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Call it the Aaron Treviño mystique. Any given Saturday, at the Little League ball fields in the East End, little pitchers and catchers and outfielders set their sights on something newly attainable: hitting, throwing and being like Aaron Treviño.
"When he throws the ball when he's pitching, he kicks his leg really high, and that's what I try to do every game," says Manuel Carillo, a 13-year-old Little League pitcher and first baseman. "I kinda look up to him. I wanna be like him."
"I heard that he pitches real fast and he has good hitting," says Rudy Rodriguez, an 11-year-old pitcher and catcher. "And he got a four-year scholarship to college."
Even the littlest ones have taken interest. The East End Tigers, an energetic team of seven- and eight-year-olds, have to count their fingers to remember their ages, but they know the number on the back of Aaron Treviño's green Austin High Mustangs jersey: No. 11. And, of course, they want to be Mustangs too.
Aaron Treviño is a high school senior from El Segundo Barrio, or the Second Ward, Houston's historically Mexican neighborhood east of downtown. It's a working-class community crisscrossed with railroad tracks and dotted with ramshackle homes, where there's a growing movement toward revitalization. Aaron attends HISD's High School for Law Enforcement, a magnet school for kids who hope to be cops, lawyers and judges, but plays baseball for Austin, his neighborhood high school, because Law Enforcement doesn't have its own team.
If it weren't for a breakout season (he'd never hit a home run in a high school game until his first at bat this year), Aaron, reticent and unassuming, wouldn't stand out from the hundreds of other high school baseball players in the Houston area. But that's not the way this story goes.
He swung for the fences with the Austin Mustangs -- a below-average team of Hispanic kids from the inner city -- at a time when Houston's best high school baseball players are a little paler and more suburban. He had more home runs and a higher batting average than most players inside and outside the Loop, and accomplished as much using institutions familiar to East Enders: the neighborhood Little Leagues and the local high school. It's an unusual reality for folks in his neighborhood to witness.
They usually see their best players take advantage of HISD's magnet system to play for distant schools with better teams. They usually see local talent go underdeveloped for lack of access to prohibitively expensive clinics and select teams. They usually see Austin High School players fall by the wayside -- either dropping out or chasing girls or getting jobs to help support their families. But this year Aaron Treviño made it. Next year he's off to college. And now everyone else wants to make it, too.
Going into the game against the Sam Houston Tigers, the fifth-to-last game of the season, Aaron ranked fourth in home runs and fifth in batting average among all Class 5A ball players, placing him in the company of standouts from Nimitz and Stratford and other strong suburban schools. With a swing of the bat, he'd managed to "take them boys' manhood," as one high school coach put it. A handful of Austin fans ventured out to Delmar Field to see if his hitting streak would continue.
Delmar is an HISD athletic complex nestled in the junction of Highway 290 and Loop 610, where the sounds of traffic usually drown out the battle cries from the stands. At the Wednesday-evening game, all but two of the spectators on the Austin side of the stands looked Hispanic. The other two looked white -- one guy was wearing an Astros shirt and the other a Major League Baseball cap. Both were clearly Major League scouts. Both were there to watch Aaron.
It was the first time that pro scouts had ever seen him play, though these two seemed more amused by their own company than by the action of the game. "He's a good ball player -- that's all I can tell you," said one as the other sat silently, waiting to resume what must have been a riveting conversation.
When Aaron and the Mustangs took the field in the bottom of the third, the sun had just dipped below the highway's horizon, and the opposing Tigers had already slapped four runs on the board. Aaron, playing third that night, bobbled a routine ground ball in the middle of the inning, and the scouts stopped to take notice.
"I thought it would bounce right," Aaron told his coach, Lywen Bradford, on his way to the dugout after the inning. Bradford, a former football and baseball pro, had tried to instill a winning spirit in his first year coaching the Mustangs. Aaron bought into the coach's program, and says he owes much of his senior-year success to what he learned from Bradford.
At the top of the next inning, Aaron, the second batter to the plate, smacked a ball deep to right field and rounded the bases to second for a stand-up double. The Austin fans jumped to their feet. The scouts took quiet notice and, having seen enough, left the field.