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"He's just a short 32-year-old," Luis said, and everyone laughed, even Ariel, unaware that he would hold his father's reputation in his hands tonight.
LET ME CLARIFY ONE THING: The Yankees have not publicly identified Ariel as their top prekindergarten prospect. But Luis recently told me he'd gotten a call from Cesar Presbott, the venerable Yankees scout. Luis said Presbott told him many good things about Ariel and said he planned to watch him develop.
I e-mailed the team's spokesman, Jason Zillo, and got this response: Thomas—Spoke to our head of scouting, Damon Oppenheimer. We do not "scout" children of that age. The Yankees will have plenty of time to scout him when he becomes a teenager. We hope he continues to love to play baseball during his youth years.
I pressed the issue: Are you telling me that Cesar Presbott did not call Luis Antigua to say he'd be keeping tabs on Ariel Antigua?
Zillo responded 22 minutes later, failing again to refute the story: I'm not doubting that but as far as officially scouting someone that's not the case.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE: Four brothers in a backyard, the three oldest playing baseball, or football, always losing and retrieving the ball, and instead of the roof it was the neighbors' property; instead of the ladder, a tall wooden fence; instead of gravity, an old grump named Mr. Cauthen and his grumpy bulldog, Major. No video games, no television, no rock 'n' roll. The mother watched through a window and interrupted many transgressions by clinking her wedding band on the glass, but there were lapses in surveillance, breaches of security, and the world came gushing in. Cassette tapes in coat pockets. Encyclopedias strip-mined for secret information. Even National Geographic was not entirely safe.
The boys played with fire and hammers and gunpowder and ran wild in a forest full of copperheads. They fell face-first in the street and bit through their tongues and smashed their teeth while running races with their eyes closed. The father meant well, but in some ways he was still a boy too, and so he took part in the conspiracy, trespassing on golf courses and in sewer pipes, standing by as they rode a red wagon down a hill toward an intersection. In the car behind the grocery store he punched the accelerator before a dip in the asphalt so they nearly went airborne, and the boys squealed with joy.
If YouTube had existed then, if one of these incidents had been pulled free from the surrounding framework of gentle cultivation and posted for the amusement of total strangers, someone might have called child-protection services. I was one of those boys. We made it through all right.
LUIS ANTIGUA GREETED the camera crew from Univision and pointed out his third son, who was playing basketball with a volleyball and a garbage can. "Ariel," the newsman said, but Ariel hid behind his father.
I asked Luis if Ariel would hit from the pitching machine tonight. "Maybe," he said. "If he feels like it."