Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 19, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614

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Danny Romero’s brief story of a boy playing in a summer softball league seems simple and straightforward. It is about a young Chicano who spends an uneventful summer playing softball on a Little League-type team. However, it is precisely this lack of significant events that defines the boy and his summer. In fact, it hardly seems a story at all, more like a realistic slice of life with little or no thematic importance. What gives the story its significance is just the feeling of insignificance that Michael feels.

Romero chooses the summer sport of softball—a variation of baseball—purposely, for baseball, more than any other sport, takes on almost mythic significance as the great American pastime. As such novels as Bernard Malamud’s The Natural (1952) and W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa (1983; adapted into the film Field of Dreams in 1984) demonstrate, there is a heroic potential, typically American, about the “boys of summer” that does not characterize football or basketball. The fact that a young Chicano wants to play the game so he can feel like “big stuff” is thus ironic, for it signifies the immigrant’s efforts to carve out an identity for himself by means of his adopted culture’s icons and conventions.

The ultimate failure of the game to provide a sense of importance and identity for Michael is emphasized throughout the story. It begins with his sister’s teasing him for being in the “tiny league” and yet acting as if he were so “big.” It continues when Michael gets Mr. Garcia as his coach, a stereotype of the unkempt Chicano who wears baggy pants and drinks too much beer. There is no indication in the story that Michael has a father, for it is only his mother who attends to his needs; his coach certainly does not provide a strong male image for him. Indeed, Garcia seems more interested in selling firecrackers to the boys for the Fourth of July celebration—another allusion to ironic images of heroism in a story about Mexican immigrants, for the framers of the Declaration of Independence are not Michael’s own forefathers. The fact that Michael may be missing a father image to emulate is also suggested by how pleased he is at the attention that Antonio’s father pays to him when he goes to his friend’s home for lunch. This lack of a father is an important thematic element in this story that centers on a sport in which a father and son playing “catch” is a conventional stereotype.

The image of Michael stranded in the outfield, having to tear off his borrowed right-hander’s glove so he can throw the ball with his left hand during the few moments that it comes his way symbolizes the failure of the game to fulfill Michael’s needs. It is a further irony that only one game remains in the season when his mother, who knows little about the game, finally takes him to the Big Five Sporting Goods store (another reference to the “big stuff”/“tiny league” dichotomy introduced early in the story) to buy him a glove.

The failure of the game to meet Michael’s needs to have a father/hero figure and to feel important is finally emphasized at the conclusion of the story, when Michael tries to read the name of the left-handed pitcher in the center of his glove and realizes that the name is one that no one would recognize, “much like himself.” However, in spite of this realization, the story ends on a note of hope with Michael thinking that he will return for the summer league next season.