In fact Astacio hit the man in retaliation for another incident: One of the Angels had banged Astacio's arm when he was covering the bag on a grounder to first base in the seventh inning. Pierce looks into the eyes of the Dominican and smiles. Astacio nods because he thinks he should.
Such misunderstandings are no more common in Great Falls than in any other rookie league town where young men from different worlds come together to play baseball. In the end Pierce and Astacio file into the clubhouse and remove their Dodgers uniforms, one day closer to whoever it is they are destined to be.
By season's end, two months from that night, Astacio's 2-6 record and 5-01 ERA will reflect how far he has to go to meet his skipper's expectations and become an ace, even as a low-ranking minor leaguer. Rather than win a promotion in the Dodgers' farm system, he will be sent to Vero Beach for six weeks in the instructional league. The assignment means the club still believes he can develop into a big leaguer, but his poor performance late in the year didn't help his chances. "When Andres pitched, the opposing team hit for a .282 batting average," says Keough. "That's pretty high for rookie ball. Andres has a lot of talent, but he still has a long way to go."
As for Pierce, the odds of his making it greatly improved. He ended up batting .311, leading the team in on-base percentage (.414) and triples (seven), while stealing 29 bases and driving in 43 runs, both second best on the team. Fans of the 37-39 Dodgers, who failed to advance to postseason play, would vote him the team's MVP, and on the morning of the Dodgers' last home game Pierce would find Mike Ferradas standing at his bedroom door. "They're moving you up," Ferradas told him. "You're going to Wilmington."
Pierce had been asleep, and for a moment he thought he was dreaming. Did Mike just say he was being sent to North Carolina, to the Dodgers' Class A team, the Wilmington Waves?
In fact, Pierce was one of only four players on the team who were moving up. Even as he slept, the Dodgers had been making arrangements for Pierce to fly to North Carolina later that day. "Maybe when I wake up and have time to think about it, I'll get happy and feel proud of myself," Pierce says. "Right now I just want to play some more baseball."