On the back of her right shoulder, close to the shoulder blade, Yovanna Guzman has a tattoo of a sun and a moon.
There’s no deeper significance to it. Guzman just likes the celestial bodies, particularly the sun. She remembers the days when a fairer-skinned, lighter-haired version of herself would stand outside, basking in its warmth.
Today, May 8, the tattoo is covered up by a long-sleeve gray sweatshirt as she sits in her wheelchair and watches her son Geovanny Hernandez pitch for L.A. Cathedral High in Elysian Park, the surrounding trees swaying gently under a blue sky.
On this Saturday afternoon, the sun’s rays are finally smiling down on her again. It’s the first time she’s been outside in years. It’s the first time she’s seen her son play in years.
Yovanna is quadriplegic since a traffic accident more than two decades ago, and has been in and out of the hospital for more than half her life with complications. Since he was 5 years old, Geovanny has taken care of her. He brings her food, cleans her room, opens her hand to give her a glass of water. He becomes her arms and legs.
Yet on this afternoon, she gets to see him in his element. Spreading his wings. And while wearing a smile barely shielded by a bright pink mask, watching him is the only thing that matters.
Hernandez, according to his uncle, Ruben Guzman, stands out. He’s goofy, constantly cracking jokes. He doesn’t like cutting his curly brown hair. He’s called “Geo” affectionately by family.
He’s been dressing like a “hipster” since junior high, his uncle says, when he’d strut around in a beige jean jacket with khakis. He now sports a shirt with a decal of singer Billie Eilish, his “girl crush,” the 17-year-old junior says with a sheepish grin.
His absolute favorite piece of attire, however, is a purple-and-black letterman’s baseball jacket in his closet, sporting Cathedral High’s logo.
“He’s a kid with baseball in his heart,” aunt Evelyn Guzman said. “If you go to the area where he lives, you say Geo’s name, Geo’s known. That’s all this kid does — he plays baseball.”
It’s in his DNA. His brother Fidel played a season at Pasadena City College. His father, who married his mom before they later divorced, an uncle and a grandfather all played.
When he returns home from a game, he pokes his head into his mother’s room, where she lies in a bed surrounded by a black guardrail. He tells her who won and how he played, because it makes him happy that she knows he’s doing well.
Yovanna cherishes that time with him. But inevitably, guilt seeps in. Self-resentment. She’s frequently beset by health issues, unable to watch her son play the game he loves so dearly.
“I told him, ‘I’m sorry that I’m your mother and I’m not able to see you,’” Yovanna said. “I missed out on a lot of things … it’s painful, but I had to deal with it.”
Her sons, though, credit her for helping guide them through life. To avoid trouble on the streets in their neighborhood.
“It could have been easy for any of us to be dragged into that kind of life,” Fidel said of running with gangs. “But my mom was always putting us in baseball continuously, in summer ball, travel ball … her keeping us active, we almost didn’t have a choice because she didn’t want us out there.”
Even 25 years after the accident, Yovanna gets intense periods of anxiety,. Frustrated she can’t move. When that happens, she says, the two are always there to listen.
Geo is a homebody. He’s either at home or playing baseball; he prefers sitting with his mom to going out with friends. The two like to watch movies together. Geo’s favorite is “Racing Stripes,” an animated film about a zebra that believes it’s a racehorse.
When Yovanna gets frustrated, Fidel is the one to try to calm her. He’ll tell her about his day at work, or plans he has for his motorcycle.
Geo has dreams to play at Mississippi or Clemson while studying sports medicine. He’s not only a starting pitcher with a 3-2 record and two no-decisions in 34 1/3 innings, but he plays left field, third base and second base while batting .355 with 17 RBIs.
When he thinks about it, the potential of leaving his mother at home seems scary.
“I think about her even when I go on travel ball, out of state,” Geo said. “Because even when I’m out of state, she can go to the hospital that week, and that’s kind of terrifying. [It’s] in my brain rent-free. …"
Yovanna knows it would hurt if her son left. She doesn’t want Geo to sacrifice for her. Neither does Fidel, who sees a bit of himself in his brother and got a job with the city of Glendale after his freshman year to help support his family. He thinks Geo can go further in baseball than he did.
As they discuss Geo’s future the afternoon of May 15, Fidel glances at his mother.
“I think we both can come to an agreement that we both will try our best for him to continue school, to finish it,” Fidel said.
Yovanna agrees. She still wants Fidel to go back to school too.
“I tell them all the time,” she said, “if I pass away, I would like them to be stable.”
Geo asks his mom almost every day, she says, if she can come to his next game. She usually says no. But her nurse gave her permission to come May 8.
Yovanna was nervous beforehand. She hadn’t seen her son play in three years. Yet at the same time, she was excited. He needed his mom, she thought. After years of guilt, of hurt that she couldn’t watch him take the field, this was her chance.
Geo’s Aunt Evelyn asks if he hears her cheer for him at his games. He told her he doesn’t. He blocks everything out and just plays.
But as Geo walked off the field between innings, he saw his mother for the first time near the bleachers. Cheering him on, with her eyes, at long last. And for a moment, the spell of the game was broken.
“He just gave me his big smile,” Yovanna said. “Like he always does. And his smile says it all, to me.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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