davis into his car!” I said. “Oh, my God! I can’t believe you did that!”

She looked at me like she didn’t understand and said to me, simply, “Tuve que ayudarle.” She just had to help him, and that was that.

The following summer we went back to Dodger Stadium, and we brought a big sign with us (we smuggled it in, actually, because they won’t let you in with signs) that said in huge red letters: DON’T DO IT, WILLY! Every time Davis ran onto the field that night, we would hold up the sign and try to get his attention. It took a few times before he saw us, but during the last inning he waved at us from center field. After the game, I was thrilled to see Davis come running in off the field. Instead of going down into the dugout with the other players, Davis walked right up to us.

“I think I owe you an autograph,” he said to me.

I nodded in disbelief, silently handing him my mitt. He signed it and handed it back to me. Then he turned to Mama Bi, took her hands into his and said, “You know, Grandma, you were looking out for me that night. Thank you.” She looked at him, with the matter-of-factness of someone who sees nothing special in what she does, and said, “No hay de qué, Guilly, no hay de qué . . .Si no nos cuidamos uno al otro, Guilly, quién lo hará? Por algo Dios nos puso en esta tierra . . .”

Davis looked at me for the translation, and I paraphrased what Mama Bi had said to him.

“My grandmother says we have to stick together and take care of each other because that’s what God intended us to do,” I said.

And as my childhood hero turned and walked away, Mama Bi looked over at me with raised eyebrows, nodding her head and pursing her lips like she always did when she wanted to accentuate her point, and said, “He’s a good boy, this Guilly . . . que Dios lo bendiga . . .

Susan Sánchez-Casal

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