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December 2010 was a turbulent time for everyone. The stock industry was coming back from collapse and the economy in the United States was suffering, this hectic time was the same time when Vlad Lopez arrived in the United States. Vlad was named after his father’s beloved baseball superstar from the early 2000s, Vladimir Guerrero. Vladimir Guerrero was a future Hall of Famer and a role-model in professional baseball for consistency and productivity. Vlad lived  a contrasting lifestyle. He was from the Dominican Republic and was born in Santo Domingo. He grew up in a rather poor area and his parents didn’t possess a plethora of money. Ever since he was little, the Tigres de Licey had been his favorite team. There was no team he despised more than their town rivals the Leones del Escogido. Both teams played in the same stadium, Estadio Quisqueya in the six-team league in the Dominican Republic. The Estadio Quisqueya has 14,469 seats and is the prominent stadium in the league. The team was founded in the capital city during 1907 and ended up winning their inaugural championship in 1924.  

The logo and a cursive “L” are splattered on Vlad’s shirt, which had been decayed from dirt and covered with splotches of sweat. This was the shirt Vlad wore to baseball practice. Vlad arrived with the hat that had the year 2005 written on it. This was when he was two years old and when his favorite team won the “Final Series” or “Championship” for the Dominican Baseball League, which would be distinguished as “Champions” or it would be known as “World Series” in the United States or in Major League Baseball. The Tigres have won a lot of championships after that, but this was the last one Vlad was able to accompany in the Dominican Republic because his family couldn’t afford the economic burden of going to another game. Vlad’s brother went into his 2000 Chevrolet Impala, which was going on year 19. Vlad’s brother, Dannel, was one of the only people that Vlad would get into a serious or lengthy conversation with. Vlad was more of a quiet person and one who always thought before he spoke. Vlad was wise beyond his years, an old soul.

Dannel said, “Vlad do you have all of your gear and your Gatorade?”

Vlad quickly responded, “Yes, Dannel I do. How was work today?”

“Work was alright today. It was super busy though because we had a number of people coming in for the new year. I hope you are ready because being a 16-year-old prospect that is ranked the highest out of anyone in the country brings a lot of pressure and makes some falter. Like madre and padre used to say, ‘Always do your best no matter who is watching,’ Dannel said as he revved up the engine until the rusted car started.

Finally, Vlad got to the baseball complex and he was ready to roll. He saw his friends Addison, Jason and Bryce. The California based team from San Diego was rated one of the soundest teams in the country. They had depth up and down the line-up and Vlad was an outfielder and closer for the team. The California Tropics baseball team was a travel team that went undefeated in the baseball season going 32-0. Furthermore, the team had conquered the California best baseball team award from winning the California travel baseball tournament. Vlad hit for an average of .442, hit 14 home runs, 16 doubles, 34 runs batted in and had 28 runs as a batter. As a pitcher, Vlad had 12 saves, pitched in 30 innings, had a 0.89 earn run average and had 48 strikeouts. Vlad has been clocked in at 80 miles per hour which is remarkable for a 15-year-old. But, this is a new year of baseball for Vlad and that means everything starts back at zero, including the win column for the Tropics.

Baseball practice was about to begin and coach Jacobs approached the team and greeted them.
“Welcome back everyone to a new year of baseball. Obviously, our goal is to establish on the diamond this year on all facets of this American pastime, baseball. So, let's have all the batters start with hitting in the batting cage.”

“Lopez please step up in the cage first, I want to see that nice compact, yet evenly decisive swing you got on the ole’ Easton bat,” coach Jacobs explained.

Vlad stepped up to the plate and then made contact with the first pitch, an 85 mile per hour fastball. “Smack!”

Vlad remembers it just like it was yesterday, the story of how he got to America. It all began when Vlad attended to a baseball academy. Vlad ended up joining the baseball academy and being adopted by another family in America. That family was the Dominguez family. The Dominguez family took care of him, but he ended up making a deal with the family to adopt Dannel. His brother came over here by plane just like Vlad and he came three months after Vlad, who is three years older than Vlad. Unlike Vlad who got noticed for his baseball, Dannel had a rare disease called Osteomalacia. This is when you have vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to the bones being too soft or weak. As a result, he is on a lot of medication and could, unfortunately, end up with liver or kidney disease. Dannel never played baseball, but his love for the game was indisputable and he aspired to work in a front office of a Major League Baseball team because he was such an analytical guy.

Eventually, the Dominguez family could no longer take care of Dannel and Vlad due to economics. So, with them both being U.S. citizens, Dannel was now his legal guardian. He had turned 18 and had a job. At the time, they rented out of a shoddy apartment outside of San Diego. For the past year of 2018 and now in 2019, they have lived in the one bedroom and one bathroom run-down apartment with an adequate kitchen. Vlad still reminisces about his parents, he hasn’t seen either of them in a very prolonged time and he gets handwritten letters from them, from infrequently.

Vlad was ready for the first game of the year the team was projected to do exceptional according to The baseball website predicted that the team would win California and then end up third in the country. But, the team was ready to put on a show and prove that the website was inaccurate for not putting them in first.

“Addison can you believe this, they are disrespecting our team so much. We went undefeated and have everyone back on our team from last year,” said an agitated Bryce.

“Bryce calm down man, they will see what type of mistake they made later on. We have to let our performance on the field be our talking point. We will just have to win the games and the tournament,” said an assuring Addison.

Jason and Vlad were just sitting in the dugout waiting until the rest of the team was done with warmups, while there other two friends were bickering.

“Guys lets just do our best and the rankings don’t mean anything,” Vlad revealed.

