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FIVE-YEAR-OLD SLUGGER
THOMAS LAKE
August 30, 2010
THE VIDEO OF HIS BATTING-CAGE EXPLOITS HAS TURNED HIM INTO AN INTERNET CURIOSITY AND A MEDIA STAR. HOW CAN A KID SO SMALL AND SO YOUNG HANDLE 85-MPH HEAT? ARE HIS PARENTS UP TO SOMETHING? IS ARIEL ANTIGUA FOR REAL?
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August 30, 2010

Five-year-old Slugger

THE VIDEO OF HIS BATTING-CAGE EXPLOITS HAS TURNED HIM INTO AN INTERNET CURIOSITY AND A MEDIA STAR. HOW CAN A KID SO SMALL AND SO YOUNG HANDLE 85-MPH HEAT? ARE HIS PARENTS UP TO SOMETHING? IS ARIEL ANTIGUA FOR REAL?

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Ariel had been quietly working on a project. He handed me an autographed baseball.

to tOM

FROM AriEl

5/1/10

ON SUNDAY MORNING, not quite 36 hours before the moment of truth in the batting cage, Luis Sr. interrupted another baseball game I was empiring to tell me his two oldest sons would be punished for failure to do the laundry. "You guys are staying," he told them. "Ariel, let's go!"

We drove to a baseball field next to a railroad bridge under which people found shade while playing dominoes and drinking malt liquor. Luis wore a full uniform with belted white pants and a red jersey that said escogido, same as the winter-league baseball team in Santo Domingo. Escogido means chosen. To call this a rec-league softball game would be to severely understate its ceremonial importance. Luis said at least 10 of the men on the field had played in the minor leagues or higher. Manuel Ferreira, who produced Ariel's YouTube video, recorded the game with his camera on a tripod. A man with a microphone addressed the crowd in Spanish through massive speakers while the players posed along the foul lines, as they do in the World Series.

Ariel played football in the grass by the diamond with four older boys. They rarely gave him the ball. He seemed lost without his brothers, on the verge of exasperation. Finally Jessica reappeared in the white van, bringing Luis Jr. and Yamil, who had worked their way out of laundry purgatory. Luis cheerfully took control of the football skirmish and made it a real game. Ariel cheered up.

The Chosen and the Wild Dogs played a doubleheader that lasted nearly four hours in the hottest part of the day. The boys walked or ran many miles in those hours, and they threw a stunning variety of objects. Ariel hurled rocks at glass bottles under the bridge and hopped at least one fence and played a game of tag during which he convinced another boy that wearing a red shirt meant he was always on base. In his travels he encountered several people who knew him by reputation. "I saw you on TV," said the softball announcer, an elderly man who threw his arms around Ariel and kissed him on the head. "God bless you, brother." Ariel disliked the attention because it kept him from whatever game was happening next. When another old man reached out and asked for five, Ariel gave him two. Yet another man grabbed him around the shoulders and playfully tried to shadowbox. Ariel kept walking.

"I don't really know that guy," he said.

Back at home, guests arrived for a barbecue. The boys went inside to play with the visiting children, and they gathered around the computer in the living room. Luis Jr. went to YouTube and called up a video titled Stupid People. Luis, Ariel and Gordo sat together in the office chair and watched a series of horrible injuries: contortions, broken legs, people set on fire. The children were awestruck.

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