CLEARWATER, Fla. - A tall, attractive woman stood in the shade of a beach umbrella on the third-base side of Ashburn Field clapping her hands while Pirates farmhand Luis Heredia went through the top of the ExtendedPhils lineup like a buzz saw.

"Did you see my son?" Maria Heredia gushed. "He is only 16 and he has yet to give up a run this spring."

The poised, 6-6 righthander looked closer to 20 than 16.

Somebody asked the mother of Luis Heredia if she knew he had just retired the Phillies' World Series-tested catcher Carlos Ruiz on a soft infield popup. "Really? I can't believe it. My son got a major league hitter out?"

Yep. But in the second inning, Ruiz, batting third in every inning, laced a single to left for the first hit off Heredia. He died on first.

Neither Ruiz nor the extended coaching staff headed by Gulf Coast League manager Roly de Armas knew they were witnessing a special moment, the player who had received the largest international signing bonus in Pirates' history - $2.6 million - had faced his first major league hitter.

OK, it was just a close encounter of the bogus kind in an exhibition game played under company softball rules. Example: When a pitcher reaches his pitch count in an inning, the inning immediately ends and never mind the situation or bruised feelings of a hitter on deck with two runners in scoring position. Or Chase Utley and Chooch getting to bat every inning.

Turns out 75 percent of Heredia's signing bonus, $1.95 million, went to the Veracruz Red Eagles, the Mexican League team that held his rights. They are now the Green Eagles. Luis got to keep the rest, about $650,000.

"Luis has already bought us a beautiful new home," Maria beamed.

- Bill Conlin