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The batting cage is baseball's Rialto. There that rowdy, fooling, profane company—the big leaguers-greet each other, heroic children at the sandbox. Not long ago, behind the cage in Sarasota, where old men murmur like old grass in the stands, Luis Aparicio met Yogi Berra. Aparicio plays shortstop for the Chicago White Sox with major grace, passion and invention and a little hot dog; Berra is the senior catcher from New York.
"Hello, Shorty," said Luis; nifty, crafty, canny little face.
"Shorty?" said Yogi with elaborate regret. "I'm taller than you."
"Yogi used to call me Shorty," Luis said later. "Now I find out I'm a little taller than he, I call him Shorty."
Luis Ernesto Aparicio Jr., born in the hot oil city of Maracaibo, Venezuela 26 years ago, is growing up, but time hasn't bruised or winded him. "He doesn't act like a man with two children," says his father. "It seems that he has gotten more playful now that he's older."
"I'm a happy person, I guess," says Luis. "I get along with people. I think I'm lucky. I'm a nice guy? Everybody a nice guy."
Someone has said that happy people have no history. "I will tell you my life," says Luis Aparicio. "It won't take long. There isn't much to tell. I wanted to be a hero like my father. Everybody like him, and I wanted to be the same way. My father was a shortstop for 25 year. He was smaller than me [Luis is 5 foot 7 or 8]. He's a small guy, Luis my father, 140, 145 pounds."
"I almost never saw him," says his father. "I was always playing ball somewhere. The first time I saw him he was 8 months old."
"When we first came to Caracas," says Luis' Aunt Isabel, with whom he lived for several years, "I would make pepitas de leche [a sugar and milk candy rolled into a small ball with a toothpick handle] to earn a little money, and I would send Luisito, who was then about 5 years old, to sell them in the street. But often he would set the plate down and start playing and the other boys would eat the candy. Sometimes when he discovered them he would join them in eating the candy. One day he said, 'I'm not going to sell that any more.' I asked him why and he said, 'Because I am the son of Luis el grande.' I teased him, saying, 'What's so grande about your father?' 'He may not be big,' Luisito said, 'but at least he's decent.' "
"Luisito has always had a lot of respect for his father," his mother says. "At one time, while studying in Caracas, he decided to become a jockey. He would sneak off every morning to the hippodrome in El Para�so and ride the horses. His aunt found out and told his father. His father wrote him and told him to forget it. He immediately stopped it."