By Camilo Smith
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On the road to here and now, Felix Fanaselle, the starting shortstop for the Lamar Redskins, moved to nine different homes in four different school zones. In the process, he duped the bureaucrats at the Houston Independent School District Athletic Department, and he rebuffed one of the most venerable coaches in high school baseball. But at the end of it all, he finished at the top of the baseball heap, more or less unscathed. Consider his journey in these three parts:
1. The first move: Beverly Fanaselle moved with her two kids (Felix and his younger sister, Pilar) from their home at the southeastern edge of the East End to a new place in Sagemont. Felix was in the sixth grade.
Beverly's decision to move was simple. "We lived near South Houston in the Pasadena school district," she says. "And then I sold my house so we could be near Dobie." Dobie High School, she thought, was a better school than South Houston. What mother wouldn't relocate to ensure her children's sound education?
2. The second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth moves:By the time Felix started his freshman year at Dobie, he had blossomed into an exceptional athlete, and his opportunities on the field were more important to him than his opportunities in the classroom. If the team wasn't a good fit, the school wasn't either. And Dobie's team was not a good fit.
"I was playing football, and the coaches were mistreating me," Felix says. "I had a friend that went to Bellaire, and I thought it would be a good idea if I just went there, so I just packed up and moved." (Relocation No. 2.)
"You know how you have a gut feeling that something ain't right?" Beverly says. "That if there's something better out there to be offered to your son, you'll do it? I just took him out of school after the first month, got an apartment and moved to Bellaire. I put my house up for lease."
Initially, Beverly hadn't planned to actually live in the new apartment. "I just went and got something with the right address because I thought we wouldn't have to stay there," she says. "Turns out, we had to stay there." Their new place was "the most ghetto apartment ever," so for the next two and a half years, the Fanaselles moved from apartment to apartment (to apartment to apartment) until they found something they liked. (Relocations Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.)
But it was all worth it because Felix played for one of the best teams in high school baseball: the Bellaire Cardinals. Felix's skills grew by leaps and bounds, and he developed into one of the best players in his district. "The coach believed in Felix's talent," Beverly says. "He helped me with Felix. Felix had a lot of respect for him, and believed in that man for what he was."
But that coach, Rocky Manuel, a self-described "living legend," is a coach with rules and consequences. One of those rules is that his players are not allowed to play for select teams during the summer. No one knew what the consequence was until Felix came along.
The summer before his senior year, Felix played with the Columbia Angels, one of the most competitive select teams in Houston. There's no better way to get noticed by college recruiters and pro scouts. "I drove all the way to Memphis for a weeklong tournament with this team," Felix remembers. "I'm playing up there, and Coach Manuel calls my mom, and he's bitching her out because he doesn't like his players playing for different teams during the summer. But he's not supposed to have any control because we're not in school. He was threatening my mom and me that if I didn't come back by Friday that I would not be able to play for his team anymore."
3. The ninth move: According to the University Interscholastic League, which governs high school athletics in Texas, if a student transfers to another school later than the eighth grade, he or she must sit out of sports for an entire year. But the rules can be bent for the talented few.
"I knew that Felix had to play somewhere his senior year," Beverly says. "By the rules and by the law, you're not supposed to move for that reason. But I knew that I needed to help this kid get a full scholarship."
Felix set his sights on Lamar because he had several friends there. (Lamar happens to be Bellaire's archrival.) At the end of the summer, he and his mother approached the Lamar coach, George Garza, and told him their plans to relocate. "Garza knew everything," Beverly says. "I went to him first. I had to make sure that Felix was going to be able to play if I was going to bring him out to the school. I did my homework before I made any type of move." Felix's ninth relocation is an unspoken truth. "Everybody really knew the real deal, but they can't prove it," he says. Even if they could, the season is over now.