Eventually, the game started and the team got off to a scorching start. Ben, the third baseman, hit a home run to start the fourth inning. Then, Vlad hit a home run in the sixth inning and stole a base in the eighth inning after leading off the inning with a single. Ultimately, the game ended after Jason pitched a shutout nine-inning game which was rare for the 16-year-old age group. Jason had 12 strikeouts, one walk and allowed three hits in the game. The team slapped hands with the Rockets, who were a team from northern California. They were ranked top ten in the state and are in the top 150 teams in the country. So, the win was a vital one. The outcome of the game was a six to nothing victory.

The Tropics were continuing their success as the season proceeded on. The team going into the All-Star break for their league was a sharp 16-0. The California travel All-Star game was going to consist of everyone in the top California baseball league. Which means there are 24 teams that would have at least one All-Star, each team needed an All-Star according to league rules. There would be two teams made from the All-Star selections. The league had a north and south division. So, each All-Star team would be made up of 25 players from 12 teams.

The Tropics were leading the amount of All-Stars in the league with three players, Vlad, Addison and Jackson. Jackson was the first baseman for the team, while Addison was a catcher. Vlad had a number of eye-popping statistics. He had 11 home runs already, 28 runs batted in, ten doubles, 24 runs and was batting with a .460 average. In addition, he had nine stolen bases and Vlad had gotten much faster in the summer, which has obviously helped him become a base stealing threat. Pitching-wise he was doing astounding too. He had two wins, 24 innings pitched, 8 saves, a 0.94 earn run average and 36 strikeouts. Vlad was leading the league in home runs, batting average, runs batted in, runs and saves. He could win the triple crown if he keeps up this historic pace. Vlad was leading the league for most valuable player votes as well.

The All-Star game was an exhilarating experience and even Dannel was at the game recording. He was recording the videos on Youtube, so maybe his parents could watch his brother back home at a local cafe that has computers. Vlad went crazy in terms of his baseball stats with the league’s best surrounding home. He somehow figured a way to stand out with all of the talents already at the game. Vlad hit two doubles, one triple, had a stolen base, two runs and two runs batted in. He didn’t pitch in the game. The game was won by the South, that had all of the Tropics players on it four to two.

Addison ran up to Jackson and Vlad and told them some vast news.

“Vlad you won All-Star MVP, I’m so happy for you! The league is going to send you the trophy in the mail soon,” squealed Addison.

“Thanks, Addison for telling me that, I’ll go tell my brother,” Vlad said as he took off to find Dannel.

Vlad found Dannel by the bleachers looking at his video camera that had been recording Vlad’s stellar game.

“Dannel how did I do? I won All-Star game MVP,” said Vlad.

“Congratulations on that! I am setting your video on Youtube. Now, I have some click-bait for everyone to watch it with your award. Mom and dad might see it at the cafe. I’m going to send them a letter to watch the game,” Dannel explained to make sure Vlad understood his process and plans for the Youtube video.

“Okay, let’s get out of here and go back to the apartment,” said Vlad.

“Let’s go,” said Dannel.

The team continued on their first-half success and worked even harder in practice, grinding at practice and making sure they were putting in every ounce of energy they had to make the team undefeated. Their work seemed to pay off; The team was now 32-0 again and had just won the California state travel baseball tournament, as well as the the coveted league title. They were invited to a national tournament that had just begun. The U.S. junior national showcase tournament. It was a place where the top 12 teams from the United States competed. The Tropics were rated the number two team in the country and were hoping to grasp that number one spot in their batting gloves.

The team struck out every opponent they had until they reached the final game, which was against the number one team in the country. The Miami Beach Bums were the number one team in the country. The two elite teams have never played against each other previously. For the first time, they would face off. Vlad was coming off of a superior season. He had a .480 batting average; he had 20 home runs, 48 runs, 51 runs batted in, 14 stolen bases, 22 doubles. On the mound, he accumulated three wins, 63 strikeouts, 17 saves and a 0.87 earn run average. The Beach Bums had many top prospects as well, but none of them were even as remotely dominate as Vlad. Major League Baseball scouts would be at the game. Dannel would also be coming to the game in Houston, Texas at Minute Maid Park where the Houston Astros played.

Vlad was both excited and nervous during warmups. As usual,  he was chewing on some sour green apple Big League Chew Gum. His teammates were tossing the ball around with enthusiasm and were hyped up to be the number one team in the country. Everyone on the Tropics wanted to win and wanted to stop vying for the number one spot. They wanted to be known as the number one team.

Just when he life couldn’t get any better, Vlad turned around and couldn’t believe his eyes, he thought he was dreaming. He saw his parents in the stands. Waving and yelling Vlad’s name: it felt as if their voices were echoing through his entire body. All he could do was smile as he felt chills run through his body. Then, he looked up again and saw Vladimir Guerrero, his favorite player ever and a Hall of Famer.

Vlad screamed, “I heard about your story and wanted to have them come to your championship game.”

Vlad’s more ready than as he stepped up to the plate, a smile spread across Vlad’s face subconsciously. “Thank you!” Couldn’t have been any more.

The announcer’s voice boomed voice throughout Minute Maid Park, “Now batting cleanup for the Tropics number five, right fielder Vlad Lopez,” the announcer said with passion.

Vlad saw the second pitched spiraled toward him and instantly knew he was ready. It looked like a low 70’s curveball, his favorite.

“Smack!” Vlad knew when he hit the white sphere, it was gone forever. He smiled, everything that he had worked for and everything that he had gone through, including all of his momentous struggles, were worth it.

Vlad’s dream came true.

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