Mendez debuts with a poignant tribute to her son, a promising high school and college baseball star cut down by a heart defect.
Joy, anguish and baseball fill the pages of this memoir, a letter of sorts written by Mendez to her youngest child, Ramiro, aka Toti. It recounts the details of his 20 short years, from his illegal adoption as a newborn in Spain to his untimely death in Florida. Brought into the fold of a comfortably middle-class Cuban-American family, Toti was raised in Miami, where baseball “is not just a sport, it is a religion and a culture.” He had the talent, the drive and the parental commitment to go all the way; he garnered headlines, won trophies and titles, and was on the radar of professional scouts. All that suddenly came to an end on April 2, 2000, when he collapsed and died only weeks after being diagnosed with previously undetected cardiomyopathy. Given to occasional flights of sentimental revelry, Mendez nonetheless articulately captures the extraordinary closeness and mutual devotion between mother and son. She offers a unique, inside view into the rigors, sacrifices and obsessions that define the buildup to a career in major league baseball. Along the way, she also shares a complicated family saga that includes her own childhood escape from Cuba—a move that took her family from wealth to poverty—her two marriages, her two troubled older sons, and a daughter and granddaughters that have given her reason to push forward. These days, Mendez spends much of her time fighting for more stringent mandatory medical testing for high school athletes to detect the kind of hidden abnormalities that took Toti’s life. Perhaps the most surprising revelation is that Toti never knew he was adopted, despite the fact he entered a family that had three older siblings, all of whom were sworn to secrecy.
A sad, cautionary tale peppered with enough back stories to keep human-interest readers engaged.