MIAMI – The summer he turned 15, Mauricio Dubon asked his mother if it would be OK if he left home, left Honduras, and moved away, moved to California, to live with a nice family he just met and play baseball. That was on a Tuesday. On Wednesday his mother gave her blessing. On Thursday he packed. On Friday he boarded an airplane. And he tried not to cry.
“I trust you,” his mother told him. “I raised you good. Don’t be dumb. Don’t make stupid decisions. I love you and I’ll miss you.”
In Sacramento, California, Sandy Ritchey received a phone call from her husband, Andy. He’d left for Honduras the week before with a handful of friends, his son, Ben, and Ben’s baseball coaches. The spirit of the trip was of a Christian and baseball mission. They went to places such as Honduras and the Dominican Republic every summer and, among other things, provided baseball gear to boys and girls in underprivileged neighborhoods. This was Andy’s first trip, and he’d seen a young man, a shortstop, and met him, and wanted to help.
“Hey,” Andy asked Sandy, “do you mind if I bring a boy home from Honduras? He seems nice. And he’s really good at baseball.”
“Well,” Sandy said, “think he’d get along with Ben?”
Sandy prepared the spare bedroom. When Mauricio arrived, she introduced herself, and she showed him around, and she helped him unpack, and she told him the room was his for as long as he wanted it. Later that night, Mauricio, feeling alone and homesick, knocked on Ben’s door.
“Can I sleep in here?” he asked.
Ben’s room became Ben and Mauricio’s room that night, the place where they spoke aloud their big-league dreams (Ben was a pitcher at UC Irvine), which was how it stayed every night through high school, and to the day Mauricio’s parents – Danilo and Jeannette – traveled to Sacramento to see their son for the first time since he’d left San Pedro Sula three years before. They’d come to watch him graduate from high school.
“I cried myself to sleep for two weeks,” Mauricio said. “But I knew it was going to be worth it.”
In his second summer with the Ritcheys, Mauricio and the family drove to San Francisco to watch the Giants play. Mauricio, at his first major league game, ran ahead, through the concourse at AT&T Park, into the stadium and down the stairs to the rail. He raised his arms to the sky and turned to face Sandy.
“Some day,” he yelled to her, “I’m going to play in a park just like this!”
“I know you will,” she called back.
He stood Sunday in a locker room beneath Marlins Park, dressed in teal, part of the World team in the All-Star Futures Game. He is 22 years old. His brown eyes widened as he recalled the details of his journey, the one that began on a baseball field in Honduras wielding a glove – a Wilson model – his father had bought him one Christmas at Wal-Mart, taking grounders in front of strangers, and then of the unexpected life with the people who’d become something like his mother and father, something like his brother.
“I’m not lucky, I’m blessed,” he said. “I love them. Thanks to them I’m able to do this.”
He offered Andy’s phone number. It is listed under his contacts as “US Dad.”
Mauricio was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 26th round of the 2013 draft, and in December he was traded with Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers for Tyler Thornburg. He is 6-feet tall and built lean. In 85 games spread across Double- and Triple-A this season, he’s batted .268 and stolen 33 bases. By most opinions, he is a top-10 prospect for the Brewers, that close to being the second Honduras-born player – behind Gerald Young, who played for three teams from 1987 to 1994 – to reach the big leagues.
Mauricio goes to Honduras every winter now, and he calls his friends, who call their friends, and they play baseball on the orphan fields of their childhoods. People from the neighborhood come to watch, which is Mauricio’s plan to spread the word of baseball in his homeland. This winter he provided the beer – 700 bottles of Salva Vida that cost him $600 – for the spectators. Mauricio does not drink, he said. The beer was a hit, he said. So was the baseball.
Maybe the next kid’s journey will be easier for it, he said. Baseball in Honduras will grow. There will be fields to play on and bats and gloves to play with and coaches to teach. Not everyone, he said, gets a second family. Not everyone gets a chance like that.
On Sunday, Andy and Sandy Ritchey attended Mauricio’s game at Marlins Park. They were joined by Danilo and Jeannette, only the second time they’d been together, the two families that raised Mauricio to be a ballplayer and a man. Sandy and Jeannette hugged for a long time, until they both believed they were done crying, which they weren’t, it turned out.
“We’re proud of what we could do for Mauricio’s dream,” Andy said prior to Dubon rifling a double into the right-field corner during the sixth inning. “Just very proud and happy for him. We feel very blessed to have known the boy, to have had him as part of our family.”
It’s why they came, same as why Mauricio’s parents came, to watch their boy, to keep track of the dream, to measure it along with Mauricio.
“I just think about – oh, I’m almost crying again – I think about the sacrifices he made,” Sandy said. “I’m standing here with his mother. She didn’t see him for so many years. It’s been a sacrifice for them, too.”
Then she laughed.
“Every mother says their son is good at baseball,” she said. “She wasn’t kidding.”
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