The American, Sean Pierce, grew up middle-class in Southern California and is close to graduating from college. He's a bona fide surfer dude who spent his childhood riding the waves at Newport Beach. He wants to make his parents proud, and he wants a house by the ocean. He owns a silver Mustang, but at the moment what he drives means nothing. He is too busy to think about much besides baseball. Even girls don't matter—not a lot. He's trying to make the big leagues.
The Dominican, Andres Astacio, grew up on the edge of Third World poverty and never made it past the eighth grade. His Latin teammates call him Flaco, the Spanish word for skinny. He came to the U.S. on a work visa, determined to provide a better life for his large, financially strapped family back home. His father works in a sugar mill. His mother is an unemployed seamstress. He has five younger sisters. He also has an 18-year-old girlfriend, the mother of his infant son. Every day that he plays well is a day closer to changing the lives of everyone he loves.
Pierce and Astacio have never been formally introduced, but they're teammates this summer, playing for the Dodgers of Great Falls, Mont., a rookie league team in the Los Angeles Dodgers' farm system. Although the two men look different, come from different parts of the world and speak different languages, their dreams and the game of baseball have conspired to make them brothers. "Do you know who Sean Pierce is?" someone asks Astacio, a 6'2", 154-pound righthanded pitcher from a coastal town in the Dominican Republic's province of La Romana.
"Sean Pierce?" says Astacio, looking around as if for a clue. It takes a while for the name to register. "Ah, s�. Sean Pierce."
"Who is Andres Astacio?" the same person asks Pierce, a centerfielder who a few months ago was a senior at San Diego State.
"Andres Astacio?" replies Pierce, having to dig for a moment. "Oh, yeah. He's the pitcher...the tall, skinny one, right?"
Pull out a map, and have a look at Great Falls. On summer nights, daylight holds the sky past 10:30 p.m. and comes creeping out again at 5 a.m. Due west are the Rocky Mountains, and to the east wide open plains run clear to North Dakota. The Missouri River meanders through town and climbs past parched bluffs and railyards to the spot where some 60 years ago city fathers built a baseball field. That's Legion Park, home of the Dodgers. Up there a hot, dry wind blows incessantly, carrying a sour smell from a nearby pasta factory and wrecking many a hairdo. In April 1999 the wind knocked over one of the billboards above the outfield fence. Imagine what it does to a pop-up.
"In games you'll see me waving my glove a lot," Pierce says. "That's because I'm swatting at mosquitoes. Every single mosquito in Great Falls lives in centerfield."
On this night in early July the park is hosting a game between the Dodgers and the Provo ( Utah) Angels, both of the Pioneer League. Pierce, 22, is starting in centerfield, a job he's owned since the organization made him its ninth-round pick in last spring's amateur draft and gave him a $61,000 signing bonus. Pierce is the second fastest man on the team (he will end the season with 29 stolen bases in 72 games, second best on the Dodgers), and girls scream whenever he taps the orange dirt from his spikes, squeezes his batting helmet down on his head and steps up to the plate.
"Tell you the truth, I never bothered to learn the names of the players ahead of me in the organization," says Pierce. "They have to do something for me to move up—someone has to be injured or traded or something. I do know that the starter in Los Angeles is Marquis Grissom. And who's that other guy? Goodwin? I don't follow their stats. I don't even follow mine. Every day all I try to do is get two hits. Two hits and I know I'm raising my average."