Some of our friends thought Bobby was rich because his father owned a Pontiac dealership, and they thought I was kind of rich because my father owned a small grocery store. In fact Bobby was kind of rich, and I wasn't rich at all. But like young princes we had the run of the buildings in which our fathers made their livings, Bobby in the gloriously greasy garages where the mechanics' work was done, I amid the unstocked cartons in the back of the store and the blood-and-guts prep room behind the butcher counter.
Bobby and I were months younger than most of our classmates, and for one glorious season that kept us back in the Little League minors. Playing on opposing teams managed by our respective fathers, we each must've hit .800. Our teams (I played for the Giants, Bobby for the Orioles) made the championship series in that magical year of 1959, and it was a taut best-of-three, which my team won by taking Games 1 and 3. Four decades later I ran into our retired gym teacher, Carl Anderson, who told me that he had taken a soundless 8-mm film of the championship game. He'd had it converted to a VCR tape and gave me a copy. So one night I slipped it in and watched Bobby, a stocky lefthander, and me, a skinny righthander, alternating on the mound. We pitched and batted and ran like characters in an age-old silent film, black-and-white ghosts, backlit by time.
MIKE ARCIOLA became best friends with Mike Cerone at the Little League complex in Elmsford. They went to different schools—Mike A. to public, Mike C. to parochial—but they connected as they shagged flies and slapped mosquitoes on the fields along 9A. Mike C. had four older brothers. They called Mike A. "the sixth Cerone."
The two Mikes were the only 11-year-olds selected for the Little League tournament team in 1996. Each could play several positions, but Mike A. usually caught and Mike C. pitched and played center. As 12-year-olds they led Elmsford to the District 20 championship.
Mike A.'s outstanding qualities as a player were speed, plate discipline and leadership. "Mike always played real mature," says Cerone. "Whether he went 4 for 4 or 0 for 4 didn't make a difference. He almost never struck out. He'd make contact and move somebody along. He'd throw a guy out at second. It was always something for the team."
The Arciolas weren't rich. Robert Arciola owned a painting business but was beset by heart problems and diabetes and was unable to work much of the time. His wife, Teresa, from whom he separated in 1996, worked two jobs to help support the children: Cassandra (called Casey), now 30; fraternal twins Robert Jr. and Amanda, 26; and Mike, the youngest by four years, whom his dad and brother called Mikey.
Mike was a typical youngest child, the little darling, the cutup who got by on charm—"a hopeless flirt," as Amanda puts it. Casey would take him to the movies with her girlfriends, and he would plop down on a seat in the middle of them, and they would coo over him. Everyone in Mike's family (except his brother) talks about the way he batted his eyelashes. His father, who lost his left leg and his right eye to diabetes, a man torn up by bitterness and disease, dissolves in tears when he remembers "a little, curly-haired, eyelash-fluttering kid who used to look at me and say, 'I love you, Daddy,' and after that I was helpless."
I BONED UP on the history and the minutiae of sports, foreshadowing the career I would choose, but Bobby just played, relying on talent, instinct and an uncanny composure. He was competitive as hell, though. After I called him out on strikes at a Babe Ruth League game I was umpiring, he looked at me contemptuously, started for the dugout and tossed his bat on the ground so it hit my foot. I threw him out of the game. An hour later we were drinking milk shakes together at Perry's Custard Stand.