Getting Busy: Manny Mota and Los Campos de Sueños
The dirt streets of El Tamarindo are dusty with walkers. El Tamarindo is a village that was blown here sixteen years ago by Hurricane Georges. Tens of thousands on Hispaniola lost everything. Many ended up in this barrio.
We are dusty, too, with walking. Shacks crowd the road; we glance into doorways and people trot out to join us. At the end of the lane there appears a green cinderblock wall which the dirt road divides widely. This is El Campo de Sueños, The Field of Dreams. We pass through—to a sprawl of ball diamonds opening out toward distant fences, their backstops rising like totems. It is slightly surreal: so much groomed grass might just be dream fields. Our group is large now, mostly women with children, their clothing colorful, their smiles shy. We approach a swing set where kids clamber noisily, then arrive at a grand pavilion. And here is what’s going on today.
Hundreds have traveled the lanes to line up by this pavilion. Babies and toddlers are everywhere in arms, small girls sit on the low walls. There’s good will in the air; it feels like a social event, a dance or a cock fight. Inside, beneath the high tin roof a table of chatty nurses receives a line of mothers with much note-taking and laughter and commiseration. Beyond them a great sussing of health is under way. Smart young doctors in white are listening to chests, peering into eyes, tapping and squeezing and prescribing. A shirtless boy leans forward and coughs energetically while his friends grin; nearby a young woman sits, her hands mild in her lap, as a dentist plies the steely implements. Some soldiers in camouflage cheerfully wave in the next group of patients. Gradually the order becomes clear. This is one of the frequent medical service days held at El Campo de Sueños, when residents of nearby towns come for free health care. They bring their aches and pains, and receive expert treatment—and prescriptions that get filled just over at the next building.
While this is going on, down the slope at a small baseball field newly cut into the scrub, two teams of seven-year-olds are squaring off. Their blaring jerseys are tucked into their baggy trousers, and they shuttle on and off the field with gusto. A golf cart purrs up and a handsome gentleman with blazing teeth hops out and shouts some orders. It’s Manny Mota, engine of all the activity in this place. A white bucket appears beside him, and he commences pitching underhand, a few feet from the plate. The helmeted batters swing lustily, and he corrects and commends them with sage humor. This Manny Mota is the holder of the major league record for career pinch hits, and a .306 lifetime average. The Campo is where he puts up newer numbers. For the last half-decade he’s been building this complex. Hundreds of El Tamarindo villagers get their water from the wells he dug a couple years back. It saves them hours of walking each day. Mornings he serves up 150 breakfasts, and some days lunches, too. And every day there’s baseball—on five sprawling fields.
The sky piles its clouds far beyond the fences, and a big rain blasts down. Kids dash laughing under the pavilion roof, where the operations are winding up. Drying off, Manny Mota talks about this place, his eyes following the kids. “My wife and I used to feed people in our home. One day she said, ‘You know, we could make a life out of doing this.’ So that’s how we started. After the hurricane, when the government moved the people here, you know, I guess we got pretty busy.”
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