Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 491
While the theme of “Summer League” focuses on the loneliness and lack of identity of a young Chicano immigrant seeking importance by means of the great American mythic sport of baseball (Romero uses softball because it is a diminutive of hardball, just as Tiny League is even smaller than Little League), the subtle way in which Romero communicates the thematic significance of this seemingly insignificant story places it within the modern short-story tradition of lyrical realism.
In the tradition of Anton Chekhov, the great late nineteenth century Russian short-story writer, Romero knows that it is better to say too little than too much. “Summer League” is written in an economical and straightforward narrative style, with no exposition, explanation, or commentary. What readers know about Michael’s situation, they infer from the apparently realistic details of the story. They guess that Michael has no father because no father is ever introduced and because Michael goes to his mother for what he needs. They know that his search for a heroic father figure in the league meets with failure because Mr. Gomez, who should provide an image of the surrogate father as coach, is merely a stereotype of a sloven drunk.
Other details in the story subtly suggest the strife and tentativeness of Michael’s life as an immigrant. A brief scene in which a group of black children taunt a Latino snack truck vendor by calling him a “honky-ass” and the vendor responds by calling the children “jungle bunnies” establishes the ethnic isolation and conflict that serves as a backdrop for the story. The simple fact that the friend Paul cannot play ball because he has abruptly left for Tijuana suggests that he and his family may have been deported by immigrant officials.
Perhaps the most poignant scene in the story occurs when Michael goes to eat lunch at his friend Antonio’s house in Antonio’s father’s new car. As Michael goes to the bathroom, he looks at the pictures on the hallway wall of Antonio and his family—who are all smiles at the beach, at Disneyland, at the circus, and in the mountain snow. When Antonio’s father pats Michael on the shoulder and tells him that he has real heart, Michael almost burns his tongue on his soup. The fact that Michael is acutely aware of his lack of a father to make his family whole is finally suggested at the conclusion by Mr. Garcia’s asking the boys to attend the awards banquet on Tuesday night and to “be sure to bring your family.” As Michael turns to head for home, he knows that he will not show up on Tuesday night.
Romero is not only keenly aware of the sense of isolation of the young Chicano in the United States, he is also skillful in using an economical writing technique that communicates what Frank O’Connor once called “the lonely voice” of the short-story form.
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