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Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Twelve-year-old Miguel (Michael) Arroyo and his 17-year-old brother, Carlos, live in the South Bronx in the shadow of Yankee stadium. The young Cuban immigrants love baseball, especially Michael. A passionate Little League player, he listens to every Yankees game on the radio and idolizes a Cuban-born pitcher called El Grande. Michael uses his own strong pitching arm to foil a purse-snatching attempt. He hits the thief with a ball and earns praise from local authorities. Michael's arm is so good, in fact, rival Little League coaches begin requesting proof that he's only 12 and eligible to play.
Michael and Carlos worry when adults start asking to speak to their father about a birth certificate. It's not Michael's age that's the problem. The boys can't let authorities know that their father is dead. Papi died of a heart attack several months earlier, leaving them orphans. They fear foster care will separate them unless they can keep their secret until Carlos turns 18. Carlos works two jobs to support the boys. With the help of an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Cora, and Michael's best friend, Manny, they've convinced everyone that Papi is in Florida caring for his sick brother. Until now.
Michael plays ball and tries to stay under the radar. Meanwhile, Little League officials continue asking for paperwork. Other city officials track him down as well. Now that he's helped catch a thief, they hope he and his father will pose with the Bronx Borough president for the newspaper. Carlos and Michael find themselves lying more and more frequently to cover their tracks.
The bright spot in Michael's life is his mysterious new friend, Ellie. She often shows up at his games, watches from a distance, then disappears. When he discovers she's El Grande's daughter, he grows angry with her for hiding her identity, and he pushes her away.
As pressure intensifies for the boys to produce their father, they enlist Manny's uncle — an off-, off-, off-Broadway actor — to play Papi. Manny's uncle manages to fool Mr. Gibbs, a Little League official who also works for the Administration of Child Services. This ruse buys the boys some time. But without the birth certificate, Michael is forbidden to play ball.
Michael misses Ellie. He waits for El Grande outside of Yankee Stadium before a game and passes the player a note for her. As the Little League play-offs approach, Michael serves as a base coach and supports the team as best he can. During the semi-final game, El Grande, Ellie and Mr. Gibbs find Michael. El Grande has called his contacts in Cuba and has located a copy of Michael's birth certificate. Now eligible to play, Michael steps in and helps his team win the game.
After learning the truth about Papi, Mr. Gibbs takes temporary custody of the boys until Carlos' birthday. He also gives Carlos a job at the Administration of Child Services. Michael's team plays and wins the district final game in Yankee Stadium, surrounded by friends including Mrs. Cora, El Grande and Ellie.
Papi told the boys if they had all the answers about life, they wouldn't have anything to ask God later. Michael says he wants to ask Him things now. Papi also suggested that if you ask God why bad things happen, you should ask Him the same thing about all the good things that happen. Michael goes to church with Mrs. Cora on Sundays. A priest gives Papi last rites. Mrs. Cora tells the priest not to let anyone, even at church, know that the boys are now on their own. Michael has a baptism certificate that usually works where a birth certificate would be required. Michael wants to know why angels are never around when you need them, if they are real. Mrs. Cora makes a sign of the cross (for the benefit of a city official) when mentioning the sick uncle the boys have invented. Michael says knowing Mrs. Cora's theories on sin, she'll probably head to confession right away. As the boys prepare to play a game in Yankee Stadium, Manny lifts his hands in a prayerful motion and says the Lord can take him now. A quote from Joe DiMaggio hangs in the stadium that reads: I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.
Other Belief Systems
Ramon's father tells him that seeing a certain Cuban track star was like watching a god run. Papi told the boys that some talents, such as Michael's pitching ability, were like gifts from the gods. Michael feels like he and Ellie have some kind of mental telepathy between them. Mr. Gibbs, who works for family services, has a sixth sense about kids who are in trouble. Michael says his luck has changed when he gets a chance to meet El Grande. El Grande tells Michael there are still many ghosts watching in Yankee Stadium.
The text includes a few uses of butt, heck and darn. A teammate pretends like he's going to flip Michael off, though he doesn't actually do it. When Papi sees a man slap a woman, knocking her to the ground, he gets out of his cab to help.
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Lying: Carlos and Michael lie often in an effort to support themselves and stay together after Papi dies. Carlos lies about his age to get work. He gets paid off the books so his employer doesn't have to report taxes. Carlos coaches Michael to tell simple lies and not to provide much detail if he's required to answer questions. The boys feel remorse for all the lies they tell but feel it's the only way they can stay together.
Crime: A young thug named Ramon steals Mrs. Cora's purse. Later, Carlos works for him as a ticket scalper when Carlos loses his restaurant job. The police eventually pick up Ramon and Carlos. They release Carlos since it's his first offense.
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Readability Age Range
10 and up
Puffin Books, part of the Penguin Young Readers Group