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Ariel grabbed his father's hand and took him to the snack machine. They had a private talk, mostly in Spanish, although I did hear Luis say, "Don't be shy." Ariel demanded and received a Crunch bar, along with a hug from his mother, after which he put on a helmet, grabbed a green Easton Cyclone aluminum bat and headed toward the pitching machines. He stepped into Cage 4. The cameraman followed, along with a crowd of nearly 30 people. Ariel faced the machine.
The first pitch came in fast enough to make me flinch. Ariel fouled it back. He whiffed on the next two. Then he started hitting. Line drive toward right. Grounder to first. Chopper up the middle. The sound was like a hammer crushing stone.
The sign by Cage 4 said BASEBALL 75 MPH, not 85, as the video claimed. Luis had an explanation: The plate where Ariel stood was closer to the machine than 60 feet, six inches—the distance of a major league pitch—so he had to react just as quickly as a big leaguer hitting 85.
This sounded plausible, but to prove it I needed to know the distance between the machine and the plate. Ortiz helped me with the measurement. It was 37 feet, six inches.
Now we had to verify the pitch speed. Ortiz said his radar gun wasn't working, but he knew another coach who could help. I'd just have to wait a few minutes for him to get the gun.
It was 7:30, time for dinner. The sun was setting when we walked outside. They were headed back to Jersey City, and I was driving south. "Call us when you get home," Jessica said.
"I'll miss you," said Yamil, who had also signed a baseball for me.
Ariel chased a balloon down an alley and had to be corralled by his mother. They all got in the white van, waved goodbye and drove away through the twilight.
I went back inside and introduced myself to Jim MacDonald, the softball pitching coach at St. Mary High in Rutherford. He pointed his radar gun at the machine in Cage 4. "Seventy-four," he said. "Seventy-four. Wow. Consistent. Seventy-five. Seventy-three. Seventy-five."
Now it came down to a simple calculation. Luis and Ortiz had misjudged the speed relative to the distance. They had underestimated it. A ball goes 37'6" at 74 mph in the same time it takes the same ball to go 60'6" at 119.4 mph.