"Rum punch," Rijo said, with a mischievous grin.
"No," the waiter said. "You're too young."
"O.K.," Rijo said, frowning. "Fruit punch."
Later, at his mother's house in San Cristóbal, 18 miles west of the capital, Rijo allowed that he doesn't feel young. He has been, after all, un gran prospecto since he was 13, when an Angel scout spotted him. "I remember how excited I was when this scout spoke with me about playing professional baseball," Rijo said. "I couldn't believe what was happening."
The scout, Eddy Toledo, who now works for the Mets, was so impressed with Rijo that he invited the boy to live with him in Santo Domingo.
"Jose was a helluva prospect." Toledo says, "and I didn't want to lose him."
Rijo, heeding the advice of his uncle Abreu, stayed with his mother, and soon, as Toledo had feared, other scouts were at Rijo's doorstep.
"A couple of them wanted to sign me when I was 14, but my uncle told me to wait," Rijo says. "Then, last August, a part-time scout for the Yankees told me that his organization was interested in me. The next thing I knew, Wilfredo Calvino [then the Yankees' chief Latin American scout] came to watch me pitch, and he liked the way I threw. When he asked me if I wanted to sign with the Yankees, I told him to go talk to my uncle. After all, my uncle has been through all of this before."
Abreu quickly advised his 6'2", 168-pound nephew to sign—if the money was right. "I told him to go ahead because if he got hurt down here—say he hurt his arm—he'd have nothing," Abreu says. "Also, I considered that he's not a good student. But he does have a good fastball. Last year, he threw 79 miles per hour. This year, it's 87. And there was one more reason I wanted him to sign: We needed the money."
Abreu explains that his family is supported solely by his meager summer-league income and a brother who lives in Puerto Rico.