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"It's one thing to say you'll finish; it's another thing to do it," Abreu said. "You'll learn something pretty quickly when you start playing in the States: You can't worry about school when your heart is set on playing in the big leagues."
Rijo nodded. "Maybe you're right," he said. "Maybe I'll never finish. But I don't ever want to come back home someday and have to clean yards for a living. And I want to own more than a bicycle. I'm going to pitch in the big leagues someday. I know it. And when I do"—Rijo glanced at his mother—"I'm going to bring you to Yankee Stadium to see me pitch."
Rijo's mother smiled. "Buena suerte," she said. Good luck.
Rijo should have known better than to abandon his education to take a chance at baseball. But he didn't. So, on April 5, Fred Ferreira, the Yankees' scouting supervisor for Latin America, flew to the Dominican Republic to escort Rijo, the youngest player in pro baseball, and six other teen-agers—three of whom had quit school by the 11th grade—to the land of opportunity.
Ferreira was bubbly when he stepped off Eastern's Flight 949 at Santo Domingo's Las Americas Airport. It was his third trip to the island since he had left the California Angels' organization on Jan. 1 to join the Yankees.
"This," Ferreira declared, "is a land of bargains."
During the taxi ride into town, Ferreira noticed that dozens of buildings had been covered with posters and slogans that read YANQUIS FUERA (Yankees out) and MUERTE A LOS YANQUIS (death to the Yankees). Ferreira made a mock grimace. "Oh-oh," he said. "I hope they don't mean the New York Yankees."
Of course, he knew he had no reason to worry. The slogans had been painted by various leftist political organizations in protest of the appearance in Santo Domingo of two U.S. warships. Unlike the Navy, the New York Yankees are always welcome in the Dominican Republic and in the other Latin American nations that have bargain-basement prospects. The Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and every other baseball organization that offers impoverished Latin youngsters the chance for a better mañana get the same happy greeting.
"Latin America's a great place for a scout," Ferreira said, with a contented grin. "Because there's no draft here as there is in the U.S., you can sign players at any time. At any age. On the spot.
"Sure, 15 years old may be too young to sign a kid. But it's not too young if you're afraid of losing him to another team. We're only doing our job, and our job is to look for the best players, regardless of age. It's wide open, like old-time scouting. You see a player and you sign him. I love the system and I certainly hope it doesn't change."