HARLINGEN, TEXAS — GROWING up in a public housing project where gangs and drugs are commonplace, 10-year-old Joseph Benavides has learned quickly about life. To him, it's a lot like baseball.
"There are times when you strike an out, get tagged while running to the base, or maybe even fall. These are things that keep you from going to the next base," he writes.
Joseph's insights on life and baseball won him the trip of a lifetime - to the 1995 World Series. The fourth-grader beat out 50,000 other children in Major League Baseball's "Why I Love Baseball" national essay contest.
"I've never been to a baseball game - not a real game," says Joseph, who has also never before been outside this dusty south Texas town, about 10 miles from the Mexican border. "I'm happy, proud. It's a dream come true."
Joseph entered the contest last year, but it was put on hold when a strike forced the cancellation of the World Series. So when a letter arrived last month from the chairman of baseball's executive committee informing him he had won, Joseph and his family were shocked.
In his 175-word essay, Joseph writes, "Like in real life you may flunk a grade, get involved with gangs, drugs or feel like suicide. These things can keep you from going on.
"If you try really hard and think ahead, these things will not happen to you. I love baseball not only because it teaches me something but because it is very fun to play."
Joseph's prize was an airplane trip to the first two games of the World Series this weekend in Atlanta, where he was to meet the players of the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.